Starting with Kyrgyzstan

Hey there! I’m embarking on a new little culinary adventure that I’d like to share. Recently I heard that the average person eats only about 50 different food items, meaning our diets are typically pretty monotonous. 50! I try to come up with new recipes all the time, but I know my grocery list typically has some very similar items each week so I completely believe that estimate.

In this big, wide, food-filled world just think of all the foods we’re missing! This got me thinking, what if I started cooking recipes from different cultures and countries and parts of the world? That would probably be a really easy way to start trying and incorporating different foods…

We have a calendar from Operation World and have been flipping through it and reading about different countries and how to pray for them. This has been cool and I’ve learned about various countries that I only vaguely knew existed. I’ve also learned how poor my geography skills are (sorry, Dad…)

Enter: Aha Moment

What if I started cooking recipes from the different countries we’re praying for in the Operation World calendar?! Two birds, am I right?? 

It’s halfway through the year at this point, so I’m clearly not starting at the beginning of the alphabet. We're in the middle of the country list and we recently prayed for Kyrgyzstan (had to Google the proper pronunciation). I searched high and low and found a relatively simple looking recipe for something called djarkope (Google didn’t even try to pronounce that).

First, some facts:

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country in Asia, surrounded by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It is a primarily livestock-industry country. It has been under foreign rule for a long time – like since the 8th century – but gained independence (woot!) in 1991. Russia being its most recent ruler, Communism still heavily influences the culture. The five million plus people there speak Kyrgyz and Russian, and are primarily Muslim, at least by tradition. For more information check out Operation World's page on Kyrgyzstan here or National Graphic's details here.

Next up, djarkope!

Wikipedia offered up many options for dishes, but I found the dish and recipe I used here. According to the 196flavors website, “Kyrgyz dishes all have their origins in nomadic cuisine, a cuisine that is simple and not particularly elaborate as it is prepared in yurts in Central Asia.” I would agree – this recipe was not complicated. I found fennel at Trader Joe’s and went to a new grocer/butcher shop for the lamb, because TJ’s only had four pounds of lamb with the price tag of $32 and that’s half our weekly grocery budget. Thanks, but no thanks. 

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Mike and Vera of 196flavors.com have an awesome website that sorts their recipes by course, region, diet, holiday, and - my personal favorite - on their Flavor Map. If you're looking for unique and culturally diverse but specific recipes, head there. 

RECIPE OF DJARKOPE

INGREDIENTS (FOR 4 PEOPLE)

2 lb boneless lamb shoulder
1 lb sliced onions
6 garlic cloves, crushed
4 carrots, sliced
4 potatoes, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 fennel, thinly sliced engthwise and crosswise
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 teaspoon chili powder (any variety)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
4 tablespoons oil
1 cup boiling water

PREPARATION

  1. Cut the lamb into pieces of about 6 oz. 
  2. Brown meat in hot oil over high heat (meat should be roasted)
  3. Reduce heat to medium temperature. 
  4. Add carrots, onions, tomatoes, tomato paste, chili and pepper. Mix well. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
  5. Add the potatoes, garlic, cilantro, boiling water and salt. Bring to boil. Cook 10 minutes over medium heat and 40 minutes over low heat.
  6. Five minutes before the end of the cooking, add the fennel slices.
  7. If necessary, increase the temperature to reduce the liquid after cooking.
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Djarkope ended up being kind of like a stew. I don’t know that I’d had lamb before but I liked the different flavor of the meat for sure! I was skeptical of the fennel (tried it raw first, and am generally not a licorice flavor fan) but really enjoyed it in the dish. It added a floral note and almost a sweetness that was unique from anything I’ve had before!

Besides the fact that lamb is just pricier than our “standard” meats in the U.S., this recipe is definitely worth a try to spice up your menu! Those so-called standard meats are cheaper because they’re so abundant, which probably means we’re eating too much of them. Don’t be afraid of that variety – it’s good for you, in more ways than one!