So way back in October, we cooked Cuba!  Today we cooked The Gambia, which is 20 countries later in the list…

I remember reading about a popular Cuban sandwich but wasn’t excited about the prospect of eating pickles on it. So I went with a slow cooked beef recipe called ropa vieja (the fact that it could be made in the crock pot definitely made it a winner!), yet another rice and beans recipe called “Moros y Cristianos” (“Moors and Christians” … the black beans represent the Moors and the white rice represents the Christians… yep.), and a sweet plantain dish called platanos en tenacion.

Ropa Vieja (recipe)

This was a slow cooked beef recipe with tomatoes, peppers, and a tomato based sauce.

What went in the crock pot in the morning:


The finished product:


Moros y Cristianos (recipe)

This another pretty simple rice and beans recipe.  Sauté onions, garlic, and peppers.  Add beans, tomato paste, and some spices.  Add chicken broth and rice.  Cook until done.


Cuban Platanos en Tentacion (recipe)

The recipes I read (including this one) were very insistent that this is a side dish, not a dessert!  It involved plantains (the riper the better), cinnamon, sugar, butter, and white wine.  All good things.  The brown things sticking out of the bananas are pieces of cinnamon (we did not eat them).


The full meal:


The flavors in this meal were great.  The rice and beans (of which there was a LOT) was good.  The meat tasted great, but the cut that the recipe called for was very stringy after cooking.  I had a hard time getting past the texture, but Tyler was okay with it.  The bananas, which were as sweet as you would expect bananas baked in butter, sugar, and cinnamon to be, actually worked reasonably well as a side dish and complemented the other foods.

Overall, not bad!  I gave the meal a 4/5 rating.

Here’s to catching up on these blog posts…



Croatia was one of the more difficult countries to pick recipes… from what I read (and what I can still remember several weeks later), their cuisine is pretty varied, with different regions enjoying food similar to Bosnia, Italy, Austria, or Hungary.

When I was looking through possible recipes, one that immediately caught my eye is pasticada, also known as a Dalmation pot roast.  Dalmatian like the region… not like 101 Dalmatians.  It is a cut of beef that is marinated and slow cooked with bacon inside of it, then served with a savory tomato/fruit/rosemary/bay leaf/etc. sauce and gnocchi.  Sounds delicious.  We also made a poppy seed roll called makovnjaca for dessert.

Potato Gnocchi (recipe)

We looked at a few gnocchi recipes and went with this mashed potato based one.  We started with boiling and mashing potatoes, which were mixed with butter and left to cool.  Then they were mixed with flour, eggs, salt, and cut into small pieces.  It made a LOT.  We still have 1/3 of the uncooked gnocchi in the freezer for a future meal.


I didn’t get a good picture from after boiling the gnocchi, so you’ll just have to wait for the picture with the main course to see how they turned out.

Pasticada (recipe)

We started with a cut of beef and stuffed little pieces of bacon stuffed inside it.  This was marinated with apple cider vinegar and mustard, and then it was browned in oil.  The onion, garlic, and vegetables (carrots and celery root) were sautéed in the oil, then the meat and veggies were simmered for a couple hours in red wine, water, and sugar.



By the way, it was our first time experiencing a celery root… that thing looked and smelled like pure evil.


More wine and sugar were added throughout the cooking time, as was the tomato paste, apple slices, prunes, and figs.  Later the bay leaves and rosemary went in, too.



At the end, a little bit of semi-sweet chocolate and plum jam were added to taste.  The meat was removed, the remaining sauce/produce were blended, and it was served over the gnocchi!


Makovnjaca (recipe)

This recipe started with making a yeast based dough that was left to rise for several hours.  After that, the (ground) poppy seeds were cooked in hot milk on the stove with honey, lemon rind, cinnamon, and rum.  Then this was left to cool off a bit.

The dough was rolled out and covered with the poppy seed filling.


This was rolled up and could be topped with either sugar or poppy seeds.  Due to some misunderstanding of the recipe, we did not scale it at all and ended up with TWO rolls, so we made one each way.


After baking:


And here it is cut into slices (the swirly was actually much better in the second roll, but I never took a picture of it):


We were very pleased with how this meal turned out.  The gnocchi, beef, and sauce were fantastic.  You definitely had to be mentally prepared for a very rich meal, since the sauce was puréed fruit, aromatic vegetables, and herbs.  But it was delicious.  We both rated it pretty highly.  I’m also excited to get out the frozen leftover gnocchi sometime when we need a quick dinner idea.

The makovnjaca (poppy seed roll) was good, although I would have liked for it to be a bit sweeter.  I normally am okay with less sweet desserts, but this took it a bit too far for my taste.  That said, I thought the dough was very good and enjoyed the taste of poppy seeds… I can’t say I have eaten something so prominently featuring them.  It was pretty good with a cup of tea.

Central African Republic

Central African Republic was number two of our three consecutive African countries, which I was a little worried about.  Once again, there weren’t an abundance of options to choose from.  We made this back in July too… still playing catch up with the blog posts.

We made a beef/peanut butter/okra stew called  kanda ti nyma, beignets de bananas (banana fritters), and a hibiscus tea called karkanji.

Kanda Ti Nyma (recipe)

This was a stew using several classic central African ingredients such as chili pepper, palm oil, okra, and peanut butter.  Several ingredients were mixed to make meatballs, then it was cooked with the okra and peanut butter sauce.  I added extra salt and chili powder at the recommendation of a comment on another international cooking blogger’s post.


It was served over rice.


Karakanji (recipe)

This seemed similar to the bissap that we made for Burkina Faso a while back.  The difference was that the hibiscus was steeped with ginger, and it used less sugar (and called for powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar).  As expected, it tasted similar but less sweet.


Beignets de bananes (recipe)

These were basically bananas meet fair food.  Sliced and battered bananas were fried and topped with powdered sugar.  I had a hard time not burning them. 😦


Meal review

Overall, the beignets de bananas stole the show.  They were delicious… like I said above, they were pretty much sliced bananas marauding as fair food (think funnel cakes and deep fried snickers).  The only downside is that they did not hold up as leftovers, and we made a lot of them.  The kanda ti nyma was okay… I thought it was a decent, filling meal.  Tyler really didn’t care for it… so I ate most of the leftovers.  I, on the other hand, really didn’t care for the karakanji drink… I think if it had more sugar like the bissap we made, I would have liked it, but it was just too bitter or tart or something.


After our 3+ week break, we finally got back into this project with Brazil.  It was a bit of a doozy to start back into the project with this country because there were SO MANY OPTIONS.  These big countries are tough; there is just so much information and variety in cuisine.  The most commonly selected dish by the other international cooking blogs I follow is a meat and bean stew called feijoada, so I went with that.  The traditional sides are cove mineira (cooked collard greens or kale), farofa (toasted manioc flour), and rice.  I planned to make all of those but had to bail on the farofa when I couldn’t find the coarse manioc flour locally (in case anyone is interested, here is the recipe I was planning to use).  I also made a simple dessert called brigadeiros, which are similar to chocolate truffles and are named after a 1920s Brazilian politician.

Feijoada (recipe)

This dish consists of a whole bunch of meat and some beans slow cooked together.  The first challenge was gathering all of the meat.  This recipe called for 1 lb corned beef, 2 lb smoked spareribs or pork chops, 3/4 lb slab of bacon, 1 1/2 lb boneless beef chuck or eye round, 1 ham hock, 1 pig’s food, and 1/4 lb chorizo.  That is a lot of meet.

We checked with multiple grocery stores, and none of them have corned beef in stock (maybe they consider it seasonal??).  I read in multiple other recipes that the corned beef is actually a substitute for a type of Brazillian dried beef called carne seca.  I did some searching on how to make your own carne seca, and it involved several days of letting salted beef dry out in the sun.  Not happening.  Since I read many comments that the more smoked meats you put in this dish the better, we decided our substitute would be to smoke a piece of beef (we went with a beef chuck cut) with some salt on it.  We let it smoke long enough to get somewhat dry, hoping that would be closer to the authentic ingredient.

We also couldn’t find pig feet (darn, how disappointing…), so instead we used the second ham hock that came in the package of two.  The only other substitution/change is that the chorizo we found didn’t have a casing, so it was cooked like ground beef as opposed to being cut in slices.

After retrieving all of the meat, we started cooking.  Most of the meat simmered in the stock pot for an hour or two.  It was a very full pot.



After the meat was all cooked and tender (it took longer than the recipe recommended), it was removed from the broth and then chopped/shredded.  I set aside the broth.

Feijoada_meats   Feijoada_shredded_meats


Next the (pre-soaked) black beans went in the stock pot with some of the reserved broth.  I don’t have any pictures to share of this step… it didn’t look very exciting.

Next we chopped the jalapeño, scallions, and garlic.


They were cooked with the chorizo.  It smelled delicious.

Feijoada_veggies_chorizo_uncooked   Feijoada_chorizo_veggies


The beans, some broth, the bacon/ham hock meat, and eventually the rest of the meats were added and left to simmer for a little while to get to the final product.



Brazilian Style Rice (recipe)

This was pretty close to your standard white rice, except that you start by frying some garlic, onion, and the uncooked rice in oil.  The intent was to lightly brown the rice, although I can’t say that really happened with mine.  Then you add the water and cook as usual.


 Couve Mineira (recipe)

This was another quick and simple.  It was my first time cooking with collard greens, and I was pretty impressed at how huge the leaves are.  I also was excited to chiffonade them (A. What a fun word! B. What a fun way to slice stuff and make cool ribbon shaped strips!).

chiffonading_collard_greens   chiffonaded_collard_greens

The chiffonaded collard greens were boiled for a couple minutes then dunked in cold water.  It took two batches because it turns out that “two large bunches” of collard greens makes a LOT of food.

Then the garlic, salt, and pepper were heated in olive oil and tossed with the collard greens.  Nice and simple.


Brigadeiros (recipe)

These also had a short ingredient list and simple cooking instructions… they just took a while.  A can of sweetened, condensed milk, butter, and cocoa powder were mixed in a small pan over medium-low heat.  This was stirred constantly for about half an hour (and by constantly I mean stirred constantly for a minute or two, left alone for a few minutes while I folded laundry, stirred for another minute or two, then left alone again as I continued folding laundry, then back to stir, etc…).  I forgot to take a picture of the final consistency, but the idea was to continue this process until it was thick enough that you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir.

Brigadeiros_1   Brigadeiros_2   Brigadeiros_3   Brigadeiros_4


After the heating process it was left in a buttered pan to cool.  It felt like I was making brownies.



Then the batter was rolled by into small balls and coated with chocolate sprinkles.  The tip to put some butter (I used crisco) on your hands to keep the mixture from sticking was very helpful.



The final meal looked surprisingly similar to Botswana from a few weeks ago.  It is traditional to serve the feijoada with orange wedges to help with digestion or something.  They also added some nice color to the plate.



We are loving the nice weather and enjoyed this meal on our screened-in porch. 🙂



The meal was good.  I can’t say it was a favorite, but it was good.  The feijoada had a fairly complex flavor from all of the different meats.  It was overwhelmingly meaty and heavy, though… definitely more meat than we are used to eating.  Since it made so much, we ended up freezing half, and I’m tempted to use some of those leftovers with barbecue sauce as a sandwiches.  The meat reminded me a bit of the saucy southerner sandwich from the delicious Hickory Park of Ames, IA.  I don’t know if orange really goes that well with this dish or if I just was really in the mood for oranges, but the orange wedges were delicious with the feijoada.

The rice was good, but I can’t say I noticed a big difference in texture or flavor from the standard method of boiling white rice in water.  I’m still not a big fan of cooked greens as a side, but I will say that this recipe for collard greens were better than average.  I may warm up to them by the end of this project in a few years.

The brigadeiros were quite good.  They were similar to chocolate truffles, but the filling reminded me more of brownie batter.  Very rich, so one or two was all I could eat in one sitting.  My co-workers benefitted from some of the extras. 🙂


One more catch up post, then I will get to write about last night’s meal, Brazil. We had a very long hiatus from this project–24 days between Botswana and Brazil!  Since it has been 3-4 weeks since we cooked Botswana, this post will be only as long and detailed as my memory permits.

I didn’t find a vast amount of information on Botswanan food, and I selected a pretty simple meal.  We made a beef dish called seswaa, a cornmeal-based side dish called bogobe, and a vegetable-based side dish called morogo wa dinawa.  I found all of the recipes on the wonderful website, which has been a GREAT resource for international recipes in this project.

Seswaa (recipe)

Several descriptions I read for this recipe explained that is cooked by the men.  The men cook the meat and then pound it into a mush (described as being close to a mashed potato consistency).  So I put Tyler in charge of this while I worked on the sides. 🙂

This was a pretty simple recipe–put a 1 kg cut of beef, chopped onion, and ground pepper in a pan of boiling water and then let it cook for a few hours.  I’m convinced we should have just thrown it in the crock pot, but instead we attempted to cook it after work.  We gave it the recommended 150 minutes and then some, and it never got particularly tender.  Eventually we had to call it a day and pull it out.

seswaa_cooking   seswaa_pre_mashing

The next step is to pound it into submission with a stick.  Tyler used a wooden spoon.  It took heavy damage.



Despite our trimming efforts, we ended up with a lot of fat/gristle that wasn’t easy to deal with, and it only came somewhat close to the right “mashed-potato-like” consistency.


Maize Meal Bogobe (recipe)

I was pretty nervous about this dish.  The last time we made one of these starch and hot water goop side dishes (funge for Angola), it was an epic fail.  The second time (cou cou for Barbados), it was tolerable.  Third try is a charm, right?

Like Barbados, this recipe used cornmeal.  I think the proportions and cooking time/temperature were a little different this time.  This was another simple dish… boil some water, with salt, pour in the cornmeal, cover, and let it simmer for 20 minutes.  The recipe said to pour the cornmeal into the middle of the pan so you get a cone.  My cone was sticking out of the water.  I don’t know if that’s what was supposed to happen, but I let it stay that way for the 20 minute cook time.  I figured since the lid was on, it would be cooked by the steam and ambient heat in or out of the water.


After stirring it several times with a fork to prevent sticking and cooking for another 15 minutes, it actually looked tolerable and somewhat similar to pictures I have seen!  Success!


Morogo Wa Dinawa (recipe)

I will preface this by saying we had to make a big substitution.  We don’t have African cow pea leaves in the middle of Iowa.  We have lots of cows, peas, and leaves, but not cow pea leaves.  So we used spinach instead.

I first made a recipe for the Botswanan barbecue spice mix.  Salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, oregano, etc.  I didn’t use the alligator pepper that it called for since we used a small amount of the spice mix, and I definitely wasn’t going to find alligator pepper locally.



Like so many recipes before, this started with frying onions in a pan with oil.  I should figure out how many of these international meals have started that way… I bet 80-90% of the countries have had at least one dish start with frying onions in a pan.

Anyway, green bell pepper and tomato were added to the onions and fried a bit longer.  As usual, lots of pretty colors!


Then the water and bean leaves (spinach) were added and cooked for fifteen minutes.


Finally, the spice mix was added.  I don’t remember how much of the spice mix we used, but I know we at least scaled the recipe by 1/4.


The final meal:


Overall, I rated this meal with a resounding “meh.”  The parts of the seswaa meat that weren’t gristly had reasonably good flavor, but they were hard to come by.  The cornmeal based bogobe was actually decent.  I liked it much better than the similar funge or cou cou that we made in the past.  However, it was still a dry/bland side dish with a dry/bland main course… not a winning combination for me.  The greens were decent, but I haven’t really gotten on board with the pile of soggy/cooked greens thing yet.  At least the spice mix and other veggies added good flavor.  I might have been a bigger fan of this if it was more of a side dish and less of a “this has the most interesting flavor of the entire meal” thing.


Belgium. The first question/comment I got from most people when I mentioned cooking food from Belgium was, “are you making Belgian waffles?” And the answer is yes, yes we did. We also made beef cooked in a thick, beer based suace with homemade fries. Terrible for a calorie count, but so delicious.

I learned that there are several types of Belgian waffles, which somewhat correspond to different regions. I also learned that what we wanted to make is Liege waffles, which use pearl sugar that carmelizes on the outside as it cooks.

I didn’t follow a recipe for the fries–I just went off the descriptions I read. Traditionally there is a specific type of potato that is used, but we just went with the basic russets that we could find locally. They were cut into thick French Fry shaped slices. Apparently the key (other than using the right potatoes…) is to cook the fries once, let them cool, and then cook them a second time at a slightly higher temperature. This was our first attempt at homemade fries. Since we don’t own a deep fat frier (that’s probably for the best), we just poured vegetable oil in a deep pan to the minimum depth we could to still fully submerge a decent number of fries at once. That’s another place where we deviated from tradition… It is traditional to cook in animal fat, which didn’t find very appealing or readily available. So basically, we made regular fries and served them with a Belgian meal.

fries_frying   Beglium_fries

Flemish Carbonnade (recipe)
I will preface this by saying that unless you want to eat this stuff for a LONG time or feed a lot of people, scale the recipe! We made the full recipe, which used 4 (!) pounds of beef. That is either a very good or bad thing, depending on your opinion of this recipe and like or dislike of eating the same food for a week straight.

This recipe started with small pieces of beef, which were seasoned with salt/pepper, dredged in flour, and browned in melted butter. Again, with the whole 4 pounds of beef thing (which happened to be precut in smaller pieces than the recommended 2-inch cubes), this took a long time! As usual, we filled the house with smoke from burning butter during the frying process. Side note: we used a lot more flour and butter than the recipe called for to coat and brown all of the meat.

Flemish_carbonnades_browning   carbonnades_beef

The meat was transferred to the stock pot, since we still don’t own a Dutch oven. In the mean time, the onions were fried in the first pan.


The the pan was deglazed with beer (we used two bottles of beer instead of three, since it didn’t seem like enough liquid for all the beef). This was all dumped in the stock pot with a few bay leaves and the dried thyme.


We let it do its thing for a couple hours, the added the currant jelly and vinegar as I was cooking the rest of the fries.


Liege waffles (recipe)
I won’t pretend to know much about making the waffle batter… This was an all day affair with many steps that had 30 minutes, two hours, etc. between adding ingredients or kneading. Tyler used a day off from work to clean/organize/build shelves for the garage, and he was kind enough to make the waffle dough during the day! All I know is that it was a lot of work, took all day, and looked like this when I got involved (the white stuff is pearl sugar):


Just before dinner, I kneaded in the pearl sugar (ow.) and separated the dough into five balls.


After we ate the main course, we cooked these one by one in the waffle iron. It took a few attempts to perfect the temperature/cook time method, so we had a couple that were slight darker than intended.



The results? Another winner! The homemade fries were much better than what I’ve had in (American) restaurants, although they didn’t feel particularly exotic… They were, however, a great accompaniment to the carbonnades!! The beef had a good, rich flavor, and I was surprised at how thick the sauce was. Very good, very filling. That said… The waffles stole the show! We agreed that they really do not deserve to be in the same category as waffles. They were more like high quality pastries that just happened to be cooked in the shape of a waffle. I can’t say enough good things about the thick, delicious dough, and the carmelized sugar on the outside was amazing. These didn’t need any toppings… They were perfect by themselves.

Belgium_meal   Liege_waffles_2


I’m changing the format of my posts to just one post per country… it was getting too tedious to keep up with several posts for every country.

We were excited to move on to Argentina over the weekend!  I read that Argentinians eats lots of beef, and the most traditional meal would be a big outdoor barbecue with multiple meat-based dishes.  Although we had a “heat wave” with a high of 35°F the day we cooked, it got colder as the day went on… so we decided against grilling.

On the menu this week:

  • Beef empandas
  • Chimichurri sauce
  • Aflajores (Dulce de Leche stuffed cookies)

The main course, and the most work, was the empandas.

We followed this recipe for the dough, and roughly followed it for the filling.  I merged several recipes for the filling… so I modified quantities of some of the filling ingredients from this recipe, and I added raisins.  I also omitted oregano and used red pepper flakes instead of chili powder (and a smaller quantity than 2 T to keep it from getting too spicy).  The smoked paprika gave the filling a distinct red color.


I learned that the traditional way to seal the empandas shut is with the repulgue style seam.  It wasn’t too hard to figure out, and I thought it looked pretty.  Our filling to dough ratio was off, so I ended up with extra filling and with several over-stuffed empanadas (which had blowouts 😦 ).  They were topped with a bit of egg yolk and went in the oven.


The next recipe is the chimichurri sauce, which seems to be the go-to condiment of Argentina.  Consisting primarily of parsley, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, it seemed like an Argentinian version of pesto.  We blended these ingredients in the food processor and called it good!

Chimichurri_sauce_ingredients   Chimichurri_sauce

The final combination of empanadas with chimichurri sauce was wonderful!  This was another recipe that tested my limits of eating foods I don’t like (the empanada filling had olives, raisins, and hard boiled eggs… all of which are foods I avoid eating!), but I found that they were disguised by the rest of the flavors and textures enough that I didn’t notice them.  I even enjoyed the occasional sweetness when I came across a raisin.  We also cooked a steak in the oven, which obviously wasn’t the same as grilling, but it was very good with the chimichurri sauce.


Of course this was paired with a malbec from Argentina. 🙂


For dessert, we made alfajores (cookies filled with Dulce de Leche).  Dulce de Leche, which is similar to caramel, came up frequently in my research of Argentina.  I saw several references to this type of cookie which is stuffed with it, and we decided it would be the perfect dessert.

There are several methods for preparing Dulce de Leche, and we went with the cook-it-in-the-oven-method. We poured a can of sweetened, condensed milk in a pie pan, then sprinkled some Kosher salt on top,  This was covered with aluminum foil and placed in an empty roasting pan.  You fill the roasting pan with water (up to about the pie pan’s halfway point), then bake in the oven for an hour at 425°.


Stir it with a whisk halfway through (and refill water as needed), then whisk again at the end of the cooking time.  This stuff was delicious, and I couldn’t wait to try it in cookie form.


The cookies are somewhere between sugar cookies and short bread cookies, and they have a bit of lemon zest to add a little lemon flavor.  The dough was sticky and messy and to work with, but the cookies came out beautifully.


Once the cookies had a little time to cool (and trust me, they had plenty of time to cool by the time we cleaned up the full bottle of red wine that shattered just as we sat down to eat…), I put a spoonful of Dulce de Leche between two cookies, and then rolled the sides in grated coconut.  These turned out beautifully, and I think they were an even bigger hit than the empanadas!  This is another one of those dishes that I was surprised at how much I liked… I don’t usually like coconut, and I’m not wild about lemon or caramel in desserts either.  But these were just melt-in-your mouth delicious!


All in all, I would call this our second 100% successful country to cook so far!



Next time, we are back across the ocean to Armenia!

Algeria: Bourek


We followed this recipe from for the Algerian appetizer, bourek.  There are many variations of this dish, but the version we used is stuffed with seasoned beef, onion, cheese, and egg.

We sautéed one chopped onion in oil, then added half a pound of ground beef.  Once the beef was cooked, we drained some of the oil and added 1 1/2 cups of parsley (we used dehydrated parsley from our garden last summer), a pinch of cinnamon, and some salt and pepper.


We took this mixture off the heat to let it cool for a few minutes, then stirred in two beaten eggs.  Next we sliced some brie cheese–aptly labeled with the words, “la bonne vie” or “the good life” on the side:


We laid out a few sheets of Phyllo dough, then placed a small slice of brie cheese with some of the ground beef mixture.


Then this was rolled up…


…and fried.


Unfortunately, I didn’t capture a great photo of the end result, and the best looking rolls disappeared before I remembered to take a picture!


Afghanistan: Kabuli Pulao

Kabuli Pulao (recipe)

The most common way to prepare this dish is with lamb.  Now, I’m very open minded to new foods, but I tend to get squeamish with trying new meats.  I am content with the conventional (by American midwest standards) beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.  I decided at the beginning of this project to be open minded to new foods.  So I told Tyler when he left for the grocery store to get lamb if they had it.  Which they did… but not enough.  So we used beef. 🙂

This recipe also used a new ingredient to us–saffron.  As it turns out, saffron is ridiculously expensive!  We decided to splurge on it in honor of starting this project, but let’s just say it won’t become an every day spice for us.  We put the mortar and pestle to good use.

saffron   saffron_raw   saffron_ground

The onion, tomatoes, beef, and rice slowly cooked in the broth and spices over low heat for an hour or so until most of the water was absorbed.  Meanwhile, we julienned & sautéed the carrots, rehydrated the raisins, and blanched & fried the almonds and pistachios.

rehydrating_carrots  fried_almonds_and_pistachios

To serve, the rice and beef mixture was topped with the carrots, raisins, and nuts.