Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way

On a dreary November afternoon, seven friends got together at our place to join in for an afternoon of Diplomacy. Diplomacy is a board game which can vaguely be compared to Risk – only nothing is left to chance (there are no dice). The starting point for the game is Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Each player represents one of seven superpowers in Europe, and through dialogue, intrigues and the occasional backstabbing every superpower tries to become the master of Europe. If you’re interested, Wikipedia has more info.

So, these seven men set out to redesign the map of Europe (on a board) – a bit like an analogue LAN party. After a draw of luck, it was decided who would be England, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Turkey and Russia. Of course, they had to eat something while they were at it. This is where I come in! As I don’t exactly see myself as a good Diplomacy player (I tend to take these things a tad too personally) I decided to do a little project of my own: I set out to provide for an afternoon of hors d’oeuvres and finger foods, all in the theme of the seven superpowers. My quest for recipes carried me through my cookbook collection and I ended up making at least a dish per superpower, although I must admit I had nothing for Austria-Hungary, since I planned to make Sachertorte and there was already plenty of dessert. I’ll post a Sachertorte recipe to make up for it!

What follows is a report in pictures and recipes of this lovely day. If you’re wondering who won in the end: France and England made a superpact (not exactly historically plausible) and slayed the rest of the players, employing much trickery, theatre, drama and a bit of backstabbing. I’m sure another Diplomacy get-together will follow within a few months, since many superpowers are plotting for revenge. Maybe I’ll come up with new recipes by then!


Italy: gorgonzola, pizza and caponata

My inspiration for the gorgonzola spoon and the caponata comes from a little book I have called ‘Amuse Italiano’. The pizza recipes are from Martha Stewart.

Spoon with gorgonzola, pear and honey

Cut a pear and 100 gram of gorgonzola cheese into little cubes. Place these on a spoon and top with a little liquid honey. Very easy but the combination of these two flavors is great!

Pizza with cherry tomatoes; pizza with bacon and potato

I admit it, the bacon-potato pizza isn’t very Italian, but the recipe is great. For the dough, I used Martha Stewart’s pizza dough recipe. The tomato pizza is topped with cherry tomatoes (cut in half), olive oil, mozzarella and a bit of leftover gorgonzola. The bacon pizza is topped with thinly sliced potatoes, bacon strips, olive oil and some chopped fresh rosemary.

The pizza dough recipe (start in time, at least 2 hours in advance!):

1 cup of warm water (I use about 250 ml for a cup)
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of dry yeast (in the supermarket: Bruggeman)
about 3 cups flour
1,5 teaspoons salt
1,5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for the bowl

Pour the warm water into a small bowl, add sugar and yeast. Stir with a fork until dissolved. Let it stand in a warm spot for 5 minutes, until yeast is foamy.

Combine 2 + 1/4 cups of flour with salt in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture and the olive oil, mix until you have a smooth dough (add more flour if necessary). Transfer to a clean surface and knead the dough 5 turns, shape into a ball.

Brush the inside of a bowl with olive oil and place the dough in it, smooth side up. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic foil and let it rest in a warm spot for about 40 minutes, until doubled in size. Remove the towel/plastic foil and punch your fist into the dough. Fold the dough onto itself 4 or 5 times. Turn the dough over again, folded side down, cover again and return to rise in a warm spot for another 30 minutes (until doubled in size).

Punch down the dough again and transfer to a clean surface, divide the dough evenly using a knife (I make 4 mini-pizzas from this quantity).

Preheat the oven to at least 220 degrees Celsius. Roll the dough portion out (quite thin), cover with a little olive oil and your toppings of choice. Put it in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted or the bacon/potatoes look done, take it out and cut into wedges (careful, hot!). Yum!


I really love caponata, I first ate it on a wonderful Easter day lunch with friends in Palermo. It is a perfect mixture of sour, sweet and salty. Most of all, it has a lot of eggplant in it, one of my favorite vegetables. You need some time and patience to prepare it, but it’s so worth it (and it keeps well in the fridge for at least a few days). This recipe is a mixture of a recipe in the Amuse Italiano book and some internet recipes I looked up. Grated dark chocolate or cocoa powder is the secret ingredient!

For about 24 spoons:

1 large eggplant
half a cup of olive oil
stalk of white celery, chopped into small cubes
2 plum tomatoes, peeled (good ripe tomatoes, in winter I prefer whole canned tomatoes or tomato cubes)
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon black olives, roughly chopped (please don’t use the bland canned type but good Italian, Spanish or Turkish)
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon golden raisins
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic or red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder or grated dark chocolate
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves

Peel the eggplant and cut into small 1 cm-cubes and sprinkle with salt, let it sit in a sieve or colander for at least 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet and fry the onion and celery until soft. Turn the fire up a bit, add the eggplant and let it fry along until golden brown. Add the tomato and heat until simmering. Add olives, capers, pine nuts, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, thyme, raisins and vinegar. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for a while, so that the flavors intermingle. You can add more sweet or sour ingredients to taste. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature, serve in little spoons or larger portions as desired.

Turkey: sigara börek and baklava

I first ate sigara börek in the little town of Aglasun, where we were excavating the site of Roman Sagalassos. Our workmen took turns bringing baked goodies to the tea breaks and this was an instant favorite. Since there are plenty of Turkish shops in my neighborhood, it’s easy for me to find the authentic Turkish ingredients. But don’t panic: yufka dough can be replaced by filo dough and Turkish white peynir cheese by regular feta. The recipe is actually from Malouf’s Turquoise and it works great every time I make it! I even freeze these little cigars (unbaked) to have them ready for instant hors d’oeuvres.

For 24 sigara:

24 triangles of yufka dough (a Turkish thin dough, but a little thicker and more substantial than filo dough. If you use filo, use a larger piece and create more layers by rolling it. You can usually buy ready-cut triangles at Turkish shops, but you can also buy the round ones and cut into triangles yourself, or even use dürüm dough for this).
400 grams of white peynir cheese or feta
2 eggs
one large onion, roughly grated or finely chopped
2 handfuls of chopped flatleaf parsley
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine the white cheese with the onion, eggs, parsley and mix with a fork. Season with salt and pepper (true to Turkish tradition, I use a lot of salt but it also depends on how salty your cheese is). Take out a dough triangle and put a full tablespoon of cheese mixture about 2 cm from the edge on the short side. Fold in the sides and roll it up, attach the bottom piece with a bit of water. Do this for every ‘sigar’, then heat some olive oil in a heavy skillet and bake the börek until golden brown. Serve (but be careful, they’re hot!)

Everybody loves baklava. We used to get it on the Sagalassos site when there was a special find of the week. It’s not that hard to make, but a bit elaborate – especially if you don’t have a food processor, like me. The result is totally worth it though! It’s a really sweet dish, but mine is still not half as sweet as the real Turkish kind (after you eat Turkish baklava, Coca-Cola doesn’t taste sweet anymore – true story!).

For 24 x 24 cm dish of baklava

15 sheets of filo dough
150 grams melted clarified butter (see blinis recipe)

150 grams sugar
150 grams liquid honey
100 ml water
50 ml orange juice
juice and grated zest of one lemon
2 tbsp orange blossom water
1 tbsp rosewater

nut mixture:
400 grams of mixed nuts, chopped finely (you can use walnuts, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, but try to include walnuts and pistachios at least)
100 grams sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp orange blossom water
100 grams melted butter

Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roast the nuts in hot skillet or the oven until fragrant. Mix all the nut mixture ingredients in a large bowl.

Use an ovenproof dish that has the same shape as your filo dough. If smaller, cut the filo dough to fit the dish. Butter the form lightly. Take five sheets of filo dough, keep the rest under a moist tea towel. Put the sheets in the dish, one by one, coat with clarified butter in between. Divide half of the nut mixture over this first stack of dough.

Now repeat the first step with another five sheets of filo dough. Add the rest of the filling, cover with the last 5 sheets of dough, butter the top sheet and press the sheets carefully, tucking the sides under a bit. Sprinkle with a bit of extra cinnamon. Cut the baklava in triangles with a sharp knife.

Bake the dish in the oven at 180 degrees for 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 150 degrees and bake another 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. In the meantime, make the syrup.

Make the syrup by combining the water, sugar, honey, orange juice, lemon zest and juice in a saucepan on medium heat. Let the sugar dissolve, then let it boil and reduce for 10-15 minutes. Add the orange blossom water and rosewater and let it cool.

Take the baklava out of the oven and pour the syrup over – don’t worry if it hisses a bit. Let it cool down completely – you can decorate the triangles with a bit of ground pistachio.  Really yummy with some Turkish tea!

Russia: blini with sour cream and smoked salmon

Blinis are small savory buckwheat pancakes. I used a Martha Stewart recipe for the batter, you can top them with whatever you like. Since Russian caviar was a bit expensive, I went for sour cream and salmon.

For about 24 blinis: 

100 grams butter
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
200 ml milk
150 grams of sour cream
150 grams of smoked salmon
Few sprigs of dill or parsley to garnish

Clarify the butter: melt in a saucepan over low heat. Using a spoon, remove white foam from surface of melted butter, and discard. Allow butter to sit 15 minutes. Pour off the golden liquid, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the saucepan. Set aside.

Place both flours, baking powder, salt, egg, milk, and 1 tablespoon clarified butter in a large bowl; whisk until well combined.

Heat 2 tablespoons clarified butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Drop batter into skillet, 1 tablespoon at a time. Cook until blinis are covered with bubbles, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip; cook until brown, about 1 minute more. Repeat with remaining batter.

Top the blinis with a teaspoon of sour cream, a piece of smoked salmon and a bit of dill or parsley. Enjoy!

England: cheddar-corn potatoes and shepherd’s pie

The cheddar corn potatoes are a nice party snack. Very savory, very cheesy and very English – there’s not much more to be said about them. I got the recipe from Trish Deseine’s book Party Food.

10 small firm potatoes
1 medium can of sweetcorn
200 grams grated Cheddar cheese
50 grams melted butter
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes unpeeled. When cooked, slice in half and take out a little of the potato at the center. Cut a sliver from the bottom so the potato won’t roll over. Mix the potato with the sweetcorn, cheese and butter. Season, and top each half-potato with a spoonful of the mixture, then brown for 3 minutes under the grill.

Shepherd’s pie

The shepherd pie was something I’d never tried and came out quite successfully. I’m a vegetarian and therefore didn’t try one, but it smelled quite good and even  though the players had been munching all afternoon, the pies were met with quite some enthusiasm. I made them in small cocottes but of course you can make it in a large ovenproof dish. The recipe is for 4 people.

4 large peeled potatoes (soft-cooking)
500 grams lamb minced meat
55 grams butter
2 onions, finely chopped
40 grams flour
1/2 teaspoon mustard
4 dl lamb broth
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp worcester sauce
60 ml warm milk
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes with salt. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius.

Melt 25 grams butter in a skillet, fry the onions until soft and add the minced meat. Add the flour and mustard. Add the lamb broth in small portions and keep stirring until you have a thick sauce. Add the parsley and worcester sauce, season with salt and pepper.

Mash the potatoes and add milk, the extra butter and pepper and salt.

In a buttered dish (small or large), spoon the meat mixture and cover with the mashed potatoes. Smooth the potatoes with a spoon and then make a diamond pattern with a fork. Bake the dish for 40-45 minutes in the oven, until the top is golden brown. Enjoy!

France: cheese

What’s more French than cheese? To represent France, I served Camembert, Bleu d’Auvergne with baguette. The after-dinner cheese platter was completed with English Cheddar and Italian gorgonzola. The Herve and Chaumes cheeses are Belgian, which was undoubtedly occupied territory at the time of serving.

Germany: Schwarzwalder Kirsch (Black Forest Gateau)

This awesome cake is one of my traditional holiday recipes. I have a few different recipes from several books, but I was never quite satisfied with the chocolate cake batter they provide. Therefore, I replaced it with Nigella Lawsons’s Devil Food Cake batter. This was definitely a great improvement! The cake is named after the Black Forest in Germany and traditionally combines chocolate, whipped cream and cherries (fresh, potted and/or maraschino).

For the cake (recipe Nigella Lawson):

50g best-quality cocoa powder, sifted
100g dark muscovado or brown sugar
250ml boiling water
125g soft unsalted butter, plus some for greasing
150g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I use my own vanilla extract, home made with 1 cup of wodka, at least 2 vanilla beans and 2 months patience)
2 eggs
three 20 cm cake tins (I only have on so I bake the cakes in three steps, or if I’m impatient I bake them all at once and cut them in three, but this is not optimal)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark. Line the bottoms of the cake tins with baking parchment and butter the sides.

Put the cocoa and 100g dark muscovado sugar into a bowl with a bit of space to spare, and pour in the boiling water. Whisk to mix, then set aside.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together, beating well until pale and fluffy; I find this easiest with a freestanding mixer, but by hand wouldn’t kill you. While this is going on – or as soon as you stop if you’re mixing by hand – stir the flour, baking powder and bicarb together in another bowl, and set aside for a moment. Dribble the vanilla extract into the creamed butter and sugar – mixing all the while – then drop in 1 egg, quickly followed by a scoopful of flour mixture, then the second egg. Keep mixing and incorporate the rest of the dried ingredients for the cake, then finally mix and fold in the cocoa mixture, scraping its bowl well with a spatula. Divide this fabulously chocolatey batter between the 3 prepared tins and put in the oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Take the tins out and leave them on a wire rack for 5–10 minutes, before turning the cakes out to cool.

While the cakes are baking, start with the frosting and cherries:

250 grams sour cream
200 grams dark chocolate, chopped (or Callets)
250 ml whipped cream
70 grams fine sugar
350 grams potted cherries (drained weight)
dark chocolate flakes, for decoration
maraschino cheries, for decoration

Melt the chocolate au bain marie and mix with the sour cream. This is the ganache that will cover the outside of the cake. Let it cool. Beat the cream stiff with the sugar and keep cold.


Put a few dollops of whipped cream on a serving platter and place the first cake layer on top (this prevents the cake from shifting). Add a 2 cm-thick layer of whipped cream. Take half of the cherries and drop them into the cream, evenly dividing them on the cream layer. Add the second cake layer and repeat with more cream and the rest of the cherries, keep a little cream apart for the cake decoration. Add the third layer of cake. Now decorate the outside with the chocolate ganache, using a palette knife. Decorate the sides with chocolate flakes. Using a piping bag, add a few tufts of whipped cream and top with a maraschino cherry. Add some more chocolate flakes on top, as you like (I ran out of whipped cream so in the picture it’s not that pretty, but you can use your imagination any way you like on the cake decorations). Enjoy!

Austria-Hungary: Sachertorte

As said, I didn’t get around to making the sachertorte, but you can find a recipe here. Maybe I’ll try it another time!



One thought on “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way

  1. Another favourite you can find almost everywhere in the former Habsburg Empire, are Palatschinken, pancakes mostly with jam, but also cottage cheese, meat, etc. An Austrian desert would be Kaserschmarrn, a big favourite of mine.
    Hungary has some fine dishes as well, that might make it next time, although I’m not sure how to present a gulyas as a canapé…

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