Seven Sweets From The East You Have To Try

A sudden, unexplained craving for Habshi Halwa made me realise that there are substantially more sweets to life and feel ‘duty driven’ to recommend these to you this morning!

PISTA BURFI

Loved by Indians young and old – these have a sweet, creamy and nutty taste thanks to the pistachio. The edible silver coating on burfis is made from real silver, used in a host of other Indian sweets and lends a metallic taste to the sweet. Silver production in India is huge thanks to Indian sweets. They are expensive and made from sugar, water, ghee, ground pistachios and powdered milk to form a paste that is cut up into squares or diamond shapes and wrapped in silver leaf (varak).

HABSHI HALWA

Certainly the best of the best Indian sweet, made from caramelized milk, sugar, ghee and wheat flour it is the supreme ruler of Halwa.  They are juicy with more flavour than is believable in one sweet – an absolute treat! Almonds, cashews or pistachios are combined in a thick stiff bechamel type base and raisins, cardamom, saffron, mace or nutmeg turn this halwa into the superior sweet treat that it is.  I prefer the ones that are not so sweet so that the tastes can come through freely since I find the other kind, the sweet kind simply too sweet. There is only one thing to have with it and that’s a cup of Mountain malt tea! Teascapade is one of those sites that always always offers the best of the best tea – do visit and enjoy.

KAJU KATLI

A dense fudge made from ground cashews, palm sugar, cardamom and rose essence, they are hugely popular all over India. Rich in oil this soft and grainy sweet tastes of fresh nuts and is often covered with gold foil instead of silver – especially during festivals like Diwali.

QUM SOHAN

Qum, the most holy city in Iran and the centre of Shi’ite Islam with more holy shrines than any other city in Iran produces, fittingly, this mouthwatering and delicious honey and nut sweet.  It is common cause that the best of the best sohan comes from Qum.  A flat, rectangular sweet, it is made from a dough of honey, sugar, butter, saffron, cardamom and a mixture of almonds and pistachios.  This buttery, aromatic and crunchy sweet must take pride of place in Iran.

RASGULLA

Back to India! A milk based sweet made from chhenna, a crumbly curd cheese used in many Indian sweets, it proves a winner with its light and spongy taste – so reminiscent of the sugus in my country only larger. Chhenna and semolina is boiled and soaked in ordinary sugar syrup infused with rose water. Understandably they do not last long and are available in tins for preservation purposes.

LOWZINA

Lowzina b’Shakar (the word shakar means grateful in Iraqi) is a diamond or triangular shaped sugary sweet made with almonds and flavoured with lemon juice, rose water and cardamom.  It’s eaten at special occasions like weddings when they are covered in gold leaf and sent to the family of the bride as a gift to their friends and relatives. Gold leaf and gold dust are common in Asian culinary circles and usually used for great celebrations. The sweet is soft and creamy, delicately nutty with a depth of flavour added by cardamom and rose water.

TITAURA

In Nepal the pulp of the Lapsi fruit (image below), the titaura is used to make this very tangy and spicy sweet. The lapsi is boiled, the pulp is extracted, sun dried and seasoned with the spices that include even chili and then sugared and salted for balance.  If you want a huge variety of these sweets, go to Kathmandu‘s Ratna Park which is famous for the many shops that sell titaura.

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Portuguese Cuisine, How It All Began

From Neolithic man to modern man, we look at the reasons why Portuguese food is so rich and varied and include two recipes that embody not only the history but also the essence of this often neglected cuisine

In order to appreciate the cultural diversity of Portuguese food, one would have to look, albeit briefly, at it’s history
When the first humans arrived in what is today known as Portugal about 10,000 BC, they must have thought they had arrived in paradise!  Entering between the shore and the west end of the Pyrenees, they settled in the north to be joined in 2000 BC by the Iberians, who were probably from North Africa.  The next to arrive were the Celts and a handful of Germans who were farmers and herders with wagons for transporting what they needed (similar to the ones still used today in Galicia). They settled in the North where forests were rich and abundant and wild game, honey and even shellfish was added to the menu.  Similar to an old German recipe that I have jealously guarded for years, this one reflects all things Portuguese so well and is a fitting tribute to the venison those early citizens must have hunted.

PERDIZES COM COUVE (Partridge and Cabbage in Aguardente)

Ingredients

2 young partridges, plucked well, cleaned, dressed and cut in half
Flour to coat
3 medium potatoes per partridge, peeled and halved
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, very finely sliced
100 g presunto, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and finely sliced
250g Portuguese couve (or cavolo nero or savoy cabbage)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bayleaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
100 g butter
6 tablespoons aguardente
125 ml vinho verde
125 ml chicken stock
¼ teaspoon piri-piri
2 lemons, zests only – 1 per partridge

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180 C

Put flour and some seasoning in a carrier bag and shake partridge halves up in them so that they are covered.
Heat oil and half of the butter and brown them, removing to a separate plate when done.  Add the potatoes and toss them in butter until they are crisped and then add the rest of the butter and sauté the onions until they are transparent at which point you add celery, presunto and bay leaves and stir fry until done. Now add piri piri and cook everything until well incorporated. Finally, add cabbage, aguardente and cook until cabbage is just softened.

Pour this mixture into a large cast-iron pot or a casserole, place the partridges, breast side down into the cabbage so that they are half buried. Tuck in the potatoes and carrots, pour over wine and stock, put on the lid and cook for about 50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked right through.

Up the heat to 200 C, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, scrape and add some water if this is necessary. Turn the partridge halves around and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes, basting regularly.

Serve with crunchy Portuguese bread and any crisp chilled white Herdade de Cartuxa

Nuts and chestnuts were gathered, roasted and used for making bread and I can only imagine how rich and varied that nut meal must have been!  The Portuguese then, as now, took advantage of the fine pastures, both for raising livestock and farming and consistent food supplies slowly became the order of the day.  Both they and their animals lived a life of abundance. The pigs, still relatively wild in those days, were associated with fertility, authority and power. A vitally important source of protein it became a staple in the diet then, as they are today. To add to this every increasing menu were contributions by the Celts in the form of their sacred cattle and also their sheep. They lived in villages in round stone houses that can still be seen in Northern Portugal today and established trade with Brittany and the British Isles, most importantly, tin.  The inhabitants of Portugal thrived, so foreigners arrived, settled and introduced more foodstuffs, more habits and more traditions.
The fiery and proud Celtiberians and Lusithanians lived in the Northwest.

It took the Romans almost 200 years to take over Iberia even though they overran Gaul (France) in seven years, and introduced olives, onions and garlic – three ingredients which are indispensable in Portuguese cuisine. The Lusithanians had withdrawn to  hilltop villages in the northwest and at about the same time, the Phoenicians founded little fishing and salting settlements throughout the south of Portugal, followed by the Greeks and Carthaginians.

The Romans settled but steered clear of the North (there were only a few settlements there) and preferred the south was which was suitable for wheat, olives, and grapes as in Italy.  When the Roman Empire started tumbling down, the Teutonic invasion began in Gaul and Portugal had new visitors, the Swabians in the northwest. Luckily the Germans did not try to destroy all traces of the Romans since they were a nation that had respect for anything from which they could learn and in return they taught Portugal how to farm with the quadrangular plow. The Climate in the North northwest of Iberia suited their crops and they simply stayed there and when the Vandals and Alans crossed the Pyrennes they moved to western edge of the peninsula. The Alans, at the time the strongest of the tribes, took a large area in the center and south, approximately the area of Roman Lusitania. The LusoRomans offered no opposition to their settlement.

The Moors arrived in Spain in 711 and quickly invaded these Christian lands.  They remained in the South, in the Algarve and Alentejo. Egyptian Moors settled in Beja and Faro and the Syrians nearer Seville.  The Moors were great leaders and fortified cities, introduced complex and effective irrigation systems and introduced linen paper.  It is common cause that they were a nation of great learning who introduced new irrigation methods that turned  barren areas into agricultural land successfully planting almond trees, figs and citrus trees. It was then that new ingredients in the form of rice and spices were introduced, not to mention fascinating cooking techniques. Cataplan, introduced by the Romans is still highly visible in Portuguese cuisine today.

The Christians and the Moors were at loggerheads since the beginning and it lasted until 1249 when the Christians finally took back their land. Portugal remains in Christian hands to this day.

Columbus started globe-trotting and began exploring the world – this heralded the beginning of a new and powerful era in the history of Portugal, then a powerful sea-faring nation. He and his fellow explorers must take responsibility for adding yet another dimension to their cuisine. They introduced spices such as coriander, saffron and ginger to Europe and brought home vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and so much more from the South America’s, then known as the New World.

Fascinated by the east Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India and the far east and opened the doors to the import of more exotic spices. On these trips the famous bacalhau  was born when used in addition to cured pork that was standard fare for sailors on these long voyages to the far east.

Culinary history didn’t stabilize completely then but this rich and varied basis is certainly on of the main reasons why Portuguese food withstood, to a great extent, the doldrums of the Middle Ages.

To celebrate the pork and at the same time the seafood for which Portugal is, justifiably, so famous herewith:

PORK WITH CLAMS A ALENTEJANA

1 kg Pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 3 cm cubes
1 kg small clams, still in their shells but already well purged
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
200 ml good fruity white wine
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon allspice
3 fresh bayleaves
800 g potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 handful chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
500 ml water
5 tablespoons olive oil

Method

Boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes on high heat, remove, rinse, dry and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed, wide pan and sauté pork over high heat until golden and crisp on both sides to add flavour to the meat. This will take some time.
Add onions and garlic and sauté until the aroma is noticeable, add salt, allspice, paprika and pepper and then the wine. Allow it to boil for a few seconds in order to thicken the sauce somewhat.
Add the water, put on the lid and simmer over low heat for about 1 ¼ hours, turning the meat over and checking regularly.
Should the need arise, add some more water but remember that there must be enough slightly thickened sauce in the pot.
Finally add the clams, the zest and the lemon juice, put on the lid, turn up the heat and cook vigorously for about 10 minutes until the clams have all opened up.  Discard all closed clams.
Check and correct seasoning, stir in the coriander and set aside to rest.

During this period, fry the potatoes in enough olive oil until they are crisp, sprinkle with Malden salt and serve immediately with a red from Quinta do Carmo

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Butter, Part 3 (b) – Russia

There is no doubt that Vologda is Russia’s butter capital – famous also for flax and lace, it is particularly the butter for which it is famous and the delicious light and creamy Vologda butter (Vologodskoye maslo) undoubtedly ranks as the best of the best Russian butter. In the 12th century butter was made here for the first time and the famous ‘melted butter’ became an excellent source of income for the city. Homemade butter was consumed up to the beginning of the 1800’s with the every increasing demand resulting in the phasing out of traditional butter making equipment (image of traditional butter separators below) and the introduction of efficient, new industrial milk processing plants, like the Vologda gubernia set up in 1835.  Since 1881 only three dairies in this region have been making Volgodskoye maslo with it’s luxurious 82, 5% butterfat content. Vologda butter owes a debt of gratitude to Nikolai Vereschagin who noticed the sour taste of certain butters and developed a process to separate the sweet cream from the milk twice, instead of the standard once. You’ll notice the real thing by the little picture of a milkmaid that should appear next to the name, Vologodskoye maslo and is the certificate of authenticity. Look for this mark of authenticity before you buy because there have been attempts to sell really disgusting surplus government butter under the same name! If you find Vologdoskoye in birch wood casks, you’ll know you hit gold. The advent of the industrial revolution sadly encouraged production of butter to alter in such a way that small landowners and farmers became part of a new system that enforced cooperation between, literally, thousands of peasants, locals and the dairies with the foreign merchants owning everything.  Vologda then became the leading producer of butter and today, although not the biggest, still the best. The 1990’s


The advent of World War 1 and communism did no favours for butter or butter production but fortunately today, slowly, things are getting back to normal.  What really counts, to my mind, is that farmers markets are once again delivering excellent butter despite the onslaught of margarine. Matters have improved markedly since the days of communism and increased money has enabled Russians to embrace proud culinary traditions once again.

Excellent butters choices to try are:

  • Vologodskoe
  • Krest’yanskoe, a Soviet-era brand made by various manufacturers but the most popular brand in Russia, more so even than Vologodskoe
  • Derevenskoe (from Petrosoyuz)
  • Domik v derevne

Interesting and varied culinary traditions in this massive part of the world, for example, the butter ‘desert’ of the Yakut are now shared with all of us. The Yakut, an ethnic group who live in the Northern part of Siberia in the coldest part of the world, make Chokoon. For this a soft, creamy butter is mixed alternatively with warm and cold milk to make a smooth puree. To this they add berries and sugar, spoon it into small dishes and freeze it by placing it in the frost. It is eaten crushed into small pieces.

Since this is such a short article, I will include one recipe that acknowledges the Jews in the ghetto’s of East Galicia which is, today, part of the Ukraine. Notwithstanding the hell in which they lived, they found the strength, deep inside themselves, to find joy in life and thus in food – this recipe is, truly, one of those moments.

Lokshen Kugel

500 g egg noodles, usually ribbons
5 eggs
250 ml cream
180 g sugar
150 g butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons honey
200 g raisins
2 sour apples, peeled and chopped finely
200 g walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped
More butter for greasing generously

Boil the noodles in lightly salted water, drain, rinse well and set aside. Fry apples in a greased pan just until they soften, remove. Beat the eggs and sugar and add cinnamon, nutmeg, a pinch of salt, cream, honey and the softened butter. Mix very well and pour into the noodles with apples, nuts and raisins making sure that everything is mixed very well.  Place in a well-greased ovenproof dish and bake at 160 C for an hour. Allow to rest for 10 minutes if serving hot.

Serve hot or cold.

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Baccalà alla Napoletana

For today (and as a hint to a future article on salt), I thought I’d give you a touch of salt rather than sweetness and opted, instead, for a recipe for baccalà – it’s the one I first tasted and was used by a Neapolitan who taught me so very much about food. Baccalà is salted cod as opposed to stockfish which is dried cod). He was and is truly talented and his knowledge of food is instinctive, spiritual and dare I say, genetic? I believe that Italians are born with a sense of food and art, it is within them and they rarely have to study it. They just have it.

Baccalà is something available world wide and the Portuguese, in particular favour it.  For the next few weeks, I will feature recipes for salted cod from all over the world and if anyone has a good one, I will test it, include it and give you credit for it. I already have one or two of my own that I collected in my travels, but I would really love to get yours. So let’s get on with it and start with my version of Baccalà alla Napoletana:

Ingredients

1 kg salted cod
100 ml excellent extra virgin olive oil (why not try Garguilo, organic extra virgin olive oil from near Sorrento). It’s really good.
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g ripe Italian tomatoes, peeled, deseeded & chopped
200 g black, pitted Italian olives, left whole
50 g salted capers, rinsed and lightly squeezed dry
1 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
2 lemons, zest only
Salt to taste and only if you got rid of it when soaking
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Flour for dredging

Method

Soak the salted cod in several changes of cold fresh water (at least overnight) but to make absolutely sure, break off a small piece and check for saltiness before you prepare it. You can always ask the fishmonger what he would suggest

Preheat oven to 160 C

Remove the cod, rinse well and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into bite sized chunks, discard bones and skin and dredge with flour. I simply put the flour in a plastic bag, toss the fish in and shake to cover all the pieces effectively.  Heat half the oil in a heavy pan over medium heat and fry the garlic very lightly until it is just soft. Take the pan off the stove and remove the garlic with a slotted spoon or, sieve the oil into a little bowl. Use that oil and fry the chopped tomatoes, olives, capers and black pepper for about 15 minutes over low heat until they begin to soften and remove. Add the rest of the olive oil to the tomatoes with the zest, salt to taste and half the parsley. Check and correct the taste. Now add the cod and fry lightly over medium heat for about 15 minutes, adding freshly ground pepper at the end.  Transfer to an ovenproof dish and bake, covered in the preheated oven for another 15 minutes.

Serve with hot, crusty bread and a bottle of cold Falerno del Massico DOC from the Villa Matilde in Campania. It seems only right that one drinks wines from Campania with this dish that belongs, absolutely to Naples!

Please note that I  excluded the discussion on the history of the this fish because it has been scheduled for a later article.

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Pechyvo z Porichkamy aka Blackberry Tart

Our cake this weekend comes from the Ukraine, the famous ‘land on the edge’ and mother of Russian towns. The Ukraine was central in the development of all European culture originating in Kiev, today the capital of the Ukraine.  A fascinating and rich history gives birth to a cuisine that grows up nurtured by Mongolian, Lithuanian, Polish, Turkish, Astro Hungarian and Scandinavian parents. Notwithstanding it’s vastness the Ukraine has been so richly blessed by nature that I can well understand why the Tzar chose to have his summer home here. Russians are joyful when they cook, they respect and give thanks like no other nation on earth – they truly celebrate food.  For today it’s enough to understand where our cake comes from and to take joy not only in the eating but absolutely in it’s preparation.   Here then a Russian celebration:

Ingredients

250 g butter
300 g all-purpose flour
100 g sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 extra large free range egg
1 tablespoon water
125 g smetana (sour cream)
500 g blackberries (I have used mulberries and blueberries and they worked as well)
100 g icing sugar (aka confectioners sugar)

Method

Pre-heat oven to 225C

Combine flour, sugar, butter and baking powder in your food processor (or by hand, creaming the sugar and butter until light and fluffy and then folding in the sifted flour and baking powder). Add the water, the smetana and the egg and combine well. Knead into a smooth dough.  Roll out the dough into a circle about ½ cm thick and put on a well greased pie plate.  Shape the edges prettily into an edging of your choice.  Fill with the blackberries, sprinkle with the icing sugar and bake in the preheated oven for 30 – 40 minutes.

Check your oven, though – sugared berries can burn!!!  Serve covered in cream or smetana or as is,

Why not try with a good sparkling wine from the Crimea -made using the Russian ‘continuous’ system – base wine and yeast is pumped through several small fermentation tanks at a specific pressure. A specific method of dosing the yeast is used but the important thing is that in under 100 days it’s ready. The  wine pours out at the other end constantly.  It’s an interesting try but do keep an open mind.

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Butter, Part 3 – Russia

The first of two discussions on butter in Russia, investigation of milk, traditions, culture, usage, recipes

Butter (maslyanitsa) and milk is an important part of the Russian food culture – so much so that Maslyanitsa is also the name of an annual festival celebrating the advent of summer. From Moscow to St. Petersberg summer is welcomed in this way just before lent every single year for a week. On the Monday the festival kicks off and blini (pancakes) with honey, caviar, fresh cream and loads of butter take pride of place. Superstition holds that the more butter there is, the more sun will shine on Mother Russia. In Uzbek, Bashkir, and Kirgiz Russians still drink mares’ and donkeys’ milk and which they turn into kumyss, a powerful fermented spirit, often served with huge blobs of butter floating in it.  Kumyss was made in Siberia around 1253 but the only proof we have is Marco Polo’s memoirs telling only that in 1298 Genghis Khan kept a stable of ten thousand white horses for the production of kumyss – whether they actually did is not certain. I like to tell myself they did.

India consumes the most butter in the world, followed by the United States and with Russia in third place.  Nowadays butter is made primarily from cream and in order to discuss butter, we need to have a look at the milk.

In Tartarstan and also the Buryat and Kalmyk Republics ewes and goats milk is chiefly used because the increase in fodder prices has seen dairy cow stocks reduce by 25% since 1991. On the positive side traditional milk processing in the smaller villages continues – where sieved milk is sealed tightly in barrels and hung in a well on the ends of ropes.  Fat collects and forms the cream which, once skimmed, is churned into butter whilst the skimmed  is milk drunk and then processed into blancmanges and curd cheese, the whey being fed to the calves.

Until the 16th century they made smetana from buttermilk. Sweet cream and butter were unknown in those days. However, I must say that the creamy, silky Russian buttermilk doesn’t taste anything like the buttermilk in Europe or Scandinavia. Natural smetana is devoured at breakfast as a staple, added to borscht, shchi, blini and pelmeni.  In the old days of the mighty USSR housewives made their own yoghurt, kefir and cream, but since the 1990’s farmers markets and thriving dairy businesses in the cities have almost taken over.  If you want to try the prostokvash and varenets you would have to go into the country, though.  When they make curd cheese, Russian housewives do not dump the whey but used it to make kisel (cold soup) with berries or for jellies, kvass and so on.

MILK PRODUCTS

Butter (maslo). The best butter in Russia comes from the Vologda area. It’s a bright sunflower yellow and with 82,5% fat, it’is much higher in fat than most European butters! Salted Russian butter is quite possibly the tastiest on the continent.

KEFIR

A delicious tangy drink, especially good in summer, this pasteurized milk is charged with kefir mould and depending on how long it is charged, a drink with up to 2% alcohol is formed.

SMETANA

Fresh, full cream milk is set aside in a flat bowl for about 15 hours to enable the fat to rise. Buttermilk is added to the skimmed cream to sour it and when the jug is full it is whipped, heated briefly and put in a clean rinsed container in a cool place – used in a variety of dishes and piled on top of very sweet cakes, it is worth traveling to Russia for this treat.

YOGHURT

High fat milk is heated for about 10 minutes to just under boiling point to kill bacteria and then cooled so that yoghurt cultures can be added whilst stirring. Stiff competition for the Greeks whose yoghurt I have always listed as my personal ‘best of the best’.

TVOROG (soft curd cheese)


The milk is allowed to stand for at least 2 days until it is thick, then it’s heated at 30 C for 30 minutes until curds and whey are formed.

VARENETS, PROSTOKVASHA AND RYASHENKA

Milk is boiled, poured into a clay pot, left overnight, mixed with smetana and then reduced over heat. It’s super high in fat and tastes of roasted chestnuts at Christmas (to me, anyway).

TVOROZHNIKI (aka Syrniki)

Ingredients

400 g soft curd cheese
100 g soft butter
200 g sour cream
1 large egg
4 tablespoons flour
60 sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
Butter for frying

Smetana and jam to serve

Method

Mix all the ingredients together (with the exception of the butter which you will use for frying) very well. Roll out onto a floured board until it is about 1 ½ cm thick and cut out round cakes with a glass (or a scone cutter).

Fry in butter on both sides and serve with sour cream and jam.

SHARLOTKA S YABLOKAMI
(Stirred apple butter cake)

Ingredients

500 g cooking apples, peeled & very finely diced
6 large eggs
200 g caster sugar
200 g cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 lemon, zest only
4 cloves, ground
2 tablespoons of raisins soaked in a little brandy
Butter and fresh breadcrumbs to line the inside of your cake pan

Method

Mix breadcrumbs with sufficient butter and line the bottom and the sides of the pan well.

Beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and foamy and sugar has completely dissolved. Sift in flour mixed with baking powder and mix in apples as well.  Fill the lined cake pan with the cake batter, bake on 170 C for about an hour and test with a skewer.

(Should cake get brown to quickly – because of the butter – cover with foil and continue baking)

Serve with lashings of brandy butter sauce and whipped cream.

HALVA

200 g clarified butter
250g ground sesames
250 g whole wheat flour
200 g runny honey

Toss the flour in the honey until it is gold, mix with the honey and then fry for 6 minutes. Spread on a piece of marble and cut into squares.  If you feel like it, add 50 g of pistachio’s – delicious!

And finally, pumpkin pancakes, Ukraine style:

Nalysnky z harbusa


1 kg pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed and finely grated
200 g self raising flour
2 large eggs
Salt to taste
Butter to fry
200 g melted butter
100 g honey
50 g poppy seeds

Method

Simply combine grated pumpkin with everything except the melted butter, the honey and the poppy seeds. The batter can be quite crumbly, image above, and if you like, add a spot of milk for smoothness
Warm honey and mix into melted butter. Stir in poppy seeds.
Fry as thin as possible, remembering these are pancakes and once completed serve with melted butter, honey and poppy sauce.
That’s it!!!

And now, even though we haven’t discussed the actual butter production yet, I had to discuss this first!

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Cheese, Norwegian Necessities

A look at the famous brown cheese of Norway with a sort discussion on the most famous few

Nothing beats a Norwegian breakfast – if’s huge and the selection of food mind boggling. Tables are piled with herrings (salted and pickled), smoked salmon, boiled and fried eggs, potatoes, bacon, hams fruit, fruit juices, cornflakes, milk, buttermilk, coffee, tea, sour milk and if your are really lucky, cheese! Glorious, glorious cheese takes pride of place and the unusual Norwegian cheese not only lends character but produces a taste sensation unique to this beautiful country.

Cheese in Norway starts with the farmers – the Alpine farmers.  Because of the Norwegian geography, mountain pastures start at the timberlines or just above them – a small distance from the farmyards.  Fifty kilometers between pastures are not unusual and, whilst in Southern Hemisphere terms that would be just around the corner, in Norwegian terms that’s one hell of distance which is why they are used as pastures for sheep, goats and cows. Similarly to Switzerland, the animals are driven to pasture in the middle of summer, around June and brought down again in September, towards the end.

Støl (mountain pasture homes, image below) are built for those caring animals and processing the milk so that that they can spend summer there with their animals. These cute little homes, built in clusters so that a budeien (a dairy maid) could get quick assistance from a neighbour should the need arise, are made of wood.  They have additional rooms called the melkebu and the ystarom where the milk will be kept and where butter and cheese can be hygienically made.  The animals themselves live in sheds called fjøs.  Nowadays the homes have electricity for convenience and so that the milking can be done electronically.

Not too well known, the following cheese is typical of Norway and with the exception of the Jarslburg, seldom bought outside Norway.

Gamalost

a cheese made from soured low fat milk – never before has non fat tasted so good! A labour intensive process when traditionally made, this is not always the case today. A lactic starter is added to low fat milk in order to sour it and after a few days the milk is heated, the curds separated and the cheese pressed into forms (see image above ). Once the forms are removed, mould is rubbed on the surface by hand.

Pultost

a traditional Norwegian cheese made originally from buttermilk and often called sour milk cheese. During the processing it is flavoured with caraway seeds (or even aniseeds) and and an intensely alluring, spreadable cheese is the result. The flavour is intense and the aroma strong! Interestingly, one can buy it in curd form as well.  Occasionally referred to as Ramost or Knaost, it is a must try on your next trip to Norway.

Mysost

made when the whey of cow’s milk is so thick that the lactose starts to crystallize, this lightly salted, dark caramel cheese turns into silky smooth bliss that has a distinct sweet-sour flavour. It is unusual but once accustomed, you can’t wait for your next “hit”.

Gjeitost

much like Mysost but made from the whey of goats cheese, it’s lighter but as tasty and as unusual. The Gyetost certainly has my vote!

Gudbrandsdalsost

whey from both cow and goatsmilk is combined to create an unusual but superb fresh cheese – the word means cheese from Gudbrandsdal. Thinly sliced on malt loaf it becomes one of my all-time special cheeses.

Jarlsburg,

made for the first time by Anders Larsen Bakke in the mid 1800’s, production was discontinued early on in 1900.  It was made again for the first time in 1959 by Ola Ystgaard, a university professor. The name comes from an old Vikings settlement in Oslo Fjord.  There are similarities to the Swiss Emmentahler cheese in that it has a semi-firm interior, irregular holes and a yellow waxy rind and even though the taste can also be described as slightly sweet, the similarity ends there.

Snøfrisk

(it means snow fresh) a preservative free cheese made from goats milk, produced for the first time in 1994 and comes in two flavours. Buy, the plain or flavoured with ground juniper berries to be spread on crackers for an unforgettable experience.

Ridder

– a mild, surface ripened, semisoft cheese that has an edible rind and is glorious with crackers and berries – and these are only a few reasons why a culinary trip to Norway is so essential in the education of the palate!

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