Vietnam - Phở
Vietnam's Phở is one of the few dishes on here that I have had the pleasure of experiencing in its country of origin. I was, however, a fairly devout vegetarian at the time and so the meatless approximation of this absolute umami-bomb of a soup was, whilst still savoured until the very last drop, still an imitation of a far more deep and complexly flavoured dish. For those unfamiliar with phở, it's a noodle soup, usually beef based. The broth is made by charring onion and ginger over a flame (which set my fire alarm off not once, but twice) until blackened all over. Beef bones (which I got for free from a new local butcher I found local to me) are boiled down with the onion and ginger, as well as star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fish sauce, salt, rock sugar and beef for about an hour and a half before removing the beef and allowing the broth to reduce for another 3(!) hours. One of the particular elements to phở which makes it such an attractive dish to me is how it is then assembled, according to each diner's individual preference. Whilst noodles regularly come already in the broth, one can add a plethora of accoutrements - I added cooked beef, raw beef which semi-cooks in your bowl, bean sprouts, spring onions, lime, chilli, mint and coriander. I like my food slightly spicier than my partner so I added more chili, whereas she went for a more coriander flavoured bowl. On eating my own attempt of phở, it definitely sparked memories of colder nights in Hội An, a city in central Vietnam, sitting on tiny plastic red chairs on the side of the road, watching the motorbikes zoom past as I slurped down my noodles.
Estonia - Verivorst
I was lucky enough to be gifted a sausage-making attachment for my stand mixer for Christmas this year, and Estonia's verivorst gave me the perfect opportunity to test it out. Verivorst is blood sausage, not too dissimilar from the UK's black pudding. It is made by grinding up various types of pork with blood , flavourings and barley groats before stuffing. This left me with one of the more exciting shopping lists I have had for this project including
I was, amazingly, able to find all of these in local butchers (though I did have to try 3), except for blood. It turns out that it is actually now illegal to sell blood in butcher shops. Who knew? It is, however, possible to buy dried blood in mildly suspicious looking bags from Amazon, and I now have approximately 750g of dried blood (which vaguely resembles iron filings) sat in a bag in my cupboard. The tricky part of the recipe was cooking each of the pig offfal types at different temperatures for different amounts of time. Once all ground together and mixed with the rehydrated blood, barley, onion, allspice, marjoram and seasoning, the mixture is stuffed into intestine casings, cooked in 80 degree water for over an hour and left to cool. The sausage was actually really delicious, though if I were to make it again, I would cook the barley a little bit more beforehand. I served the black pudding many times, as I made a significant amount, but for the sake of a more traditional dish, I served it here with sauerkraut and potatoes (though it worked just as well with a full English breakfast!).
Croatia - Zagorski štrukli
I messed up with Croatia. I got very excited by the knowledge that I'd be using my sausage maker for Estonia and saw that Croatia has a very famous dish called Kulenova, a type of sausage. I did not think, for whatever reason, of actually reading through the recipe beforehand to check what would be involved in making the sausage, like I do for every other country. Kulenova, you see, is not a normal sausage, but rather a salami, and as such requires smoking for approximately half a year. I, funnily enough, do not have the means to do this, and so, having gotten as far as stuffing the casings before realising, was left with a very dry and rather grainy sausage. As I did not want to waste the ingredients, I still ate it albeit in a very disgruntled fashion. After I had recovered from my sausage-based mope, I found another Croatian dish to cook - Zagorski štrukli. This was a dish that challenged me, and only slightly due to the rough translation of a recipe that Google provided me. A simple dough is made and stuffed with a filling of eggs, salt, cream and svježeg sira - a fresh cheese like cottage cheese. This is, as you can probably imagine, a very wet filling, and it was a big hassle to get it enclosed and to stay closed once boiling. The finished product was fine, nothing particularly exciting - an item that definitely needs an accompaniment.
Slovakia - Bryndzové Halušky
Slovakia's Bryndzové Halušky reminded me a lot of Liechtenstein's Kaesknoepfle - small, spätzle-like plain dumplings. The big difference here is that these are potato-based instead of just flour and egg. The dough is boiled in salty water as little misshapen dumplings. The end-result is something more similar in texture instead to Lithuania's cepelinai - a slightly more chewy consistency. The recipe encouraged coating the dumplings with bacon grease, left-over from the fried bacon I served it with. I also got to try a new type of cheese with this dish (always an exciting moment for me) - Bryndza, a type of sheep's cheese, which is mixed with sour cream as a pseudo-sauce.
Slovenia - Veal and Buckwheat Dumplings
Slovenia's dish allowed me to add another flour to my ever growing collection - buckwheat flour. It's strongly flavoured for a flour and provides quite an earthy taste, as well as a characteristic grey colour. The dough for the dumplings is yeasted and then boiled or steamed. Whilst I would have preferred to steam the dumplings, I did not have a big enough receptacle for them and hat to use my large stock pot for boiling instead. Buckwheat dumplings can be served in many different ways - homemadeslovenianfood.blogspot.com encourages both savoury with sour turnip stew, and sweet with nuts, honey and cinnamon. I served it with some lovely fried veal (and vegetables of course - though not pictured, still very important for a healthy lifestyle!).