Dee: “Prior to getting this meal together I knew practically nothing about Central Asian cuisine. I enjoyed seeking out the different parts of this Kazakh style feast and was very keen to get started on cooking it.
I decided to stay clear of the horse meat and mutton that I often saw when researching the cuisine, partly for reasons of availability, partly because I lacked the space and equipment required to cook it authentically, and partly because I wanted to prepare some dishes with an all-round appeal.
There were elements of a number of different influences on show here: Persian/Afghan style rice with meat and fruit, Chinese style dumplings and vegetables and a Russian style sour cream sauce, yet when enjoyed together, a distinctive style emerged.
As the photos show, we served the savoury dishes all at the same time on communal platters and helped ourselves to each one. The sweet dumplings then followed, along with the tea.
The scarcity of meat in tonight’s meal probably means that we haven’t cooked a one hundred per cent authentic Kazakh feast, but we had a delicious meal nonetheless.”
Dee: “This was the only element of tonight’s meal that contained meat, but it could be left out and the other ingredients increased proportionately to make a perfectly acceptable meat free version. I’d encountered fruit being added to savoury food before, in Persian and Afghan cuisine, which this rice dish reminded me of. In a change to the published recipe, we decided to cook the onion and garlic before adding them to the other ingredients, as we felt they might have been too pungent for our tastes otherwise.”
Gutap (Kazakh Fritters)
Dee: “Although described as fritters, these are closer to dumplings. They took a while to prepare as they are quite small, but are worth the effort as they taste great with the accompanying sauce. One word of caution though is that the filling is quite fiery, so the amount of pepper needs to be adjusted for a milder version. The recipe requires deep frying, but we decided to bake ours to keep the calorie count down. They went into a preheated oven at gas mark 7 for about 20 minutes. The pastry cases were crisp, but lacked the golden colour that the deep fried version would have achieved. However, we were very taken with them.”
Dee: “This tasty dish was a cross between a salad and a stir-fry. Instead of boiling the carrots, as specified in the recipe, we fried them up along with the onions, which kept them crunchy rather than soft. The vinegar and pepper flakes, when combined with the juices from the cooking vegetables, made a dressing with a slight kick.”
Dee: “As with the gutap, these sweet dumplings should have been deep fried, but again we baked ours. The combination of nuts, butter and sugar was just right to deliver a sweet nutty flavour without overbalancing either. We enjoyed our samsa with the chai, as detailed below, but I can’t help thinking that these would be a perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of black coffee.”
Kazakh Tea (Chai)
Dee: “Unlike the tea we are used to making, this was made in a saucepan on the hob. The taste was not as strong as I am used to, and the flavour of the fennel seeds was particularly pronounced. If I was to make this again, I think I would add more tea and cardamom and less fennel seeds.”
Soundtrack: Roksonaki – Nauryz
Dee: “I found this a fascinating album that seemed to merge ancient and modern music and then deliver it with enormous creativity. There were all sorts of stringed and wind instruments featured which sounded unfamiliar to me. As an example, one of my favourite tracks on the album ‘Yapur Ai' (regret) featured a lute-like instrument and what sounded like a giant mountain horn. These were backed up with hypnotic drum beats and occasional subtle percussion. The vocals were equally captivating, and included elements of songs, chants and ‘voice as instrument’ performances. In terms of what this whole mixture sounded like, some of the tunes had something of an Eastern European sound, others sounded like ballads, while at the end of the album, the song ‘Aitys' (competition) sounded like lounge jazz from outer space. This album was a winner for me and I would be very keen to hear more from this band.”
Next Week: L for Laos