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Three recipes from Caroline Eden's new Central Asian cookbook, Red Sands

The travel writer began her culinary cookbook journey in Kazakhstan, working her way east through the lush Rasht Valley. Here, she reveals three recipes inspired by the journey.

Published 13 Nov 2020, 08:06 GMT
The Uyghur noodle and stew dish, laghman, is popular throughout Central Asia.

The Uyghur noodle and stew dish, laghman, is popular throughout Central Asia. 

Photograph by Ola O Smit

1. Cheat’s laghman

Laghman is an Uyghur dish of noodles topped with a mild stew of meat and vegetables. Uyghur cooks rightly demand the noodles should be hand-pulled, but they’re pros at this delicate and tricky art. This version (reluctantly) cheats on the noodles, but brings you the warming flavours of this dish, which is popular throughout Central Asia.

Serves: 4
Takes: 40 mins


275g thick egg noodles
sunflower oil, for frying
500g lamb leg steak, cut into bite-size chunks
1 onion, diced
2-4 garlic cloves (adjust to your liking), thinly sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
150g Chinese cabbage, chopped into bitesize pieces
1 red pepper, chopped into 2cm pieces
1 green pepper, chopped into 2cm pieces
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
2 tbsp tomato purée
350ml beef stock
1 tbsp sesame seeds, to garnish
chives, to garnish (optional)


Cook the egg noodles according to pack instructions.

2. Add 1 tbsp of the oil to a wok or large frying pan and set over a medium heat. Season the lamb well with salt and pepper, then add to the pan and fry for 5 mins (keep it moving, so it doesn’t stick). When almost cooked through, scoop the meat out of the pan and cover with foil to keep it juicy.

3. Add another 1 tbsp of oil to the pan and keep it over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and cumin seeds and fry for a few mins, stirring all the time. Tip in the cabbage, peppers, red chilli and tomato purée and fry over a medium-high heat for around 20 mins until the vegetables have softened. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then let it all bubble away for another 10 mins so that the liquid begins to thicken. Tip the lamb back into the pan, along with its juices, to warm through, then check the seasoning and remove from the heat.

4. Put the noodles in large bowls and top with the stew, then garnish with the sesame seeds and the chives, if using.

Read about Caroline's culinary journey through Central Asia

The pastries — known as sambusa or samsa, depending on where you are — are traditionally eaten with green tea, which cuts through the fat.

Photograph by Ola O Smit

2. Dushanbe sambusa with chickpea, spinach and mint

These flaky, buttery turnovers are known in Tajikistan as sambusa, while elsewhere in the region they’re called samsa and typically filled with beef, lamb, pumpkin, spinach or potatoes. In Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, they mainly contain chickpeas, although in spring, herb-filled versions are also available. This recipe combines the two. They’re traditionally eaten with green tea — especially if they contain lamb, as the tea cuts through the fat.

Makes: 15
Takes: 50 mins


1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped
handful of spinach
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dill seeds (optional) flour, for dusting
1 x 320g packet of puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten
1 tsp black sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)


1. Heat oven to 200C, 180C fan, gas 6 and line a large baking tray (or two smaller trays) with greaseproof paper.

2. Tip the onion into a food processor and pulse a few times, then add the mint, spinach and 100g of the chickpeas and pulse so it all comes together. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and mix in the salt, pepper, cumin, dill seeds (if using) and the remaining chickpeas.

3. Lightly dust the work surface and the pastry with flour, then roll the pastry out to a 37cm x 28cm rectangle and stamp out 15 rounds using an 8cm cutter. Drop a teaspoon of the chickpea mixture into the middle of each round, then bring up the edges to create a triangle shape and press to seal, creating a samosa-style pyramid.

4. Place the parcels on the lined baking tray, seam-side down. Brush each one with the egg wash, then sprinkle with salt and black pepper or scatter over the sesame seeds, if you like. Bake for 15 mins, then, when the pastry has fully risen, set the oven to its lowest temperature and bake for a further 10-15 mins until the layers are dry and crispy.

For Caroline Eden, green grape conserve is best served at breakfast alongside fluffy pancakes.

Photograph by Ola O Smit

3. Pancakes with green grape conserve

By the world’s largest walnut grove, in Arslanbob, southwest Kyrgyzstan, I stayed with Nazira, a formidable grandmother, who hugged me tightly on seeing me bedraggled on the steps to her house. Breakfast was often light, fluffy pancakes with green grape conserve. I’d eat them huddled by an electric heater if it was cold, or else outside, surrounded by birdsong. The conserve also goes with porridge, overnight oats or yoghurt.

Makes: 1 jar of conserve and around 8 pancakes
Takes: 1 hr 50 mins, including chilling
You will need: 1 x 450ml jar with lid


For the conserve:

450g seedless green grapes, rinsed
450g granulated sugar
1 lemon, juiced
knob of unsalted butter

For the pancakes:
100g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten
150ml kefir
20g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for frying


1. An hour or so before you start, put a plate in the freezer. To sterilise the jar, heat oven to 140C, 120C fan, gas 1. Wash the jar in warm, soapy water, then rinse well and place on a clean baking tray. Transfer to the oven for about 15 mins. To sterilise the lid and/or rubber seal, boil in a large saucepan for 5 mins, then drain and leave to air-dry on a rack. Leave the jar in the warm oven until the conserve is ready to be potted up — the jar must be hot.

2. Set a preserving pan or a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a low heat and gently simmer the grapes in about 5 tbsp water until they begin breaking down. Add the sugar, lemon juice and butter (which will give sheen and stop scum forming) and heat very gently.

3. Keep stirring to dissolve the sugar (this will take around 10 mins), ensuring it’s fully dissolved to reduce the chance of burning. Remove from the heat and break up the mixture using a hand blender or the back of a spoon, leaving a few grapes whole. Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to a rolling boil (you’re looking for a foaming mass of small bubbles), stirring occasionally to ensure it isn’t catching. When the bubbles have receded, take the pan off the heat.

4. Test for a set by dropping a little of the conserve onto your freezer-chilled plate. Wait for it to cool, then nudge it with your fingertip; if it wrinkles when pushed, the setting point has been achieved. Allow to cool for 10 mins, then pour into the jar while still hot.

5. To make the pancakes, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt into a mixing bowl, then stir in the sugar. Combine the egg, kefir and melted butter in a jug, then slowly stir into the flour mixture , taking care not to over-mix the batter (you’re looking for a yogurt-like consistency — if it’s too thick, add 1 tbsp milk). Leave to stand for 5 mins.

6. Melt a small knob of butter in a large frying pan, then pour 3 tbsp of the batter into the pan. When bubbles form, flip the pancake and cook for 1-2 mins more. Repeat until you’ve used up all the pancake batter. Top with the conserve and serve immediately. Once opened, the conserve will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Caroline Eden's book Red Sands: Reportage and Recipes Through Central Asia, from Hinterland to Heartland, is published by Quadrille. RRP £25

Published in Issue 10 (winter 2020) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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