Operation Dumpling Dinner Party: Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Morocco, Cook Islands, France, Russia, Georgia and Yemen in a single evening!

It's been a while since we've been doing regular Operation Dumpling missions, so it was time to get back on track. The solution: an Operation Dumpling potluck dinner party where guests pick a country and bring something for everyone to sample - and boy was it diverse!

We were planning a housewarming party as we've recently moved, and decided to make it an Operation Dumpling Group Mission at the same time!

Guests were given the ground rules of Operation Dumpling as well as a list of 'no fly zones' - name the countries we've already knocked off our list. Guests were encouraged to get creative, as there would be prizes for Most Unusual Country and Tastiest Dish. The challenge was set!

Brence and I decided to do Russia after I came across a web page talking about Pelmeni, or 'Russian Dumplings'. I'd been wanting to do Russia and was thinking about borscht, but a dumpling-themed food seemed a much better idea! Plus, it looks like we can still do borscht for the Ukraine, according to Wikipedia :)

A 1952 Soviet poster advertising pelmeni.

The day of the dinner party we spent the afternoon making our pelmeni. I made the filling from a one-third/one-third/one-third mixture of beef, pork and lamb. According to Wikipedia, "The traditional Ural recipe requires a mixture of 45% beef, 35% mutton and 20% pork", so I figured my mixture was pretty close. The meat got thoroughly mixed with a large diced onion and 3 cloves of minced garlic.

3-meat dumplings, rather like our patented 3-Meat Spaghetti recipe

Brence made the dumpling dough (a basic flour/egg/salt/milk combo) and then we got to work making the pelmeni.
Dough boy at work. Nice apron!

Handy step-by-step photos on how to make pelmeni can be found here, along with instructions in Russian. I used Google Translate to deciper this guy's page and got interesting instructions such as:

"Once the dumplings vsplyvut wait a few minutes, after which the skimmer Fish and style to the dish."

Err, okay.

a teaspoon of filling...

fold and seal...

pinch the ends together...

and you've got a plateful of delicious пельмень!

Sharon goes cuckoo for pelmeni!

We threw the finished pelmeni in the fridge and waited for party time. 20 minutes prior to guests arriving we boiled 2 pots of water and started boiling the pelmeni. One recipe says to 'wait until they float, then boil 5 minutes more', while another said to simply boil for '15-20 minutes'. Since the dumplings contained raw pork meat I was keen to ensure they were well-cooked and let them boil for 20 minutes before draining and "styling them to the dish".

It's floating!

The web page that I originally found with the recipe for pelmeni also had a recipe for a 'russian salsa' called "Adzhika", which I discovered is a salsa that originates in Georgia - once part of the USSR but now its own country.

Can you say, "TWO Operation Dumpling map pins!?!?!" Woohoo!!!

I found a more complete recipe for Georgian Adzhika (apparently there are as many versions of this salsa as there are wives in Georgia making it) and set about making it. Into the food processor went capsicum, celery, hot peppers, cilantro and other salsa goodies.

Georgian hot salsa, ready to accompany the Pelmeni

Our guests arrived and a fantastic array of international foods was laid out on the table. We then dined on the following dishes:

Russian Pelmeni (meat dumplings) with Georgian hot salsa

Moroccan lamb stew with couscous

Swedish pea & ham soup served with pancakes & jam

Apparently in Sweden this is traditionally eaten only on Thursdays! The story goes that when Sweden was converted to Catholicism, pea soup became the traditional meal for Thursday dinner, especially 'och flask' (with pork) to tide hardworking farmers over the fast on Fridays.

Although Sweden was converted to Lutheranism around 1530, pea soup continued to be eaten as a standard for Thursday dinners even to today, traditionally with mustard. Over time, other traditions grew up around it, such as having Swedish pancakes topped with preserves or fresh berries as an accompaniment. According to Wikipedia, pea soup with pancakes are served every Thursday in the Swedish Armed Forces.

Cook Islands Ika Mata
(fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk)

A lovely sweet Danish from, can you guess?? (Denmark!)
Our friend Maria made this from her Danish grandmother's recipe.

A mountain of French profiteroles, hand-made by Melissa
(she even made the special choux pastry - her first ever time making it!)

Halabi Kebab (stuffed meat loaf) with Zhoug hot salsa, from Yemen...

...and Charoset (a sweet treat), also from Yemen

We had a magnificent buffet and everything was delicious. We needed to pick favourites though, as Brence and I had organised small prizes for Tastiest Main Dish, Tastiest Dessert, and Most Unusual Country.

Everyone digs in to the main courses

Around the world on a plate!

There wasn't a single thing that wasn't delicious, and I really mean that. I don't even like pea soup or ham very much, yet Amanda's Swedish pea and ham soup was really lovely. It was like having a universe of flavours in my mouth - especially when coconut milk from the Cook Islands started soaking into my Swedish pancake.

It was hard to pick our favourites, but in the end we ended up with the winners:

Tastiest Main Dish: Becky's Cook Islands Ika Mata won by a landslide, inspired by her recent honeymoon in Rarotonga.
Runner up: a tie between our Russian Pelmeni and Amanda's Swedish pea soup/pancakes

Tastiest Dessert: Debi's Yemenite Charouset
Runner up: Maria's icing-ly delicious Danish Puff
(a side note here is that it was AGONISING to pick a favourite dessert as they were all so good! When Melissa had to leave and she picked up the tray of extra profiteroles to take home there was a mass panic and she was practically mugged at the door as everyone rushed to take more before she left)

Most Unusual Country: Yemen, because I had to look on a map to find out where the heck it was! (hint, it's next to Saudi Arabia)

We had a splendid evening and I was stuffed to the gills - but that didn't stop me from serving coffee with Dutch windmill cookies after dinner! Brence and I were so impressed with everyone's efforts and excitedly stuck map pins in the official Operation Dumpling map after dinner. We covered a lot of ground in one evening, but there are still many places to go. South America remains an entire continent untouched...

The Map - updated. We've made good headway into Europe
and have set foot in Africa and the Middle East

Tune in next time for more Operation Dumpling culinary adventures! In the meantime, try some of the fantastic and fun-filled recipes below.


Russian Pelmeni
1.5 cups flour
1/2 cup milk or water
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs

175 g minced beef
175 g minced pork
175 g minced lamb or mutton
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
salt, pepper

Combine all dough ingredients in a large mixing bowl until a soft dough forms. Add more flour if it's too wet, or more water if too dry. Turn out onto a board and knead until it becomes elastic. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

Whiz up the onion and garlic in a food processor, then add to a large mixing bowl. Add the mince and some salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Roll out the dough to be quite thin and cut cirles out of it, the size that would fit in the palm of your hand. We used a large drinking glass to cut the circles.

In each circle place a teaspoon of meat filling. Moisten the edge of the pastry and fold in half and squeeze to seal in a half-moon shape. Then pinch the ends of the moon together to form a round fortune-cookie shape. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling.

Boil a large pot of water with 3 bay leaves. When the water is boiling, add the pelmeni. They will sink at first, make sure to give them a stir otherwise they'll stick to the bottom! Boil for 15-20 minutes then drain and 'style to the dish'. Serve with hot Georgian relish, or butter and sour cream.

Georgian Adzhika hot relish
8 garlic cloves minced
1-2 large sticks of celery
1/2 lb fresh hot peppers
1 red bell pepper cored and seeded
2 cups dill, fresh chopped
1 1/2 cups cilantro (coriander), fresh chopped
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt

Coarsely chop celery, hot peppers and red bell pepper then add garlic and mix well. Add chopped herbs and mix to a medium coarseness. Stir in vinegar salt then cover and refrigerate. (I just threw everything in a food processor until mixed to medium coarseness.)

Best if allowed to sit for 3+ days before serving. Even though it originated in the Republic of Georgia it is commonly used all over the former Soviet Union.

Moroccoan Lamb and Chickpea Stew with Couscous
1kg boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed with press
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can whole tomatoes
1 can tomato puree
1 can chicken broth
3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cans (15- to 19-ounce) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
120 mls pitted green olives, chopped
60 mls (loosely packed) fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped, plus additional for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F/160 C. Pat lamb dry with paper towels and sprinkle all over with 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a large oven-safe cooking pot, heat olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add lamb pieces and cook in batches to brown lamb on all sides (4-5 min per batch). Transfer lamb pieces to a medium bowl.

Reduce heat to medium. To same pot add onion and garlic, and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is tender and golden, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, ground red pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook 30 seconds, stirring to toast the spices.

Return lamb to pot. Add tomatoes and puree, chicken broth, and carrots; heat well on medium-high. Cover pot with lid or foil and place in oven. Bake for 1 hour or until lamb is tender when pierced with tip of knife, stirring once halfway through cooking.

Return pot to stovetop; stir in beans and olives, and cook on medium-high for 5 minutes then stir in chopped fresh coriander.

Spoon stew into bowls and garnish with more coriander leaves.

1 cup raisins
2 cups boiling water
3 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1.5 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups couscous
1 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Put raisins in a small bowl and add enough boiling water to cover them. Let sit until they plump and soften (5-6 minutes).

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large saucepan and add the olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Stir in the couscous, making sure that all of it is wet. Cover and sit the saucepan in a warm place until the couscous is tender, 15-20 minutes.

Stir in the raisins, toasted almonds, and parsley. Drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil over the top.

Swedish ham & pea soup with pancakes
Traditional Swedish Ärtsoppa soup is made from whole yellow peas (although you could substitute with regular spit peas if desired) plus water, salt, onion and a ham hock. Dried herbs and vegetables can be added as well. All the ingredients are simmered together for about an hour. The ham hock is then removed from the pot, the meat cleaned off it and added back into the soup. The soup is reheated for a few minutes, then served. The soup is usually served with a swirl of mustard added on top and stirred in. Serve alongside pancakes and fruit jam.

450 grams whole dried yellow peas (or regular split peas)
6 cups cold water
1 carrot, finely diced
2 onions, finely diced
1 ham hock or 1/2 pound of lean salt pork, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp thyme
salt to taste
grainy brown mustard to serve

First, soak the peas in water for at least 12 hours.

Drain the peas, put them in a big pot and add the water, onions and carrot and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer, add the ham, cover, and let simmer for about 2-3 minutes. If pea skins come to the surface, just skim them off.

Half way through the cooking, if you take a cup or two of the whole mixture (minus the ham hock) and run it through the blender, it yields a thicker soup.

If using a ham hock, remove the meat, let cool, then cut all the meat off in small pieces and add back into the soup and heat through.

Serve in bowls with a swirl of grainy mustard on top.

4 eggs
475 ml milk
60 g all-purpose flour
10 g sugar
1 g salt
30 g melted butter

In a large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Mix in milk, flour, sugar, salt, and melted butter.

Preheat a non-stick skillet to medium heat. Pour a thin layer of batter on skillet, and spread to edges. Cook until top surface appears dry. Cut into 2 or 4 sections, and flip with a spatula. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Roll each pancake up, and serve with fresh fruit or jam - preferably lingonberry if possible!

Cook Islands Ika Mata
Becky's notes: I added tomato (couple handfuls finely chopped, flesh only no juice/seeds) plus same amount of cucumber. I used gurnard but any firm fish will do I think ... and I used slightly more coconut cream (a whole tin I think).

This is a dish made from raw fish and is a delicious South Pacific favourite. It takes about ten minutes to make. The fish is marinated in lime juice and is served cold with coconut cream. Fresh tuna is probably the best choice of fish but even calamari works. For an entrée for 4 people, get:

400g fresh fish
½ cup lime or lemon juice
¼ cup thick coconut cream
¼ cup red onion
handful chopped coriander
finely sliced spring onion or two
a green or red chilli (no seeds, no pith and finely chopped)
salt and ground black pepper

Cut the fish into small chunks or thin strips and mix through the lime juice. Leave it for at least an hour - up to four hours - in the fridge. The finer the fish is sliced, the quicker it will ‘cook’ in the citrus juice. Combine the remaining ingredients, drain the fish and toss through the coconut mixture. Serve at once with salt and pepper to taste. A crispy bed of lettuce makes a nice presentation and a cool crunchy taste. For a different taste replace the coconut milk with soy sauce. Don’t leave the fish marinating too long or it may ‘melt’ from the acids in the citrus juice.

Yemenese Halabi Kebab with Zhoug
from The Yemenite Cookbook by Zion Levi and Hani Agabria
2 1/2 lb ground beef
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp zhoug*
3 tbsp oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped parsley
3 eggs

small green chili peppers (enough to make 1 cup after being pureed)
1 cup chopped parsley
1 c chopped fresh coriander
1 1/2 tb fresh minced garlic
1 ts pepper
1 ts salt
1 ts ground cumin
2 tb olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine ground beef with flour, 1 tbsp oil, salt, pepper and zhoug. Form the meat mixture into a 10-inch loaf. Make a well the entire length of the loaf.

Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a skillet. Saute together the onions, mushrooms and parsley until the onions are golden. Place the mixture in the well of the loaf. Lightly beat the eggs and pour over the vegetables.

Pat the sides of the loaf together to close up the well, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes. The loaf may be served either hot or cold.

Zhoug is a source of pride among the Yemenite population. Made with the sharpest of chili peppers, it is eaten with classically oriental Jewish meals. More than just a condiment, it is a tradition. Yemenites believe that daily consumption of zhoug wards off disease and strengthens the heart. It can be an addition to salad, and a sauce for various kinds of meat, fish and poultry dishes.

To make Zhoug: In a blender, puree enough chili peppers to measure 1 cup. Puree parsley and coriander together and blend well with the chili peppers. Add garlic, seasonings and olive oil. Again, blend well. Put the zhoug in a jar and keep it in the refrigerator. It will remain fresh for many months.

Yemenite Charoset
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried apricots
8 dried figs,quartered
2 tsp Ground coriander
2 tsp lime or lemon rind,finely grated
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp To 4 Passover sweet white Wine
2 tbsp Sesame seeds toasted

Process almonds and apricots coarsely in food processor. Transfer to small bowl. Process figs to fine consistancy. Stir into almond apricot mixture. Add coriander, rind, honey and enough white wine to bind ingredients. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Roll into balls, 1" in diameter, roll in the sesame seeds and place each in miniature paper cups, or shape into a pyramid and press sesame seeds into sides.

Danish Puff
Maria notes: "I doubled the topping because it didn't look like enough, but in the end I think the icing layer was a bit thick? [NO WAY Maria - it was awesome!!] My mum puts chopped up cherries on it at Christmas for a festive feel... those crazy Danes!"


115 g butter (no substitutes)
125 g all-purpose flour
15 ml cold water

235 ml water
115 g butter (no substitutes)
125 g all-purpose flour
2 g salt
3 eggs
3 ml almond extract

180 g confectioners' sugar

30 g butter, softened
15 ml water
8 ml vanilla extract
70 g sliced almonds,toasted

In a bowl, cut butter into the flour until crumbly. Sprinkle with water; toss with a fork until moist enough to shape into a ball. Divide in half. On a floured surface, roll each portion into 1 12-in. x 3-in. rectangle. Place on greased baking sheets.

In a saucepan, bring water and butter to a boil. Add flour and salt all at once; stir until a smooth ball forms. Remove from the heat; let stand 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add extract; beat until smooth. Spread over dough. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour or until puffed and golden brown. Cool on pans for 10 minutes. Combine sugar, butter, water and vanilla until smooth; spread over warm puffs. Sprinkle with almonds. Refrigerate leftovers.

French Profiterole Mountain
Melissa's notes: "The profiteroles were sourced from a Tara Ramsey's Real Family Food believe it or not. Yes, I think she actually advocates them as everyday family fare!" [sounds good to me!]

75g butter
225ml water
100g plain flour, sifted
1tsp sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten
200g good quality plain chocolate
125ml double (heavy) cream
200ml whipping cream
1tbsp icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F

2. Put the butter and water in a medium saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. When the liquid is boiling fast, add the flour and sugar and take the pan off the heat

3. Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon, stirring very quickly until the mixture becomes thick and glossy and comes away from the sides of the pan.

4. Stand the saucepan in a sink or pan of cold water. When the mixture is cool, beat in the eggs a little bit at a time. The final mixture should be smooth and shiny and should drop off the spoon slowly and not be to runny.

5. Place teaspoons of the mixture 8cm apart on 2 baking sheets lined with baking paper. Bake for 20-30 minutes until crisp and golden. Use a skewer to make a pea-sized hole in the bottom of each profiterole and leave them upside down (hole on top). Return to the oven and cook for 5 more minutes to stop them being soggy on the inside. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

6. Place the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl above a saucepan of simmering water. When the chocolate has melted, stir well to make a sauce.

7. Whip together the whipping cream and icing sugar until thick. Slice each choux bun in half and fill with whipped cream.

8. Stack them in a pyramid or rough mountain shape on a platter and pour the chocolate sauce on top.

4 comments Posted by Sharon on Monday, April 27, 2009

OD goes on location to New York, New York

Brence and I had the grand pleasure of visiting New York City recently, and even though we had already 'done' the USA for Operation Dumpling, we decided to instigate a new On Location category reserved for when we eat typical food of a country while actually IN that country!

A new map pin colour (yellow) has been selected to denote Operation Dumpling missions that occur On Location in the actual country in question.

And what was the ultimate food item we ate in New York City to celebrate the first ever Operation Dumpling 'On Location' mission? Why, street vendor hot dogs, of course!

Sharon shows off the ultimate in New York street food,
while the vendor gets excited about his photo being taken

Brence digs in - it was gone in about 3 bites!

I have to say that I did expect them to be bigger. I had visions
in my head of a giant weiner dripping with sauce [make of that what you will], but alas it was not to be. They still tasted pretty good though, and there really are hot dog vendors all over the place, so as long as you've got a few dollar in your pocket you'll never go hungry.

While in the Big Apple we made short work of some other typically American food items:

Buffalo wings in a Manhattan bar (one of Sharon's favouritest foods ever!)

Nasty 'nachos' with plasticky fake cheese topping,
and cotton candy at an ice hockey game at
a New Jersey Devils ice hockey game

Bottomless filter coffee while using free wifi at
a Lower East Side cafe/bar/diner

Big, oily, cheap and delicious slice of pizza,
2am in the Lower East Side
whilst on the way home from a bar

And of course, more burgers! The 'best burger in Manhattan', according to one of the assistant District Attourneys of New York City, is from the Corner Bistro in Greenwich Village. The presentation was very simple - white bun, slice of lettuce, slice of tomato, all on a plastic plate - but the burgers were indeed fantastic. The secret? The GIANT FAT-A** burger patties are baked in a massive oven, not fried. It's interesting that in the States you can order a burger and can ask for it to be 'pink' (e.g. rare), like a steak. That's unheard of here in NZ but I gotta tell ya, it tastes pretty darn good.

A simple menu - but oh-so-tasty.
The line to get in the place went out the door,
and we were lucky to (eventually) get a table!

The secret of their success - patties are baked not fried!

Burgers, fries, ketchup and beer - God bless America.

We also had lunch at a typical 'diner' on the lower west side. Typical because it looked like a 1950s diner, and because it was run by Greeks (apparently that's the cliche?) I had a reuben sandwich - loads of pastrami on rye bread covered with saurkraut and melted cheese, with onion rings on the side. It was awesome.

Brence had a buger with onion rings, and the burger was bigger than his head - see photo below!

Not for the faint of heart!

All in all New York City was a wonderment of culinary excitement, and we didn't even scratch the surface! Next time it will be giant pretzels, peanuts at a baseball game and a Manhattan cocktail in a trendy bar. I'd better start saving my pennies...

1 comments Posted by Sharon on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Scotland - Haggis and Whisky at Robbie Burns Night

A wee while ago my friend Neil invited Brence and I to a special mid-winter "Robbie Burns Night" at the University of Canterbury Staff Club. I share Robbie Burns day with my birthday, January 25th, but down here in the southern hemisphere January is the height of summer, so the locals tend to shift some events to the New Zealand winter. For example, we celebrate Christmas in December with the rest of the world, but it's popular for many people to host a "Mid-winter Christmas Dinner" in July. I assume the folks at the staff club felt that a Burns night drinking whisky by the fire was best done in winter.

We agreed this was a great opportunity for Operation Dumpling to explore Scotland and excitedly went out and bought Brence a tartan tie for the occasion. It turns out he was in good company. Many of the guys there (older blokes mostly) were sporting tartan ties and there were a good few kilts wandering about too.

The Staff Club is situated on the University of Canterbury grounds, in a lovely old two-storey historic building, complete with a big wooden bar and large fireplace. It was a great venue - made even better by the fact that we were given a complimentary mulled wine on our arrival.

After enjoying our wine and chit-chat, the official haggis was ceremoniously 'piped in' and some Robbie Burns poetry was recited. Then we all sat down and got ready to eat!

Piping in the haggis


On the menu was haggis and side dishes of mashed potatoes and 'neeps' (mashed turnips). Basically you got a plate with 3 different coloured piles of goo. Hungrily we tucked in:

Look! We're excited about eating haggis!

We're REALLY excited about eating haggis!

Urgh! We are now less than excited about the haggis.

But it's all in good fun - that's what Operation Dumpling is all about!

The haggis was pretty nasty, but not how you might think. The flavour was fine, rather like turkey stuffing, but the texture was appalling. It was extremely smooth and pastey, and trying to eat even a small mouthful made my mouth go all dry and gummed up and I found it impossible to swallow. Neil said that he's had much better haggis (in Scotland, funnily enough) where the texture was a lot nicer than the one we were sampling.

The mashed potatoes were nice enough but the surprise winner of the night was the 'neeps' - I'm not usually a fan of turnips (mashed or otherwise) and I don't know what they did to these ones but thankfully they were delicious.

After dinner we retreated to the bar where we decided to complete our Scottish mission with a small whisky tasting. Neither Brence nor I are whisky drinkers, so we relied on the advice of Neil and the barmaid to select three different ones to sample. They all tasted like Avgas to me, and one in particular (a 'peaty' style) had the aroma and flavour of burnt plastic. They tell me it's an acquired taste, but I think it's one I'll leave unaquired.

Look! We're excited about drinking whisky...

Um, why did nobody tell me it would taste like burnt plastic?

It was fun to sample the different whiskys but I will never understand the appeal of the 'peaty' flavour and will stick to my gin, thank you very much.

So Robbie Burns night was indeed full of interesting flavours. I admit I left feeling a little hungry but was glad to have had a great all-round Scottish experience chalked up on our Operation Dumpling 'mission accomplished' list. Now will somebody please pass the neeps?

3 comments Posted by Sharon on Monday, September 15, 2008