TURKEY

Quince Poached in Sugar Syrup: Ayva Tatlısı

Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 10 min Cooking time: 2 h Total time: 2 h 10 min

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Ingredients

  • 2 medium size quinces
  • 3 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoon stevia
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
  • 8 dried whole cloves
  • ground nuts of choice, for serving

Preparation

Wash, peel (keep the peels) and halve the quinces lengthwise. Place on a cutting board with the cut facing up and holding each firmly carve out the core with the seeds. Don’t discard the seeds yet.

Place the quinces in a large pan and add water, lemon juice, honey, stevia and spices. Make sure the liquid covers the quinces. Put two cloves in each quince’s hollow. Add the seeds and skin peelings to the water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a minimum and let the quinces gently simmer for two hours. Flip the quinces to the other side after one hour of cooking. After another hour turn off the heat and let the quinces cool. Serve them with some syrup, honey, ice cream or chopped nuts of your choice.

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INDIA

Gujiyas

Yield: 12 or 13 cookies

Prep time: 45 min Baking time: 13-15 min Total time: 1 h

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Ingredients

  • 125 g  (1 cup) whole grain (or white) flour
  • 25g (2 tbsp) coconut oil
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) skim (or whole) milk
  • 200 g (1 cup) mawa
  • 50 g (1/4 cup) muscovado (or white) sugar
  • 12 cashew nuts, cut in tiny pieces
  • 1 tbsp raisins
  • cinnamon, to taste

Preparation

Combine the flour and coconut oil. Warm the milk a little and knead the dough, using the milk. Cover the dough and keep it aside for 20 minutes. While the dough rests, prepare the filling for the Gujias.

Combine the mawa, sugar, pieces of cashwes, raisins, and cinnamon.

Knead the dough again and break it into small balls (12 to 14). Take each ball in your hands and press it until it becomes a flat oval. Prepare all the balls in this manner. Cover them with a cloth and keep them aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Take the pressed dough ball and roll it to a 3.5-4” thin disc. Make sure it’s a perfect a circle as you can make. If you have a Gujia mould, put the disc in it. Keep it on the mould, add 2 tablepoons of the filling in the middle of the circle. Dip your finger in water and use it to water the edges. Now close the mould so that the stuffing is enclosed fully inside the poori. Press the mould firmly together.

If you don’t have a mould, like me, simply put the stuffing in the middle of the circle and close it tightly with your fingers, making a little shell. Then press around the edge with a fork, to create a decorative pattern.

Before baking, you can brush the gujiyas with some warm milk, which will contribute to a lovely color and shine, once they are baked baked.

Grease the baking pan, place the gujiyas on it and bake at 200°C for about 13 minutes. Check the gujiyas and if they seem under baked, bake for another minute or two.

Serve chilled to room temperature.

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RUSSIA

I couldn’t be happier to say that I think autumn has finally really kicked in. I enjoy summer as much as the next person, but to me, shorts, sweat, camping , swimming  and all can in no way be compared to the peace of mind that follows when all that is done. When spending a lazy Saturday afternoon cozily under your favorite blanket, watching old movies and drinking hot chocolate becomes totally justified once more. Or, for that matter, spending the day in the kitchen, baking anything that will go great with your next cup of hot tea, coffee or cocoa. To me, there is really nothing more special than fall baking…except for winter baking.

So when my official baking season finally opens, I always want to go straight ahead to making pies, chocolate chip cookies and anything with cinnamon. But I’ve decided to tease myself a little longer this year, and so this weekend I decided to make something I would never usually bake as an entrée to honey & spice season. This time from Russia – Vatrushkas.

vatrushkas2

Vatrushkas are basically small pies, filled with cottage cheese. The dough is actually similar to white bread, but sweeter, and the filling is very simple too, consisting almost entirely of cottage cheese. They’re great to make, since you don’t need a whole lot of ingredients, but assembling a vatrushka can be a bit trickier. But don’t worry; once you get the hang of it, your vatrushkas can look as pretty as the ones in a Russian bakery. Well, almost.

Vatrushkas

vatrushkas1

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 2 cups (270g) all-purpose wheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) milk

Filling:

  • 1 lb. (450g) cottage cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Prepare the dough

If you’ve ever made homemade bread, this should be a piece of cake for you. If not, well, this experience will also give you some knowledge for when you’ll decide to bake your first loaf of bread. Also, if you have a bread maker, this is a recipe where you can really take advantage of it. I actually have it, but still I decided to make the dough by hand.

Heat the water to 110°F (40°C – a bit warmer than your body); add 1 tbsp of sugar, yeast, and ½ cup (30g) of sifted flour. Stir well, cover, and leave in a warm place for about an hour. The mix should develop a lot of bubbles and rise.

Separate the egg white from the yolk. Save the yolk in a cup in the fridge.

Heat milk to 110°F (40°C) and add to the mix with yeast. Stir in the egg white and the remaining sugar. Gradually add sifted flour while stirring in one direction (a wooden spatula is preferred). While stirring, keep your spatula close to the center of the mixing bowl instead of rubbing the sides of the bowl with it. When the dough becomes too dense to stir with the spatula, start kneading it by hand while adding small amounts of flour at a time. Whenever I’m making dough with yeast by hand, I knead it long enough for it to become almost silky smooth (10 to 20 minutes). This way, all of the ingredients mix together very well and the dough rises a lot easier. Make sure you don’t use more flour than necessary, as that may result in a stiff, chewy bread.

Finally, form the dough in a ball, cover it and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. After that, press it down and let it rise one more time.

Prepare the filling

Simply mix together all of the ingredients, either by hand or using an electric mixer. If you use a mixer, the texture will be smoother, but the filling can end up too runny.

Assemble vatrushkas

Dust your work surface with flour and roll out the dough into a sheet about ¼ inch (0,5 cm) thick.  Cut out circles about 5 inches (10 to 15 cm) in diameter (you can use a tea saucer for that).

Place 1/2 – 1 tbsp of filling in the middle of each circle. Do not overfill! Carefully roll up the edges making neat, smooth, and even walls about 2/3 inches (1,5 cm) in height. Even make them a bit higher if you are afraid you are overfilling. Carefully smoothen the surface of the filling making sure it is even and fills the entire space.

Turn on the oven to preheat it to 425°F (210°C) – 450°F (230°C).

Lightly grease a baking sheet or pan. You can moisten it with water instead, especially if it has a non-stick surface. Arrange vatrushkas on the baking sheet some distance apart so they don’t stick together when they expand. And I mean really place them far apart. To tell you the truth, I had to make two batches of vatrushkas to get these pictures, because the ones from the first batch got stuck together and they turned out square-shaped.

Afterwards, let them stand for another 15 minutes in a warm place. Meanwhile beat the saved egg yolk, since you’ll need it to brush your vatrushkas with, after the 15 minutes have passed.

Let vatrushkas stand for another 10 minutes and carefully puncture the top in 2-3 places with a fork, without puncturing all the way to the bottom. Place them in the oven.

Baking time will vary, but it usually takes 15-25 minutes to obtain a smooth brown crust.  I baked them for 15 minutes. You can preheat the oven to a higher temperature and then turn down the heat right after you put vatrushkas inside. Testing with a toothpick can help: the toothpick stuck into the crust should come out clean.

After the baking is finished, immediately place vatrushkas on a wooden board or a wire mesh for cooling.

Let them cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. This is important for full flavor development. But if you ask me, they taste the best when they’re completely cool, since that’s also when the texture of the filling changes completely.

vatrushka

Adapted from Russian Recipe Book.

AFGHANISTAN

Let’s start at the very beginning – Afghanistan. I started my research with the help of what else but Wikipedia, where I learned that Afghan cuisine is based upon crops and products that are plentiful in the area, which is not really surprising.  So this particular cuisine is rich in cereals, like wheat, maize, barley and rice, dairy products (yogurt and whey), and various nuts (walnuts, pistachios, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts). They also use distinct herbs, such as mint, coriander, cilantro and black pepper, as well as spices I’ve never used before in my life, like saffron and cardamom.

Afghanistan’s culinary specialties are very similar to those of the neighboring countries, which I’m also planning to explore, but still distinct enough for me to stay interested in this particular cuisine.

So I decided to continue with my exploration, as my knowledge about Afghani desserts was not much greater than before. In the process I came across some great sites, of which I’d like to name three. The first one is Afghan Culture Unveiled, where I learned lots about Afghan cuisine and culture in general, and discovered a huge amount of recipes for sweets. Yet this only increased my curiosity, so I carried on with my journey. The second noteworthy website I found was Afghan Online.com, where I finally found an organized list of most typical Afghan desserts:

  • Brides Fingers (Asabia el Aroos)
  • Baklava
  • Firnee
  • Gosh Feel Elephant’s Ears
  • Halwaua-e-Aurd-e-Sujee
  • Khatai Cookies
  • Sheer Payra Fudge
  • Sweet Pumpkin

Lastly I ran into Wiki Recipes, where the list of the most common desserts was literally the same, with the addition of Haroseth, which I later learned is a Passover sweet, consisting of hazelnuts, almonds, dates and raisins (possibly also other dried fruits and spices), which are simply ground together and shaped into small balls.

I finally came to the conclusion that Afghani desserts include at least one of the following ingredients: some sort of nuts (mostly almonds and pistachios), dried fruits, cardamom (or other spices) and rosewater. They also seem quite easy to make. The majority of these desserts also comes off as very sweet to me, but luckily I don’t have a problem with that (as I know some people, for reasons that to me remain unknown, do).

After giving it a lot of thought and time, since this is my very first recipe on the list, I decided to make Asabia el Aroos, also called Bride’s Fingers, because the recipe seems fairly simple and the ingredients are not that hard to find around here. Also, the dessert seems very similar to baklava, which I am very familiar with, and I was really curious of what this version looks and tastes like (mostly because the baklava I eat is made of walnuts, not almonds or pistachios). So here it goes.

Asabia el Aroos

Ingredients:

Sweet Syrup:
  • 100g sugar
  • 100ml  water
  • 1 tsp lime juice
Filling:
  • 100g almonds pulverized in food processor with
  • 50g sugar
Glaze:
  • 1 egg, beaten
Others:
  • 200g frozen filo dough, 18″ * 12″ rectangles

I know I said I don’t mind the sweetness, but when I saw how much sugar actually goes into this dessert, I decided to slightly reduce the amount, and it still turned out OK.

1. Syrup

Prepare the syrup in advance and chill it in the fridge. I can’t stress enough how important this is, since my syrup wasn’t cold enough and, consequently, not thick enough.

2. Filling

Simply combine all of the ingredients.

3. Rolling

First preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C). Cut the filo into 18″ * 12″ (about 30 * 22cm).  Lay the rectangles on the table one by one, with the shorter side facing you. Place a table spoon of the filling on the side facing you and roll it up from the short side, forming a fat cigar shape. Place on the baking sheet with the cut edge down. Repeat with the remaining dough.

You may notice that despite the fact the instructions say to cut the dough into 30 * 22cm rectangles, I couldn’t help myself but to experiment a little, so my cigars are of very different shapes and sizes. The majority of them are still approximately the same, as I soon found it best to make it 12 * 25cm.

Asabia el Aroos

4. Baking

Beat the egg and brush the tops of the pastries. Bake for 15-20min, or until golden brown.

5. Finishing touches

Place everything on a tray and pour the syrup over. That’s what I did. Alternatively, if that sounds too sweet for you, you can just dip the “fingers” in syrup.

Asabia el Aroos

If you are looking for more specific instructions, check out one of the sites recommended above. The ingredients are the same; I only changed some of the amounts.

The recipe is not very difficult and I really had no problems with it (even the syrup turned out fine, once the whole thing cooled down in the fridge). And this dessert is absolutely delicious. I was actually really surprised at how great it turned out, because it looks so simple and there are really very few ingredients. So the lesson learned with Asabia el Aroos is that even though some things may seem to go too be true, there is always a possibility, that they are just good.