Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Tuna tapas - quick and easy treat for New Year buffet

Remember how I was supposed to go to Andalusia and tour the sherry country? And how in the end Middle East and Third intifada won? Oh, well. In the next posts we'll return there (and visit next winery of the itinerary!), but I suppose it's only fair we paid a little visit to Andalusia, too.

Having barely survived the stress over Christmas foods, I'm sure the last think you want to think about is what to serve at New Year, right? But hey - how about a fun and fuss-free tapas fiesta? And serving some sherries with them (before that Champagne pops open and starts flowing)? This is a recipe that goes with both.

These tuna tapas are one of the Basque country tapas (or, pintxos, as they're known there) classics and por que non - they're as quick as they're easy and cheap and cheerful, too! Instead of dill you can use finely chopped chives or parsley, too.

This makes enough spread for 1 baguette - that's about 20-15 pintxos

Tuna tapas:

1 baquette, diagonally sliced to 1,5 cm thick slices (and gently toasted, if you wish)

2 tins of tuna chunks in oil (à 185 g/ 140g) 
1,5 dl mayonnaise
1,5 tsp finely grated lemon zest
the juice of a lemon
1 smallish onion, very finely choppedp
3 tsp finely chopped fresh dill
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt, pepper

to serve: anchovies (1/ each pintxo) or capers or marinated red onion

Drain tuna. Combine the rest of the ingredients for the spread and finally fold in tuna. Check the taste, season, decorate and serve. 

As for those sherries, very cold Fino Inocente would be the best match. It also makes a good pair with olives and other fishy treats - from smoked salmon to deep-fried calamari rings. 

And what else could you have...?

If you're into seafood, you should check out these treats:

On the meatier side you might like these:

Albondigas - Spanish meat balls
- Quick and easy chorizo and chickpea salad
- Two-ingredient wonder chorizo cooked in red wine

And hey - how about tortilla Española, Spanish potato omelette? You can also cut it into cocktail-bites and serve topped with chorizo like I did over here. Salty and fatty sausages along with tortilla Española work well paired with something softer such as Cream (I like Valdespino's!).

And there can't be a tapas fiesta without those luscious Spanish hams. Ham and treats such as sun-dried tomatos (or oven-dried for that matter!) with a concentrated flavours with hints with vinegary elements are surprisingly good matches with sweeter varieties, such as Oloroso Blend Medium. 

For more tapas recipes just see here, for ideas on how to use sherry in cooking, just click on here!




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Sunday, 27 December 2015

Ham and pasta salad

The star of Finnish Christmas table is ham. A big ass ham. As a result, by now everyone's so sick of it they'll not want to see one for another year. But in case you're still left with some, this retro salad is a fine way of recycling it into good use. And a cheap and cheerful dish for parties and buffets. And picnics - we're only half a year away from summer!

In my childhood we never had issues with leftover ham: though I'm not much of a ham-eater (unless it comes from a black-hoofed Spaniard, of course...) my consumption during Christmas time got legendarily out of control. By Christmas Day my poor Dad had to cook another one as the first one had mysteriously disappeared into the bottomless stomach of his first-born...

And sure, after the non-stop food orgies that are Christmas you could substitute some of the mayonnaise in the dressing with say, Turkish yogurt, too. 

Serves 4-6, as a part of a buffet up to 10 people

Ham and pasta salad:

200 g pasta (gluten-free if needed)
350 g ham, diced to 1 cm cubes
1 red pepper, diced to 1 cm cubes
200 g peas
200 g corn


2,5 dl mayonnaise
2 tbsp mustard (sweeter variety)
1 bunch chives
1,5 tsp granulated garlic 
salt, pepper to taste

Conbine the ingredients for dressing. Cook pasta according to instructions on the packet. Drain and rinse with cold water. Combine with rest of the ingredients and fold in the dressing. Check the taste and season as needed. Serve. 




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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Nazareth - a destination for Jesus fan, political tourist and foodie alike

Contrary to my earlier trips in Israel, this time I found myself touring Arab Israel, which is quite a departure from the rest of the country - based on its architecture and overall appearance alone. This is, without a doubt, also down to the minimal resources allocated to maintaining and developing infrastructures of the Arab cities, widely criticized by them and East Jerusalem alike. 

In addition to Jaffa and Akko, Nazareth was an obvious place to include in my itinerary. It is the largest city in Northern District and also known as the capital of Arab Israel. 

Whereas the market streets of Old City of Akko were instantly welcoming, my first impression of Nazareth wasn't particularly charming. As the first young guy I passed hissed "sharmouta" I was optimistically certain I might remember it wrong. After the third time mustering the strength to control my temper (and tongue) proved significantly harder. Yep, I'd remembered just right. 

(In case you don't have an Arabic dictionary in front of you, I can tell you in English the translation starts with letter "w" and rhymes with shore...)

Nazareth is virtually 100% populated by Arabs. Close to 70% of them Muslims, rest of them Christian. Up until mid 19th century and the last decades of the Ottoman Empire the population was pretty much 50-50 Muslims and Christians, but towards the beginning of British Mandate in the end of first decade of the 20th century Christians made up two thirds of the population. 

Jewish population inhabits Nazareth Illit (the Upper Nazareth), built in the 1970's around the Arab Nazareth.

If you google Nazareth, the first 500 hits in the search results are about the Scottish rock band that gave the world "Love hurts"

But that carpenter's son (you know the one: born in Betlehem, whose birthday the world is about to celebrate?) has been almost as good PR for the city of Nazareth.

The sheer amount of churches, monasteries and schools and inns run by these two are a testament to the fact.

Nazareth is, in addition to Betlehem (and Jerusalem, of course), one of the most popular destinations for Christian pilgrims. The proportion of Christian population here is significantly higher than average (almost 31%) and this shows. 

In good...

... and... well, in all the other ways, too.

There are several theories of the origins of Nazareth. According to one the city gave name to the entire Christianity (depending on the language, Christians in Middle East are known as nasrani or notzri).

Excavations have shown that this place was inhabited already 9000 years ago, but the lac of archaeological findings after Assyrian era indicates that it came to a halt by 720 BC, when Assyrians started kicking the shit out of everything around them. No sources outside New Testament even really mention Nazareth until 200 AD, which, too, would imply it wasn't particularly significant at the time. 

Christian pilgrimages here started around 300 AD, but hostility towards them escalated in 614 when Persians gained control of the region. When Heraclius, Byzantine emperor invaded Nazareth in 630, it was Jews' turn to be evicted. 

Upon the First Crusade of 1099 Nazareth became the capital of Galilee from where the Nazarene Archdiocese was ruled from. Much like Akko, however, the city fell into the hands of Muslim rulers in 1187 and in 1260's the ruler at the time destroyed the Christian sites, banning Latin clergy in a bid to finally get rid of the Crusaders. 

The centuries that followed were bit of a tug of war between the Christians and the local rulers and the inhabitants.  Any kind of longer-term peace wasn't reached until Zahir al Umar's rule in 18th century which is when churches started appearing here. Under his rule Nazareth grew from a measly little village into a large and thriving city.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

In UN Partition plan Nazareth (like Akko) was to be part of the Arab state.  And just like with Akko, Israel invaded Nazareth, too, in the Independence War, which followed Israel's declaration of independence in 1948.

Unlike with Muslim population, Israel was afraid of the reaction evicting Arab Christian population might evoke in the international (and mostly Christian) community. The forcible displacements of the rest of the Arab population along with the fighting in the surrounding Galilee led to an influx of internally displaced refugees. In 1951 census refugees constituted a quarter of Nazareth's population. 

The city remained under Martial law until 1966.

In case you fancy a bit of political tourism yourself, Nazareth is not a bad place for that and your go-to-guy is no less than the award-winning journalist and author Jonathan Cook. He organizes informative tours in Nazareth and rest of the Galilee that shed light on the political, social, economical and historical dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

If Akko's colour was turquoise, Nazareth's is definitely green.

Unlike Betlehem, which is really only attractive for political tourists (the wall, you see) and those seriously into Jesus, Nazareth is becoming increasingly interesting for foodies as well. The city's culinary culture has been influenced by the neighbouring countries such as Syria and Lebanon and the various restaurants enable you to really explore the Arab cuisines in all their glory. Especially in the recent years the city has served inspiration to a whole host of up and coming chefs in Israel.

And here's a little something interesting you should definitely not pass on: Taybeh beer. Brewed in a first microbrewery in Middle East, located in a village by the same name near Ramallah, Taybeh is intriguing for a variety of reasons. 

(Bet you didn't see that one coming: beer? From Palestine? Oh, it gets even better!)

Not only is the beer really good, they're manufactured according to German Purity Laws and are completely free of additives and preservatives. My own faves are Golden (fresh, crisp with lovely hoppiness) and Dark (so velvety rich and smooth!). They are made with unwavering passion and patriotism and hey - brewed by a lady. Yep, Madees Khoudry is the first and only woman in Palestine with that job title. 




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Sunday, 20 December 2015

DIY Bissli - Israeli snacks made from deep-fried pasta

ALready in the first days of my latest trip in Israel a fellow traveller pointed out how "Israelis eat all the time". And "when they're not eating, they're talking about food" (no wonder I love the place!). And she had some truth in that: people eat out a lot and restaurants always seem to be full of families and groups of friends.

And between the meals and on the go they snack. Mostly on dreadfully healthy stuff such as nuts and seeds but Israel is also home to two rather peculiar snacks: Bamba and Bissli.

Bamba is insanely popular and makes up at least 25% of the whole snacks market. It's a cheetos-like snack made from puffed up, peanut butter (!) flavourd maize. It is actually so popular at one point I heard claims it was the main source of protein for Israeli children. Its staggering comsumption has also been given as the explanation to rarity of nut allergies in Israel. 

Bissli is my personal favourite and one of those things I just have to have when in the country. It is wheat-based and in essence deep-fried pasta. It comes in different shapes which tell, which flavour they are, the fusilli-shaped one (grill) being the bestseller. In addition to that there is pizza-flavoured Bissli, taco-seasoned Bissli and (it is Israel, after all..) falafel-flavoured Bissli. 

Satisfying your snack craving doesn't get much easier than this - this treat really only requires one ingredient: parboiled pasta. You can adjust the seasoning as you please - for the easiest way out just use ready-made taco or BBQ-seasoning. 

For pasta you can also use both gluten-free or wholemeal pasta. 

Bissli - Israeli snack made of deep-fried pasta:

250 g fusilli (or other pasta of your choice) 

grill seasoning:

1,5 tbsp onion powder
1,5 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp chillipowder
1,5 tsp pimentón (or regular paprika, though pimentón adds nice smokiness)
1,5 tsp ground coriander 
1,5 tsp salt
1,5 tsp ground black pepper

For frying: 1/2 l oil

Cook the pasta for a little more than half of the cooking time given on the package. Drain and spread out onto a tea towel. Leave to dry for 10 minutes. 

Combine the spices for the seasoning, check the taste and adjust if desired. 

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and deep-fry pasta in batches until golden brown. Quickly drain on kitchen towel and toss in the seasoning. Serve or store in an air-tight container. 




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Friday, 18 December 2015

The Templars' Akko - underground secrets and shenanigans

History has seen Akko become the playground of Canaanites, Israelis, Arabs, Romans, Byzantine, Ottomans and the Brits. The most fascinating era would, however, have to be that of the Crusades and Templars.

King Baldwin I (no known relation to Alec & co) of Jerusalem conquered Akko during the First Crusade in 1104, after a 4-year-siege.

In 1187 Saladin, sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty managed to get his hands on Jerusalem and along with it, Akko. It wasn't until four years later that The Third Crusade, led by Richard I of England and Filip II of France managed to win back The Holy Land. After that Akko effectively became the capital of what was left of the kingdom. 

The Sixth Crusade placed Akko under the rule of King's Hospitallers, a monastic military order tasked with caring for the sick in The Holy Land. This very fortress was their headquarters and one of the most impressive sites you can visit in Akko.

Oh, and in case the thought of life as a knight sets your heart racing and soul sigh with longing, long no more. Devout Christian? Pillar of the community? Prepared to support your fellow knights in any way you can? You too can become one. 

Yes, in 2015. Like, for real. Don't believe me? Just check out this one.

The Crusader city, located under the current one has been preserved practically perfectly and these days functions as a multimedia museum complex. The visitor is walked through the bewildering history of Akko with the help of paintings, photos, videos, light installations... and a very Disney-like remake of a Medieval artisan village.

In addition to the Citadel, the area is home to staggering number of other historic sites: churches, synagogues, mosques, art galleries, museums and ancient Turkish bath houses, the exploration of which easily takes a whole day. Audio tours are available in at least 10 languages. For more information, see here.

There's a host of different tickets available, based on how many sites you wish to visit. The basic one (38 NIS = €8) covers the Citadel and the Templars' Tunnel.

Despite the occasional Disney-touches it is difficult not to get giddy when surrounded by all this - that's how good a job the movie industry has done selling me the romantic ideas of fighting for the Holy Land and Templars with their secrets.

Templars, by the way, were monks, who'd taken the usual vows of celibacy and poverty, but the order swiftly rose from very humble beginnings to one of the most influential organizations of the time in Europe. To degree, in fact, that Pope himself declared them to be above any secular laws.

Bit of jihadists of their time and religion, Templars' mission was to stop Islam's expansion by conquering the Holy Land and Jerusalem (the holiest of the holiest), protecting the pilgrims and defending their faith by any means necessary. Their methods included pillaging, too, which is not surprising, their original members were underprivileged individuals who'd turned to petty crimes. 

The order got their name from their original headquarters, which were said to be located in the ruins of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Whether that's true or not, we'll never know - much like we'll never know the truth behind the wild claims they were in the possession of The Ark of the Covenant, Holy Grail, the cross of Jesus and Moses' 10 commandments.

These days, of course, everybody knows their actual whereabouts - they're at a US Government's secret warehouse after being rescued from the Nazis by Indiana Jones. Daa. 

Whether any of this is true or not, some of the mystery that shrouds the organization still lingers here today, especially at the Templars' Tunnel. The 350-metre passage leading from the fortress to the port wasn't discovered until 1994 and in its entirety it's been open to the public since 2007.

The size of the halls of the Citadel are impressive, to say the least. Those pillars for instance measure a good 10 metres in circumference. The venue offers spectacular setting for events and routinely hosts concerts and festivals. I managed to get here for one of the wildest: international harp contest...

So, what do you fancy now? Shall we take a little break? Or would you like a glass (or two or 13?) of wine? There's another winery visit still to come!




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