“Uzbekistan” Salad: Pinnacle of Soviet Fusion Food

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“Uzbekistan” salad. Салат «Узбекистан».

A “salad” in America usually means something thrown together quite quickly – some fresh chopped vegetables, some dressing. If there’s any meat at all, then it’s usually extremely dry chicken breast. “Salad”, in other words, is a health food, a convenience food, something you eat on a diet, something you pick at as a side dish, but generally not something you actually want to eat.

Not so in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Salads are usually quite extravagant, complicated dishes served at parties or as a first course. And more often than not, they are anything but healthy – covered in mayonnaise and filled with all sorts of cold cuts. In other words, something you might actually look forward to eating!

american vs russian salads
American salads (top) vs. Russian salads (bottom)

“Uzbekistan” salad, despite the name, isn’t part of traditional Uzbek cuisine. Supposedly, it was invented in the 1950s in Moscow when Uzbek chefs tried to introduce Russians to their national cuisine for the first time. It combines Central Asian green radish with the Russian love of mayonnaise – almost like an Uzbek version of the famous “Olivier” salad. It does look pretty “retro” – it reminds me of something you’d see in 1970s US cookbooks – but trust me, it’s delicious. The green radish is a refreshing complement to the fried onion, mayo, and oven-baked steak.

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Green radishes. Asian groceries should stock them. Daikon tastes similar, but lacks the nice color.

This recipe is adopted from Stalic Khankishiev’s book “Базар, казан и дастархан” as well as Hakim Ganiev’s book “Восточный пир”. Stalic has a video recipe for this dish, but he does it slightly differently than in his book – using yogurt instead of mayonnaise for the dressing.

Ingredients
Green radish – the color is what makes this dish special – but if you can’t find them, substitute with daikon
Mayonnaise – I like Japanese “Kewpie” mayonnaise, but any will do
Beef – use a steak cut
Onion
Garlic
Salt
Pepper

Directions

1. Skin the green radish and slice it into sticks. Let the radish sticks sit in a bowl of salted cold water for 30 minutes.

GreenRadish
2. Skin and chop a few garlic cloves lengthwise.
3. Rub the beef with salt and pepper. Using a knife, make little holes in the beef and stick the garlic pieces inside. Do this all over the beef on both sides. Ainsley Harriott demonstrates the technique quite enthusiastically in this video.
4. Wrap the beef in foil (use at least 2 layers) – make sure it’s tightly sealed, then put it on a baking pan in the oven for 30 minutes at 400F.
BakedMeat

5. Skin an onion, and chop it into rings. Cover the onion rings in flour and sift them a bit to get rid of the excess flour.
6. Deep fry the onion rings until golden brown. Let them drain on a paper towel.
7. When the beef is done (it would taste delicious as-is for a simple meat dish), let it cool down, then slice it into long, thin strips.
8. Layer the bottom of the serving dish with the radish slices, then the meat slices, then cover this with a generous amount of mayonnaise. Put the fried onion rings on top. Imagine you are in one of the finest Uzbek restaurants of Soviet-era Moscow. Priyatnovo appetita!
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If you don’t want to go all that trouble, a simple salad of green radish, salt, pepper, and oil is a refreshing accompaniment to heavy food and easy to make. It’s no “Uzbekistan” salad, but it’s a nice way to eat green radish.
SimpleRadishSalad

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Manti: Central Asian Steamed Dumplings

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Manti in most Turkic languages refers to dumplings, but the basic concept of dough stuffed with meat has spread from Central Asia to the cultures surrounding it: Afghan mantu, Nepalese momo, Russian pelmeni, Georgian khinkali, Chinese mantou, and Korean mandu. Dumplings, in various forms, are eaten across a huge expanse of the Eurasian continent stretching from Eastern Europe in the west to the Korean peninsula in the east. Some historians even think Turkic horsemen in ancient times carried frozen dumplings as a convenience food on expeditions, helping to spread these all over the world.

WorldOfManti
Manti and its relatives around the world. Clockwise from top left: Central Asian manti, Nepalese momo, Georgian khinkali, Korean mandu, Chinese jiaozi, Afghan mantu. Source: Wikimedia

When we look at Central Asian cuisine, we find dishes that could be ancestors to manti: after all, beshbarmak is almost like an open faced dumpling, and goosh nan is basically a dumpling in pie form. And then there are more obvious relatives, like chuchvara, the miniature dumplings Uyghurs eat in soup.

The manti recipe presented here is the type you can find all over Central Asia – steamed dough wrappers filled with chopped meat, folded, and steamed. The miniature “manti” eaten in Turkey are more similar to chuchvara, which I’ll cover in another post. Making manti is rather simple, and as this video demonstrates, you can fold them all sorts of different ways. You can buy dumpling wrappers from Asian groceries to save time.

Ingredients
Dough:
Flour
Salt
Egg
Round dumpling wrappers (optional if you don’t want to make dough)

Filling:
Beef or Lamb
Onion
Butter (maybe 2 TBsp per 1lb of meat, vary to your preference)
Black pepper
Cumin powder and coriander powder (optional)

Sauce:
Sour cream
Kefir or yogurt
Dill
Garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Make a dough out of flour, water, salt, and egg. Knead this for 10 minutes and rest for an hour.
2. Finely chop up the meat into small pieces. It’s important to chop the meat yourself rather than using ground meat – the dumplings will be much tastier and juicier with whole meat pieces rather than ground meat. Finely chop the onions, making sure there is a ~1:1 ratio of meat and onion volume. Finely chop the butter into small pieces, then mix everything together. Add salt, black pepper, cumin and coriander powder to taste.
3. Shape the dough into a cylinder, then cut it into discs and roll each disc out to make a wrapper. Alternately, just use round dumpling wrappers from the grocery – the taste is not too different, although you need to use a bit of water around the edges to get them to fold properly.
4. Fold the manti – there are many folding methods you can try, though in the end it all tastes about the same – simply pressing the edges together is fine.
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5. Make the sauce: finely mince or press the garlic, finely chop the dill, then mix with sour cream and yogurt, and add salt & pepper to taste. The exact proportions are up to your personal preference (some like more or less garlic, dill, sour cream, more or less liquid, etc)
6. Steam the manti for 40 minutes. Serve with the sauce. Enjoy!
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Basma: Uzbek Slow-cooked Lamb Stew

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My version of basma, with nan bread.

Basma is an incredibly simple dish to prepare with amazing results: tender, juicy, lamb meat that practically melts in your mouth, in a rich vegetable broth with plenty of soft carrots and potatoes. It’s crowned with a few heads of garlic cooked whole: the garlic cloves fall right out of the skin and are so soft they’re almost like a puree. And yet this dish requires nothing more than 1) cutting vegetables and 2) time. To be sure, it involves a lot of vegetable cutting. And it takes almost 2 hours to cook after the prep is done. But the result is well worth it.

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Nan bread is great for soaking up the dimlama broth. Recipe here.

This dish comes from Uzbekistan and goes by a few different names: basma and dimlama/dumlama. According to Stalic, basma refers to this version, where everything is put into a cold kazan and then steamed, while dimlama refers to a similar dish where everything is fried before steaming.

This recipe comes from Stalic Khankishiev with some minor alterations (video here). Abdulaziz Salavat has a video recipe for basma (he calls it dimlama) as well.

Ingredients:
Lamb – I used 2 lbs of lamb shoulder chops in the pictures. The cooking time will depend on how tender your meat is.
Onions – 2
Potatoes – 4-5
Carrots – 3-4
Tomatoes – 3-4
Bell peppers – 2
Cabbage – 1 head of cabbage
Garlic – 2 heads of garlic
Salt
Cumin seeds
White pepper
Paprika
Basil or cilantro or other fresh green herbs
Chili pepper (fresh) – 1 (optional)
Dried chili peppers (optional)
Eggplant (entirely optional, I didn’t think it added anything)

Directions
1. Chop all the vegetables: cut the potatoes into halves or quarters; slice the onions thinly; cut the carrots into discs; cut the bell pepper into slices; cut the tomato into quarters; peel off several whole leaves from the cabbage and set aside, then chop the cabbage into thick slices; chop the eggplant. Cut the lamb into medium/large pieces, making sure to leave some fat on the meat. Roughly grind the cumin seeds.
ingredients

2. Through the entire layering process, the heat is turned off. Pour some oil to cover the bottom of the wok, then place the meat in. Make sure the meat is sitting in oil and not directly on the metal surface. Put salt, cumin seed, white pepper, and paprika on the meat.
meat

3. Scatter the onions all over the top of the meat to make another layer. Salt the onions.
onions

4. Put the tomato pieces on top of the onions.
tomatoes

5. Put the carrot slices on top of the tomatoes, then the bell pepper slices. Put the whole fresh chili pepper and some dried chili peppers. Place the heads of garlic, digging them in a bit so they don’t fall off the pile.
carrots

6. Place the potato pieces on top.
potatoes

7. Place the chopped cabbage pieces on top of the potatoes, and repeat the seasoning from step 2: salt, cumin seeds, white pepper, and paprika.
cabbage

8. Put the eggplant and basil leaves at the very top.
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9. Using the whole cabbage leaves you set aside, make a dome over everything. This will help keep the steam in.
dome

10. Cover with a lid. If it doesn’t quite fit, weigh the lid down to make sure it is sealed tight. Now the magic begins! Turn the heat up to medium and let it cook for 15 minutes. Then turn the heat to low and let it simmer for at least 1 hour and 30 minutes, longer if you are using tougher meat. Be careful not to turn the heat so low that it stops simmering. When you put your ear to the pot, you should hear a steady bubbling.
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After the long wait, when we open the dome and break through the outer layers, we find the inside has turned into a vegetable broth! Plate everything and serve with some bread and hot green tea. Osh bolsin!
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