Many of my Central Asian cooking adventures have started with a recipe from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook, which covers all the republics of the USSR, not just Russia. One really nice thing about this cookbook, in addition to the recipes, is that almost every one has some sort of history or commentary preceding it, and there are longer sections on cooking in the varied Soviet regions (including Central Asia). Even if you never make a thing, you'll enjoy reading the book from cover to cover.
If you've ever considered buying your own copy of Please to the Table, here's an opportunity to help kids in Kazakhstan while cooking up some tasty Central Asian treats in your own kitchen. For every copy purchased through Mittens for Akkol, $10 goes to pay for shipping handknit woollies to an orphanage in northeastern KZ.
In the pre-Borat era, many (if not most) Americans who could find Kazakhstan on the map, or had even heard of it, were adoptive parents of KZ children. Because of the country’s adoption laws, hopeful parents are required to travel to Kazakhstan and spend at least two weeks of daily visits with a child in the orphanage, before petitioning the regional court to adopt. If the court approves, the child wins a loving family, but his friends are left behind. The majority will remain in state care until at 16 (or after 9th grade) they age out of the system and are on their own.
In 2003, a Cincinnati, Ohio couple adopted two teenagers, aged 12 & 14, from the orphanage in Akkol, a small town about an hour (on a good day) north of Astana. Akkol is unusual in that it cares for children ages from 3-16 years old (most regions have separate orphanages for pre-schoolers, aged 3-7, and school-aged children, aged 8+). In 2004, they travelled to Akkol again, to adopt their son’s 14-year-old best friend. Both times they lived in the orphanage during the visiting period, got to know the directors, the staff, and the children well, and developed the highest regard for the care and commitment the children receive (this is generally true throughout Kazakhstan; if you have to live in an orphanage, your odds are better in RK than in other post-Soviet countries).
How to do something meaningful for the 250 children remaining? As Astana area readers well know, this area is in the windiest, most miserably cold part of the Kazakh steppe. Mittens for Akkol was created to connect knitters to a need -- in the past couple of years, hundreds of pairs of handknit woolen mittens have made their way to the older kids at Akkol, and the project has expanded to socks, vests and other warm woollies. Knitters can join the Mittens for Akkol Yahoo!Group to find out how to participate. Cooks should click on over to the Helping Others: Mittens for Akkol fundraiser page for information on purchasing Please to the Table to help those mittens make the journey from the US to KZ.
And stay tuned to this site for the next installment of Kazakh Cooking Experiments: Lagman for Nauryz (from a Please to the Table recipe, of course).