All posts filed under: Asia

keith-and-sasha

Monday Meal Review: Turkmenistan

Our week cooking Turkmenistan was all about the bubble… bubbling Watermelon Jam, bubbling Central Asia Tea, and bubbles on the forehead. It was the bubbles on the forehead that really made me smile. In Turkmenistan, tapping your tea bubbles, then tapping your forehead is said to bring good fortune. This little ritual definitely falls in the realm of superstition. I felt a little silly doing it. At first, I couldn’t figure out why. The awkwardness wasn’t really about getting my forehead wet, although that certainly played into it. And it wasn’t about having to demonstrate to my skeptical family, although their giggles definitely made me feel extra silly. Here they are.. tap, tap. And then I realized what it was. The superstition felt weird because I haven’t been following any superstitions of my own lately. When I was in high school, I’d say “If I get this trash in the basket, then I’ll have an awesome day.” When I was in college, I’d say, “If I tap my pencil three times, I’ll pass the test.” …

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How to throw a Central Asian Tea Party

  The best kind of party is a tea party. Even better? A themed tea party. This week we’re exploring the Central Asian Tea Party. As I read through many descriptions of teas in Turkmenistan (this week’s Global Table) and her neighboring countries, I realized there are just FIVE basic things you need for a Central Asian Tea Party. Anything else is icing on the proverbial cake. 1.  Green or Black Tea.  In Central Asia, people drink two main kinds of tea, green or black. Green tea is typically sipped in order to relax, while black tea is enjoyed for an energetic boost. Both are called “Chai,” which simply means tea. When serving, the tea should be poured from very high up into each glass… do this at least three times. This aerates the tea and makes tiny bubbles (more on this in a moment). 2. Fun superstitions Much of the fun of any global tea party is learning the superstitions that go with them. Here are two from Central Asia. a) If you can tap the …

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Watermelon Jam

Imagine living in a place that has a National Holiday called “Melon Day.”  You could be surrounded by more than 400 kinds of melon, including some 50 varieties of watermelon.* The cool, sweet flesh would fill your belly and spirit. Eating it would definitely make you smile. And spreading it on bread? Even better. If any of this appeals to you, you might want to consider moving to Turkmenistan. These lovely people have celebrated Melon Day since 1994, and they don’t plan to stop eating the sweetness anytime soon. When I read in The World Cookbook for Students that Watermelon Jam is a thing in Turkmenistan (particularly when served on toast with tea), I knew we had to try it. I made a nice batch of jam from half a regular watermelon. Tastes like jarred sunshine. What a great gift to share with friends and family! Perhaps with a spot of tea… NOTE: I used Pamona’s Universal Pectin because it allows me to add less sugar to the mix (just 2 cups). I found Pamona’s at Whole Foods, though …

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Menu: Turkmenistan

“Whatever you put in your pot comes to your spoon.” Turkmen Proverb We’re in the middle of summer. The sidewalk’s sizzling, but anyone from Turkmenistan can tell you; that’s no reason to turn off the kettle. This week we’re celebrating summer in true Turkmen Style. First, with a spirited watermelon jam, inspired by the 200 varieties of melon that grow in Turkmenistan. Second, with a central Asian tea party – a fun way to gather with family and friends. *Both recipes and the meal review will be posted throughout the week.   Watermelon Jam [Recipe] Boil up some watermelon, sugar, and lemon juice. Add a bit of pectin. Voila! The perfect Turkmen-inspired gift for someone you love. A yummy (and unusual) addition to any summer brunch. Central Asian Tea Party [Recipe] Invite a few friends over to experience a Central Asian Tea Party.  We’ll share seven ways to make the tea party as authentic and fun as possible. P.S. If you’re looking for something more savory, check out our recipes linked in our About the Food of Turkmenistan post.

The Darvasa gas crater in Turkmenistan. Photo by Tormod Sandtorv.

About the food of Turkmenistan

There’s no way to dance around it… In Turkmenistan, you can come face to face with the “gates of hell”… The only catch? Darvasa is no supernatural place. This “hell” is manmade. Way back in 1971 this crater was formed while drilling for natural gas. There was a collapse and, to prevent the escape of fumes, some people decided they should … set the gas on fire. (Had I been around, I would have definitely been against throwing a match* in a giant pit of natural gas… am I alone in this?) Geologists claimed the fire would burn off in a few days. More than forty years later, here we are. The gas still burning, burning, burning. (Something about this feels like a Jim Morrison lyric.) Darvasa is now a major attraction, with tour guides flicking cigarette butts around the place, laughing over flare ups. Sounds like the beginning of a sci fi movie. This week, we’re skirting past the “gates of hell” and diving into the fresh summer bounty of Turkmenistan. Sure, this puppet shaped …

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Monday Meal Review: Thailand

It took a Green Papaya Salad from Thailand to make me think about the rhythms of my life. Rat-tat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat.. Rat… Rat… Tat-tat… Thwap. As I pounded the garlic and chili peppers into a paste, feeling both awkward and unskilled, I began to ask myself some questions… Namely, how is it that something as simple as pounding food can be so hard for me, yet be so easy for another person – like… oh, say… someone from Thailand? I understand that Thai people learn how to use mortars and pestles at a young age… but … still… the question popped up. And then things got really existential.  I’m not sure if it was a full moon, or the barometric pressure, but I got much, much deeper. As in, I began to compare myself to a mortar and pestle. I asked: “Am I moving smoothly through my life, making smart choices, or am I a mess of starts and stops, pounding the pavement hard for a while, then resting for too long before picking up the pace again?” You see, I’ve heard rumors wives …

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Thai Iced Tea

There’s nothing sweeter than a good love story; and there’s no love story more refreshing than Thai Iced Tea. This is the love story of extra strong Ceylon tea, brewed until deeply blushing. The rouge dissolves like a faint, as sweetened condensed milk swirls into the mix. If you think that’s all there is to Thai Iced Tea, you’d be half right. For many people, that’s all they desire. But every love story needs a little spice, so today we’re going the extra mile, by including one of the little optional additions that give each pitcher ultimate romance … like a few stars, to brighten the mood. Star Anise glitter as brightly as any in the sky…  don’t you think? This is a drink that will cool you after a bite of spicy Thai food. It will calm you after a stressful day. And, if you sweeten it as much as they do in Thailand, it just might make your eyes pop out. In a good way. Note: Some people like to add orange food …

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Green Papaya Salad | Som Tam

Whomp. Womp. Womp. Everything worth doing takes a little bit of work. And so it is with Som Tam. The mortar and pestle crushes the garlic, mashes a Thai bird chili peppers,  and wooshes the fish sauce and lime juice into the green beans and papaya. I put the bowl on the table, dotted red with tomatoes. Ava thinks the papaya is spaghetti. The pale green shreds curl around her fork. “It’s something like that…” I say, hoping she believes me. She takes a bite, then another. Soon the forks on plates are the only noise. While I adore Thai food, I’d never had green papaya salad before this week. When several readers suggested I try it on our Facebook Page, I listened. First, I tried to order it at a local restaurant called My Thai Kitchen, just to see what all the fuss was about, but it wasn’t on the menu. So, instead, I went to our local  Asian market, Nam Hai, and picked up what I needed, including some palm sugar, a green …

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Menu: Thailand

“Friends for a meal are easy to find, friends until end of life are difficult to find” (Thai Proverb) Summer is the time of easy friendships, where the only things that matter are cold drinks, fresh food, and a patch of shade. Dinnertime is less strict, and I find myself veering towards later, lighter meals. Like this one. So now all you need is to find someone to share it with (P.S. Speaking of which, I can’t decide if that Thai proverb is encouraging or discouraging, but there’s one thing I know for sure. Whoever you make this meal for will certainly be woo’d for the summer, if not for life.) The key to Thai food is balance. If you serve something hot and spicy, you must serve something sweet. Which is exactly what we did. All recipes and the meal review will be posted throughout the week. Green Papaya Salad | Som Tam [Recipe] One of the easiest Thai dishes, with an orchestra of flavor. Think spicy, lime-tastic, and salty. This is salad all grown …

Water buffalos in Thailand. Photo by Torikai Yukihiro

About the food of Thailand

From her thick, green mountaintops in the north, all the way past her flatlands, through her river basins and glittering skyscrapers, Thailand has it all. And if you thought her landscape is stunning, you should taste the food. There’s a zing to Thai food that keeps me coming back; at first I thought it was the sour notes, formed from hefty squirts of lime juice. I do adore a good burst of lime…But over the years I’ve realized Thai food is far more complex than that. There’s a dance going on in every bite, especially in the salads, like som tam (green papaya salad  [Recipe])… sure, there’s bright bursts of lime juice, but there’s also the smack of salty fish sauce, the brutal burn of Bird’s Eye Chili peppers, something sweet (usually palm sugar) and there, somewhere in the background, a hint of bitterness. In preparation for this week’s Global Table, we ate at My Thai Kitchen in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We covered the table with several selections, most notably the beef salad, the green curry …

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Monday Meal Review: Tajikistan

It is often said that family who live in close proximity take each other for granted. But in many ways, I think it’s just as easy to take each other for granted when family is scattered around the country. We get used to a certain state of … loneliness… of missing each other. We resign ourselves to the distance, and take for granted that it can be no other way than to be apart. It got so bad, for me, that I hid behind my work and responsibilities. I didn’t take trips, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t know how to shut off the flow of work and make time. The result? Until this week, I hadn’t seen my family in over a year. Fifteen months to be exact. Some of them I hadn’t seen in more than three years. I’d resigned myself to being too far to help, too far to matter, too far to influence. When my sister announced she was throwing a graduation party …

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Yogurt Naan/Non

Any woman worth her salt is an incredible, complex specimen which takes time and love to fully understand. But even when you think you know a woman, she remains – at her core – mysterious. And so it is with today’s Tajik naan recipe. She’s made with a blend of wheat and all purpose flour, a healthy glop of yogurt, and not much else. She gets her shine for a quick milk and egg wash. The flavor is rustic, thanks to the wheat flour, and there’s a slight, yet definite tang, thanks to the yogurt. The fact that she’s cooked in a super hot vertical oven makes this bread nearly an Olympic event. Just watch these women make one of the more complex forms of this bread… for a wedding. Note the full arm “potholder” they use while slapping the bread into the oven. Did you see that? How gorgeous is that bread!?  Wow. Even after several focused, heart-felt queries into her nature, I must admit I am unable to replicate the intricate, ornate designs found on the …