Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia & the Caucasus, written by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford, features the unique melting pot of cuisines from the lesser traveled areas in Central Asia. The title, Samarkand, is named after the city in Uzbekistan known as the “crossroads of cultures” for its location along the Silk Road and variety of ethnic groups. In this book, you will find dishes from all over the region including Chapli Kebabs from Afghanistan, Dushanbe Pilaf from Tajikistan, Samsa from Uzbekistan, Cinnamon Potatoes with Pine Nuts from Azerbaijan, Green Olive and Walnut Salad from Turkey, Spinach Khachapuri from Georgia, Grape and Pistachio Orzo from Armenia, and Salmon Kulebyaka from Russia.
Caroline Eden is a travel writer based in Great Britain. She has contributed to The Guardian, Financial Times, and The Telegraph, along with having a weekly page in the London Metro. She has traveled to Central Asia over a dozen times and reported on key events in Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Haiti and Azerbaijan for BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent. She has also spoken at the Royal Geographical Society, Asia House, Stanfords and Waterstones. Samarkand is her first cookbook.
Eleanor Ford is a food writer and recipe developer for the Good Food Channel and BBC Good Food Magazine. She has also been a restaurant reviewer for Time Out, editor for Zagat’s Hong Kong guide, and a judge for The Guild of Food Writers’ Awards. She first visited Uzbekistan in 2014 with her husband and son. This is also her first book.
Chapters are divided based on course: Introduction, A Shared Table, Soups, Roast Meats & Kebabs, Warming Food for Long Winters, Plovs & Pilafs, Accompaniments, Breads & Doughs, Drinks, and Desserts & Sweetmeats.
I was so incredibly excited to learn more about an area and cuisine I may never get the chance to experience in person through the breathtaking photography and Eden and Ford’s stories. They begin with an overview and history of the region. Uzbekistan alone has been influenced by seven ethnic groups in Samarkand- the Tajiks, Russians, Turks, Jews, Koreans, Caucasians, and Uzbeks. The background of each group is explained and how they left their mark on the cuisine.
Along with the recipes, you will also find travel snippets from the area such as foraging in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan; cultural differences between the Uighur and Han Chinese in Kashgar; a look inside the kitchen in the Mountain Jew community of Gyrmyzy Gasaba in Azerbaijan; offerings in the largest market in Almaty, Kazakhstan; the history behind Plov and its many variations; types of non bread and how it is baked; the food of Tbilisi, Georgia; fermented milk drinks and other dairy products; and even how apples were introduced to Kazakhstan.
Measurements are provided in US Customary. The name of the dish is generally written in English, but the name in the original language is occasionally given. Every recipe includes a headnote with background information and serving tips. The food photography is provided by Laura Edwards. Most of the recipes include a full page photo, generally of the finished dish. There are also absolutely gorgeous photos of the scenery, markets, and people of Central Asia.
This book is a great pick for those looking for recipes from the lesser known regions of Central Asia. This area tends to rely heavily on meats and dairy products, though there are quite a few vegetable offerings. Many of the dishes are authentic, while others were developed with the home cook in mind with stream-lined methods and less fat content. Many of the ingredients are easy to locate in the average American grocery store. Having an international market nearby specializing in Middle Eastern and Turkish foods will be helpful for a few of the items such as sour cherries, Korean chile powder, harissa, pomegranate molasses, barberries, lavash bread, tahini, orange blossom water, and vine leaves. Recipes range from easy to toss together in 10 minutes to elaborately layered dishes.
Katama is a beautiful onion-filled swirled flatbread from Kyrgyzstan. Pieces of dough (that can be made with or without yeast- this version is without) are rolled until flat and covered with golden caramelized onions. The circles are rolled up and coiled to enclose the onions and create flaky layers before being rolled flat again and pan-fried until crisp.
This was my first time rolling out stuffed flatbreads. A few of the onions escaped as I rolled them out, but overall most stayed inside to create crisp, flaky layers with bits of the sweet caramelized onions in every bite. I also learned that Claire is crazy about caramelized onions and tried her best to steal away the breads as I was photographing. She ended up eating a whole one on her own along with the bits of runaway onion she would grab as I was rolling out the Katama.
I also made Tomatoes, Dill, and Purple Basil; Yogurt, Cucumber, and Rose Petal Soup; Beef Shashlik with Tahini and Pistachio Sauce; and Bukharian Family-Style Chicken and Rice.
The Tomato, Dill, and Purple Basil is the very first recipe in the book. It was so perfect for summer. I have purple basil in the garden and this was a great use for it. Tomatoes are sliced and arranged with thinly sliced onions, dill, purple basil, and cilantro. The salad, known as “sweetie hottie” in Uzbekistan, is sprinkled with a sweet and spicy salt mixture.
The Yogurt, Cucumber, and Rose Petal Soup is another great dish for summer. This refreshing, herby soup is served cold with ice cubes to help cool down during hot days. It is also incredibly easy to make using the quick whirl of a blender. Yogurt is blended with cucumbers, a variety of herbs, seasonings, and rosewater. It is garnished with a few mint leaves and rose petals. I enjoyed it, but it seemed to be more of an acquired taste for Evan and Claire.
The Beef Shashlik come from the Gazientep province in Turkey’s Anatolia region. These ground beef skewers are packed with spices and chopped pistachios. The star of this dish to me was the accompanying Tahini and Pistachio Sauce. It was so easy to make and such a wonderful combination of flavors. Shelled pistachios are pureed with soaked bread, tahini, lemon, and garlic. It is also a great dipping sauce for bread.
Most plovs tend to be intricate with many ingredients. This Bukharian Family-Style Chicken and Rice dish is a nice alternative for weeknight dinners with your family. It was a huge hit with both kids. The dish is cooked in layers starting with carrots and onions, then chicken, and finally rice. It is cooked until tender in only about 30 minutes with very little prep work. I love the seasonings and the addition of toasted cashews over the top.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Kyle Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Katana (Kyrgyz Swirled Onion Flatbread)
Adapted from Samarkand
3 tablespoons butter
2 small onions, finely sliced
Pinch chile powder (ground red chile, not the American chile powder)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup warm water
Sunflower oil for cooking
In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until soft and golden brown. Decrease the heat if needed to keep them from burning. If desired, season with a little chile powder and remove from heat.
To make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the center. Squeeze the cooked onions using the back of a spoon and pour any of the liquid and butter that comes out into the well. Set aside the squeezed onions. Slowly add warm water into the well and mix in the flour to form a soft dough.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and pliable. If too crumbly, add more water. If too sticky, a little more flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
On a lightly floured surface, roll a piece of dough into a thin circle. Spread 1/4 of the onions over the surface. Roll the circle up into a tube, pinching and sealing the ends and the seam. Coil the tube up from end to end to make a cinnamon roll shape. Tuck the outside end into the underside of the coil. Roll the coil flat into a thin circle about the thickness of cardboard. Repeat with remaining pieces.
Place a wide, flat frying pan over medium high heat. Rub with a little oil. Once thoroughly heated, slightly pull the bread if it has contracted and place in the pan. Cook until golden, then flip and cook the other side. They should puff a little as they are heated. Remove from pan and repeat with remaining circles. Serve hot.