Braised Duck with Ginger

I thought I would take a break from my recent attempts at Caucasus cuisine and do something different. I get a bit tired of chicken so I recently bought a duck – a first for me. I could have just bunged the whole thing in the oven, I suppose, but I decided to go down this rather lengthy process of braising the brute and then actually cooking it, hoping it would cut some of the fat for which duck is notorious.

IMG_2286Someone, I don’t remember who, once told me that duck can have an unpleasant back flavour if not cleaned and prepared properly and the best way to prevent this is to rub the bird all over, inside and out, with grated ginger before giving it a good wash, so that is what I did, leaving it smothered in grated ginger root over night because I didn’t have time to deal with it then.

The next thing to do was cut it up into pieces, legs and wings gave me four pieces plus the actual body which I hacked rather clumsily into four pieces, which along with the neck, gave me a total of 9 largish pieces.IMG_2288

Heat some oil – I used rice bran – in a large pan and braise the duck pieces for about 7 minutes on each side. Because the pieces were quite large, I could only fit three or four pieces in the pan each time so the whole process took about three quarters of an hour.

IMG_2293I drained the duck pieces on kitchen paper and then poured off most of the oil into an old tin can and then peeled and julienned a decent size lump of ginger and stir-fried that in the remaining hot oil until fragrant.

While that was happening, I mixed about 500ml IMG_2294of boiling water with the fish sauce and sugar along with the ground white pepper. I chucked in a few small red chilies from a plant in the garden, not knowing how hot they might be so I only used about 4 small whole ones, seeds and all.

I put the duck pieces into a large pot on top of the julienned ginger and then poured the water, fish sauce, white pepper, salt and sugar on top, turned the heat up and brought the lot to a simmer before banging a lid on the pot and letting it gently simmer away for half an hour or so.

IMG_2297I took the lid off and continued to simmer for another 30 minutes or so until the sauce reduces.

Drain the duck pieces and transfer to a serving plate, and decorate with some (more) red chilies and a handful of parsley, celery or coriander leaves (whichever you have handy). Serve on a bed of white rice and drizzle some of the ginger sauce over the duck.IMG_2301

 Ingredients

1 Duck – about 2.5 kg.

A knob of ginger about the size of your thumb, grated.

2 Tablespoon oil.

2 Tablespoon fish sauce.

1 Tablespoon sugar.

1 Teaspoon of ground white pepper.

1 Teaspoon of salt.

500 ml boiling water.

Some red chilies, at least one but as many as you like.

Another knob of ginger peeled and cut into thin strips.

 

 

Lobio

I suppose every country in the world has some sort of national dish – Ireland – Irish Stew; England – Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pud; Italy – Spag Bol; USA – Hamburger & Fries; Germany – Wurst mit Mayo; Turkey – Lentil Soup (though not quite sure if that is the national dish and in Georgia – the country, not the state in the US – all the restaurants in Tbilisi and wherever else I went, seemed to serve Lobio Nigvzit – a hearty bean stew in a small clay pot. (Apologies to anyone who feels I have misrepresented their national dishes above)

IMG_2256Lobio is, at its most basic, just a thick stew of mashed beans with some or all or the following ingredients – fresh coriander, walnuts, garlic, onions,pomegranate molasses, fresh parsley or celery leaves, mint, chilli flakes, roasted whole coriander seeds, but it can be upgraded with bacon, beef, cheese etc. Here’s my take on the basic – feel free to add extras as you wish, but a word of caution, without any of the extras, it is still a deeply satisfying dish

Ingredients

1 mug of red kidney beansIMG_2241

1 cup walnut halves or pieces, finely ground

5 cloves garlic, minced

3 bay leaves

1 cup finely chopped coriander or flat-leaf parsley, dill, basil, celery greens

1 large, brown onion finely chopped

* 1/4 mug pomegranate molasses or red wine vinegar

 

1 tablespoon ground coriander, or to tasteIMG_2260

1 teaspoon ground thyme

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon smoked paprika or to taste

Method

Soak the beans, preferably overnight, in cold water but at least for several hours. I used one mug full of red kidney beans and covered them with buckets of water and they had pretty much doubled in size by the next day.

Drain the beans and cover with fresh water, add a few bay leaves and bring to a brisk boil before lowering the heat and letting the beans simmer while you chop onion and the fresh herbs finely.IMG_2258

When the beans are soft but still have distinct texture, add some salt and continue cooking until the beans are softer. Adding the salt too early can keep the beans from becoming tender. IMG_2261Drain but keep back some of the liquid and use the back of a wooden spoon, or a potato masher, to mash the beans on the side of the pot. Remember to remove the bay leaves.

Pound the parsley, garlic,fresh and ground coriander, chilli, thyme and smoked paprika and whole mixed pepper corns in a mortar and pestle. I could find the pestle only and not the mortar so I used my mum’s old food processor, a Moulinex MasterChef 350, which I helped myself to when she was in hospital one time when I was back visiting. My sister assured me that our mum would not be using it again and that I would get better use out of it. And I do. It’s ancient but it still does the job!

Add the pounded or whizzed ingredients to the ground walnuts, also whizzed, and stir well with the pomegranate molasses before adding to the beans.IMG_2262

IMG_2259Fry the chopped onion until golden and add to bean mix. Heat and thoroughly stir in reserved cooking liquid from the beans for desired consistency. Garnish with a few leftover parsley or corainder leaves, or whatever you have!

* pomegranates are a fairly new thing fro me and certainly the pomegranate molasses was a major new addition to my pantry. Tangy and sweet and sour, I bought it in a Middle Eastern style grocery but if you can’t find it, red wine vinegar can be used, I suppose. Incidentally, the pomegranate molasses is lovely mixed with sparkliing water for a really refreshing – and different – drink.

Variation: add chorizo, bacon or yoghurt

A(nother) New Direction (Again!)

One of the original ideas for this blog thingy was for me to encounter new curves in media and technology and … ok, ok, I am the first to admit I have been a bit of a slow learner in those areas.  But at least when I posted something on Red Branch Chronicles it also appeared, as if by magic, on my FaceBook thing which I never actually look at.  No idea how that happens – it is something that automatically occurs when I post on my WordPress account.  Now, for some reason, FaceBook no longer accepts direct input from WordPress unless I convert my FaceBook ‘Profile’ – didn’t even know I had one – to a Facebook ‘Page’.

Im not 100% sure what the difference is, but perhaps a page is more business-like than a (more?) informal profile?  Who knows?  Not sure I care actually, but I feel as if technology – and FaceBook in particular – have thrown up another obstacle in my snail like approach to media literacy.

Anyway, having followed explicit on-screen instructions (from FaceBook) on how to convert my Profile to a Page, this post should now magically spring up on Facebook to the shock and awe of … myself, anyway.

Here’s hoping

 

Qvevri Wines

One of the reasons I went to the Caucasus – and Georgia in particular – was because of the claims wine was ‘invented’ there in 6000 BCE, or 8000 years ago, give or take a few centuries. IMG_1726The Washington Post, National Geographic, The Daily Mail, the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the ABC all ran fairly recent stories bruiting the news of radio-carbon dating of pot shards and bio-molecular and DNA archaeology of grape pips from the Stone Age accurately dating wine making to that period in Georgia.

Alvin Toffler in his seminal book The Third Wave claimed that humanity advanced in sudden ‘waves’ or periods of intense adaptation and progress. The third wave was the technological and communications one which swept the world within the last century. The second was the Industrial Revolution but the first – and probably the most important wave – was the adaption of farming and the domestication of animals by our Neolithic Stone Age ancestors. Without this first wave, Toffler claimed, nothing else could have been achieved, which brings me back to wine.

To my mind, there is no question that wine was ever invented. IMG_1685Just as no one can claim the invention of the wheel or the discoverer of fire, similarly, no one can claim to have invented wine. Nevertheless, legends lay easy claim to the latter. Noah, after he landed the ark on Mt. Ararat (on the borders of modern day Turkey and Armenia) disembarked the animals and planted a vineyard after which he got horribly drunk and made a disgrace of himself. All of which begs the question of where he originally came from because he must have brought the vine shoots or saplings with him in the ark!   Then there is the much older Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh which also details a deluge after which the eponymous hero sets out on a quest to discover wine and the immortality it can bestow. Another Persian legend describes how Jamshyd – a semi-mythical king – kept grapes to be eaten in jars. One of his handmaids, out of temper with the king and his court, attempted to top herself by drinking the juice from the foaming grapes in one jar, believing it to be poison. Instead she discovered the delights of alcoholic inebriation which she then passed on to the king who, according to the XVII Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyam (The Fitzgerald Translation 1859)

‘They say the Lion and the Lizard keep

the courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep

It must have been a joyous discovery when the first Neolithic farmers found that the grapes, hoarded for leaner times, had fermented and changed magically into a drink other than the contaminated and disease ridden water that they had been dependent upon all their lives.

Three factors independently appeared, more or less at the same time, that all combined to give us the wine that we know today. Firstly the widespread presence of vitis vinifera, the wild Eurasian grape vine in the valleys between the greater and lesser Caucasus mountains, secondly the cultivation of barley and wheat which allowed food reserves to be stored, and thirdly the invention of pottery for making and storing wine.IMG_1854

But back to Georgia where the most astonishing thing is that wine is still made in the same way that our prehistoric ancestors made it.IMG_1619

First the grapes are crushed – sometimes in large, hollowed out logs – before the juice, the skins, the grape pips and even the stalks are poured into qvevri, large earthenware jars, (several hundred to thousands of litres in size) often lined with beeswax, which are then buried in the ground. The juice ferments using wild yeast while the ground maintains a steady geothermal temperature and the conical shape of the qvevri allows the wine to circulate and clarify naturally.

IMG_1623
A glass of ‘white’ qvevri wine compared to ‘normal’ white wine

These qvevri wines – also known as ‘natural’ or ‘raw’ or unfiltered wines – have a distinct orange or amber coloured hue due to the skin contact during fermentation and taste quite different to European wines which are fermented without the pulp. Nevertheless, qvevri wines can differ in style with both sweet, semi sweet and dry wine all being made from the Saparavi grape.IMG_1707

Wine is such an integral part of Georgian life that wine is made by just about every family as grape vines are ubiquitous throughout the country. Roughly 500 of the world’s 2000 grape varieties hail from Georgia although less than 20 varieties are used in wine making.

Kakheti, in the eastern part of the country is probably the most famous wine producing area in the country and that is where I went to sample the Saparavi dry red and the white Tsinandali in the town of Sighnaghi.IMG_2166

Under the Soviet rule, the Russian taste was for strong, sweet wine with extra sugar added which led to a decline in quality but since Georgia’s independence in 1991, wine makers have upped their game and while still producing wine in the traditional qvevri fashion, now also produce high quality wines in the western style.

References

https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/earliest-evidence-of-wine-found-in-giant-8000-year…

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/…/oldest-winemaking-grapes-georgia-archaeolog…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/…/Scientists-discover-8-000-year-old-wine-bottles-Ge…

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41977709

https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/14/health/oldest-wine-georgia-study-trnd/index.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-11-14/oldest-wine-georgia…pottery…/9143874

The Story of Wine – Hugh Johnson New Illustrated Edition 2002

A History of the World in 6 Glasses – Tom Standage 2005

Uncorking the Caucasus – Dr. Matthew Horkey & Charine Tan 2016
 

Georgia Reconsidered

A big red M outside Tbilisi’s main station marked the entrance to the city metro – probably the longest, deepest and fastest escalator I have ever been on and, like the bus fare from the border to Batumi which cost something like 30 ct, the trip on the metro were priced similarly or even cheaper.

The Georgians I met – generally local punters in a bar or café or wait staff in the same places – were all terribly proud of being Georgian and were especially keen to distance themselves from anything Russian, having finally extracted themselves from the sphere of influence wielded by Imperial Russia, Soviet Russia and The Russian Federation. Armed only with red roses, protesters demonstrated for twenty-three days outside the Georgian parliament in November 2003 in order to bring about peaceful change and a new slant towards westernisation.

A waiter or waitress’ recommendation from the local menu invariably followed the same line, ‘this very, very good, this very good, this very good, this … Russian, this very, very good’.

This ‘turning away’ from their former rulers led to increased tensions with Russia, culminating in the brief 2008 war where the Federation forcibly backed two separatist revolts against the Georgian state. One night in a small bar half way up a hilly side street near the Opera, a fluent speaker of English confided in me that he hated the Russians. They killed his brother during the war in South Ossetia.IMG_1759

IMG_1760 2Popping up from the metro two stops away from the main station – again an incredible ascent – onto Shota Rushtavelli Ave I was amazed to see how fashionably modern Tbilisi was. I don’t know what I was expecting – perhaps something slightly less developed than a Western capital, perhaps something slightly shop worn – but what I got was an amazing melange of old and new.

Opposite the Opera house where I was staying, it was only a IMG_1732short walk past the parliament buildings and down to Liberty Sq. and from there to the old town where crumbling buildings and shaky balconies edged fashionable pedestrian areas and parks.

IMG_1752 2Flea markets selling Russian junk crowded the bridge before a maze of small streets leading back up to Liberty Square in which the centre plinth was so high that I couldn’t actually make out what stood on top. IMG_1632

And then, as if this wasn’t enough, there was a cable car connection to the old Persian fortress overlooking the city and the hot spring baths with fashionable wine-bars and restaurants spread out below in inviting pedestrian areas and squares.IMG_1642

Despite having lived in Milan for almost three years, to my shame I never once went to La Scala, one of the most famous opera houses in the world. This time, staying opposite the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet State Theatre House on broad Shota Rustavelli Avenue, all I had to do was take the underpass and the Opera house was right there.

IMG_1769 2I saw the premiere of one of Verdi’s little known (certainly to me anyway) operas – Simon Boccanegra – an opera with a prologue and three acts with one intermission, the brochure informed me. A Google search of the plot baffled me but the splendour, the lighting, the colour, the drama and the music and the voices had me entranced – although the only word I actually heard was ‘Maria’ – and I became an opera lover overnight!

IMG_1619But time to leave the capital and explore the Kaheti wine region, the major wine growing area in the southeast. After all, in this part of the world, Neolithic farmers were making, drinking, enjoying and worshipping vitis vinifera 8,000 years ago so I assumed they knew how to make a decent drop.

And then there was the idea of  hiking in the Sveneti – the mountains region up in the northeast, rubbing shoulders with the breakaway state of Abhazia.IMG_1825

More of that later.

 

2 Georgian Lari = about $1.15 Australian cents

3 Georgian Lari = about $1.70 Australian cents

 

 

 

Georgia – First Impressions

A mini bus from Trabzon, on the far north east of Turkey’s share of the Black Sea, snaked past a long line of trucks queuing up to ender Georgia, many of which were backed-up in one of a string of tunnels leading up to the Turkish exit border post at Hopa. The bus could only go so far before we all had to get down and walk across the border throughIMG_1569 creaking, makeshift corridors of bare plywood and on into a no-man’s land where a very impressive Georgian border post, sparkling white in the sunshine, waited. No visa is needed for Georgia but my passport was scrutinised lengthily by a serious faced official before being smudgily stamped.

Out into Georgia proper and there’s a waiting, but already packed, minibus on to Batumi, Georgia’s premier port that I decline clambering in with a backpack. I wait for another emptier mini bus to materialize. One does and I scramble in along with another horde of people crossing the border and off to Batumi, all for about thirty Australian cents!

Asia or Europe or Asia Minor or even Eurasia? I couldn’t tell. The people didn’t look Asian the way people in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia looked Asian – they all seemed fair-skinned with blue eyes and dark hair, although many girls dyed their hair blonde. Caucasian or Circassian?

I suppose Batumi, the bustling seaport where the mini bus from the border dropped me off, had a hint of Asia with its grubby street market where spices, fruit – cherries and raspberries – veg and cheese were loudly hawked from stalls and barrows. Grimy Thai massage parlours, decorated with twinkling fairy lights, were shoulder to shoulder with casinos and slot machine joints. The beckoning and giggling girls in the doorways were definitely Thai – I stopped to chat to some of them – but their business was mostly with Turkish men who come over the border for a bit of fun. Where in God’s name is there any border with a town on either side where one side always appears better / more attractive / cheaper /more appealing than the other (and where there are truckloads of cross border trade)?

Pick anywhere on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic (Irish butter was always cheaper over the border in N. Ireland), or the border towns north of Khota Bharu in Malaysia and Sungai Golok and Narathiwat on the Thai side, or Hong Kong and Shenzhen, or Tijuana in Mexico and some place in Texas, and Temungong in Brunei Darussalam and Limbang in Malaysia but you get the idea. Oh, let’s not forget the overland border crossing from Saigon into Cambodia. Border towns worldwide always seem a bit seedy but all have that same frísson of excitement on first arrival.IMG_1570

Anyway, away from the market area and into a beautiful cloister-like square (Georgia became a Christian country in 301 C.E.) with restaurants on three sides. A pretty red-IMG_1572 2haired waitress dressed like a flight attendant with a jaunty blue hat, served me my first and excellent Georgian beer. I don’t know the name of the beer because it was written in the Georgian alphabet, which, to my eye looked unintelligible, full of squiggles, radii and what looks like badly written numbers.IMG_1591

What I did like about Batumi in particular were the mosaic style cobbled streets, the Botanical Gardens overlooking a muddy and uninviting Black Sea, the Cable Car that went to nowhere – well, there was a cafe and below that there was an empty, church tower – IMG_1599the musical fountain near the Ukrainian restaurant that had a dress code (I was not allowed to eat up on the balcony) and the somewhat gaudy buildings, IMG_1602the impossibly tall column of Medea (of Jason and the Argonauts fame),IMG_1639the excellent craft beer – although I meant to drink Georgian wine IMG_1605specifically! But what really bowled me over was the certainty on the part of everyone I spoke to that the Georgian language was directly related to the Basque language and that in the past Georgia had been called Iberia and that just proves it! Fantastic.  Yes, I know this bottle does not say Iberia but then aagain I find it hard to believe Georgian and Basque languages are related.IMG_1685

 

Mercimek Çorbasi (lentil soup)

From fancy seafood restaurants nestled in picturesque fishing villages on the Black Sea to a simple local lokanta “a greasy spoon,” in any town I went to in Turkey, the soup was always the same, even if the menu suggested asking a waiter about the Soup of the Day. Inevitably it was lentil soup served with a wedge of lemon on the side along with a bowl of crusty bread.

I’m not complaining about the soup – far from it, in fact I used to look forward to it in every place I ate because it was always different while being essential lentil. I suppose that’s why they called it Mercimek Çorbasi, lentil soup! There were variations from one end of the Black Sea, the Amasra end, nearer to Istanbul and Trabzon at the far eastern end where Georgia begins but always there were lentil, lemon, coriander and cumin seed and garlic. Variations could include carrots, potatoes, pepper, sumac, sweet paprika, dried oregano and dried mint, the whole lot slow cooked before being mashed.

Recently, I have tried just about all the variations and this is the one I like best.

IMG_2207

Ingredients

1 mug-full red lentils                                    1 medium brown onion

1 carrot                                                          3 cloves of garlic

1 tsp cumin seeds                                         1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp sumac*                                                   1 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp dried oregano                                      2 cloves garlic

1 Tblsp Tomato paste                                   6 mugs of vegetable broth or water

First, I dry roasted the coriander in a small pot over a high heat for about two minutes until I could get their nutty fragrance. Tip them into a bowl to cool. Dry roast the cumin seeds then in the same heated pot, but for a much shorter time – about a minute and set aside to cool.IMG_2209

Chop the carrot and the onion – I used two smallish ones here – and heat the oil in a pan before tipping the carrots in and stir-frying them for a minute or two. Add the chopped onion and squashed garlic and continue to stir-fry.IMG_2210

Grind up the roasted seeds and toss into the onion and carrot mix, along with the tomato paste, paprika and the sumac.

IMG_2212Stir and mix everything thoroughly and then add the red lentils. (I also used a few yellow split peas leftover from something else, probably less than a quarter of a mug’s worth), before adding about 6 mugs of boiling water or vegetable broth – I used a vegetable stock cube.

 

Bring everything up the boil and then simmer, partially covered. Stir every so often until the chopped bits of carrot are mushy and the lentils are very soft.IMG_2215

Let it cool and then whizz it to make a type of puree. If it is too thick, dilute it with more stock. Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze into it; a good sprinkle of salt and some warm crusty bread and it is comfort food all by itself.

IMG_2216

OK, OK, I know it might not look the most appealing but it tastes amazing, really!

* Sumac is a small deep red berry, dried and crushed to impart a tangy citrus flavour throughout Turkey and surrounding areas.