Everything's Fishy in Turkmenistan

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GMT - 12 Hours Everything's Fishy in Turkmenistan

Post by Bao on Sun Oct 30, 2016 5:29 pm

For drinks and dinner this evening, my house is headed to the Caspian Sea coast of Turkmenistan in Central Asia.  Today is Independence Day, Turkmenistan's primary state holiday, and also the 25th Anniversary of Turkmenistan declaring independence from the USSR.  Far from being among the first Soviet republics to declare independence as the USSR was collapsing, Turkmenistan was one of the last.  Even after the failed Soviet coup of August 1991, Turkmenistan was in no hurry to become independent.  The Turkmen ruling elites were content with the status quo and with the Soviet Union ensuring they retained absolute control over a repressive single-party regime.

It's no surprise that Turkmenistan has been and still is The #1 Hot Mess of Central Asia.  With independence, the First Secretary of the Turkmen Communist Party became the nation's first president - and eventually declared himself President for Life.  He renamed the Communist Party the Democratic Party, made himself the head of that party, declared that democracy had come to Turkmenistan - and then he outlawed all other political parties.  He was bonkers - narcissistic, greedy, posturing, vengeful and  cruel - he's the President for Life who famously renamed the days of the week and the months of the year after personally important events in his own life.  He was a mashup of Kim Jong-il, Caligula, Mussolini, Louis XIV, Baby Doc Duvalier, Idi Amin, Homer Simpson and Donald Trump.  He promulgated laws based on whatever notions, fancies, or inklings crossed his mind.  He's remembered for denouncing gold teeth and for banning them, telling the Turkmen people they would strengthen their teeth and retain more of them if they chewed on bones.  "I watched young dogs when I was young. They were given bones to gnaw to strengthen their teeth. Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not chew on bones. This is my advice..."    Imagine what he could have accomplished with a Twitter account.  @TheReaPresident4Life

Other accomplishments include:

  • Made his own autobiographical guide to life, the Ruhnama, required reading for all school students and new drivers (and irequired it to be displayed in mosques, right next to the Koran);

  • Renamed the Turkmen word for ‘bread’ after his mother;

  • Banned long hair and beards;

  • Banned television presenters from wearing makeup because he had difficulty in distinguishing between the men and women and because the Turkmen women were already attractive enough;

  • Banned lip-syncing at music concerts, and banned music in automobiles;

  • Banned smoking in public places after he had been forced to quit smoking for health reasons;

  • Banned opera, ballet and the circus (not sufficiently Turkmen-ish);

  • Made all students wear national dress to college / university.

According to Human Rights Watch, "Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries. The country is virtually closed to independent scrutiny, media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal."   According to Reporters Without Borders' 2014 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan had the 3rd worst press freedom conditions in the world, placing 178th out of 180 countries - only North Korea and Eritrea are worse. 

So, Turkmenistan is *not* my kind of place.  No regard for civil or human rights, no democracy, accountability or rule of law.  Folks have embraced self-aggrandizing gasbag autocrats, Strongman Politics, and rule without law.  Turkmenistan serves as the counter-point to former Soviet republics like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where democracy was long sought after.  Nations where democracy is understood to be really hard work requiring vigilance and upkeep and real standards.  Where folks understand that democracy doe not mean The people love me.  And when I win, those who opposed me will be sorry!

Turkmenistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, but the people share the same generally tolerant attitude toward alcohol found in places like Turkey.  Long rule by Russia means vodka is the most popular alcohol, followed by beer and wine.  Works for us, and at Cocktail Hour we'll mix up a pitcher of Pomegranate Cosmos (recipe previously posted) and Pomegranate Cocktails(vodka, triple sec, pom juice, seltzer, lemon juice, pom seeds).  Pomegranates figure prominently in Turkmen cuisine, and will pop up a few times this evening.  Small bites to go with drinks include:

  • Naan bread, goat butter or goat sour cream, slivers of red onion, caviar(American paddlefish caviar, not Caspian)

  • Potato Boats (filled with sour cream, chopped salad & herbs)

  • Deep-Fried Spinach Gutap (hand pie or turnover)

Our starter at table is White Cabbage Soup, a Turkmen vegetable soup with cabbage, carrot, onion, celery, potato, a bit of rice, vegetable stock.  Our main plate is Shashliks, kebabs.  Turkmen living along the Caspian Sea use fish for shashliks, especially sturgeon, but that fish is really difficult to find in Philly.  Salmon shashliks are also very popular (balyk shara - made with Caspian Sea salmon).  Turkmen fish shashliks are often flavored with pomegranate, so we're having Salmon Kebabs w/ Pomegranate Molasses & Honey.  We'll plate that with our starch, a basic Turkmen Pilaf.  *Most* of the meal can reappear at lunches tomorrow.

Dessert will be melon if some can be found - Turkmenistan is famous for and very proud of its melons - there's a touch of Hooterville there.  But otherwise we'll just share some pomegranate seeds, grapes, and apples.

Turkmenistan's Independence Monument

Pomegranate Cocktail, from Blowfish Sushi

Yield  Makes 4 servings

        6 ounces premium vodka (Blowfish Sushi uses Han Soju, an Asian spirit)
        2 ounces seltzer
        4 ounces Triple Sec
        4 ounces pomegranate juice
        2 lemons, juiced
        1 pomegranate, seeded


        Combine vodka, seltzer, Triple Sec, pomegranate juice, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker over ice; shake. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with pomegranate seeds. Save leftover fruit for nibbling. 


Potato Boats - Kartoşka Gaýyk, from Turkmen Kitchen

Makes 6 potato boats

3 large unpeeled potatoes, halved lengthwise
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
6 tablespoons sour cream
1 garlic clove, grated
Pinch of red pepper flakes
⅓ teaspoon dried mint
3 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 large cucumber, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
⅓ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Wrap each potato half in foil. Bake at 250°C (482°F) on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the potatoes in the oven for another 20-25 minutes.

2. Using a teaspoon, gently scoop out the potato flesh (save the flesh for another use, like mashed potatoes). Deep-fry the potato skins in preheated oil, turning once, until browned on both sides. Transfer the browned potato skins to a plate and set aside to cool.

3. In a small bowl, stir the sour cream, garlic, pepper flakes and dried mint together.

4. In another bowl, combine the chopped vegetables and herbs. Add the salt and lemon juice, and toss it all together.

5. Add a dollop of the sour cream dressing to each potato skin, and then fill them up with the salad. Serve right away.


Deep-Fried Gutap - Cheburek, from Turkmen Kitchen

Makes 16 gutaps

For the meat filling:
500 g ground beef or lamb
1 onion, ground or finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons water

For the spinach filling:
1 kg fresh spinach
8 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt

For the dough (enough for one filling):
1 teaspoon salt
300 ml warm water
500 g flour

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

1. To make the meat filling: Mix all the meat filling ingredients thoroughly.

To make the spinach filling: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Rinse the spinach and add it to the pot. After 5 minutes, scoop out the spinach with a slotted spoon and, to preserve its green color, put it in a bowl of cold water. Drain the spinach again and then crush it with a wooden spoon. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour. When the flour turns slightly brown, add the water and stir 5-6 times. Add the crushed spinach and salt. Stir well and turn off the heat.

2. In a large bowl, mix all the dough ingredients together and knead to a smooth dough. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll each piece between your palms into a ball. Cover the dough balls with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

3. Take a ball of dough, sprinkle some flour and roll it out to a 14 cm circle. Spread 1 tablespoon of the meat or spinach filling on half of the circle while leaving a thin border. Fold the other half over and then crimp along the edge with a fork. Transfer the gutap to a tray covered with a kitchen towel and place another towel on top so that the gutap doesn’t stick to the tray or harden. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.

4. Fill a large pot about 4 cm deep with oil and heat over medium heat. Prick the top of each gutap with a fork. Deep-fry the gutaps in batches of 2, flipping them once, until golden brown on both sides, and then take them out with a slotted spoon.

White Cabbage Soup - Kelem Corbasy
, from Turkmen Kitchen

Serves 3

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 white cabbage leaves, shredded
1 small carrot, cubed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 rib of celery, chopped
1 small potato, cubed
1 vegetable bouillon cube
2 bay leaves
1 l water
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground red pepper
1 tablespoon rice
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the cabbage, carrot and onion. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Add the celery, potato, bouillon cube, bay leaves and water. When the soup begins to boil, add the salt and ground red pepper, then reduce the heat to medium and cover. After 10-12 minutes, add the rice and garlic. Cook for another 7-8 minutes, add the lemon juice, and turn off the heat. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with a dollop of yogurt and season with black pepper (optional).

(Simon's note:  Not sure what kind of rice is cooked after only 7-8 minutes; we'll add some cooked rice that's on hand.  I don't know what's in a vegetable bouillon cube, and it's probably nothing objectionable - but I'd rather use some home-made veggie stock.)

President for Life loved seeing himself supersized in gold

Salmon Kebabs w/ Pomegranate Molasses & Honey, from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Fresh: Delicious Flavors on Your Plate All Year Round

Salmon may not be the most refined fish in the sea, but it does have the advantage of being able to take just about anything you want to throw at it.  This may not be the most positive way of putting it; there is a lot to be said for its coral meatiness.  Here, treackly pomegranate molasses, honey and soy pervade it with sour-sweet pungency; once grilled, it takes on a burnished, barbecued stickiness.

1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
1/3 cup good0-quality honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
18 ounces salmon fillet, cubes (approx. 1-1/2 inches square)

Whisk together the pomegranate molasses, honey and soy, and pour it into a freezer bag.  Add the salmon pieces, and tie the bag, expelling any air first, then marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Soak some wooden skewers in water, and then thread about three cubes of salmon onto each skewer.  Barbecue or grill the fish for 3-4 minutes each side.

Makes 5 skewers. 

Not to be outdone, the current Turkmen president also supersizes himself in gold

Pilav, from Turkmen Kitchen

Serves 6

For the pilaf:
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
400 g (2 cups) basmati rice, rinsed and drained
750 ml (3 cups) water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

For the toppings:
1 handful almonds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 handful raisins
150 g (1 cup) thin vermicelli
125 ml (1/2 cup) water, plus more for boiling almonds
Pinch of salt

1. Heat 6 tablespoons oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the rice to the pot and stir to coat with the oil. Pour in the water, add the salt, and put the lid on the pot. Boil the rice over high heat for 3 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium. Steam the rice for 15 minutes.

2. While the rice is cooking, prepare the toppings. Put the almonds in a saucepan, fill the saucepan halfway with water, and boil for 5 minutes over high heat. Drain the almonds and slip their skin off by squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger. Cut the almonds in half (or keep them whole if you like). Add the oil to the saucepan and heat it over medium heat. Throw in the almonds and toss them around until they begin to brown. Remove the almonds with a slotted spoon.

3. Throw the raisins into the same saucepan, toss them around for 2-3 seconds, then take them out.

4. In the same saucepan, stir-fry the vermicelli until golden brown. Pour in the water, add the salt and turn the heat up high. When the water has evaporated, reduce the heat to medium and put the lid on the saucepan. Steam the vermicelli for 10 minutes.

5. Scoop the rice onto a serving platter and garnish with the almonds, raisins and vermicelli. Pilaf goes well with chicken, beef, lamb, or salmon.

Virgo Rat
Posts : 429
Join date : 2016-10-29
Age : 21
Location : Jampur
--Mood-- : Coldturkey

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