Goosh nan (گۆشنان, gösh nan, “meat bread”) is the Uyghur version of a dish that is popular all over Central Asia and the Turkic world. It’s a round, flat pie stuffed with mincemeat, fried, and sometimes additionally steamed. It was one of my favorite dishes in Xinjiang, and makes a great appetizer or light meal, with plenty of hot green tea to wash it down.
Goosh nan’s closest relative is the Tatar cheburek (or çiğ börek in Turkish), which is a half-moon shaped dough stuffed with meat and deep-fried. The concept of meat wrapped in dough is a key feature of Central Asian cuisine: manti, börek, chuchvara, goosh nan, and cheburek are all variants of the same idea.
Goosh nan is a simple dish to prepare: roll out two pieces of dough to paper thin circles, top one with mincemeat, cover it with the other dough, and fry. Sometimes it is also steamed after frying, and sometimes it is more bready and baked, like in the picture below:
Finely minced beef or lamb. It’s better when you mince the meat by hand, but ground meat will do.
Directions: For the filling
1. Finely dice the onion and mix it into the ground meat with salt and black pepper. This is the same basic filling as in manti, cheburek and chuchvara.
For the dough
1. Make a fairly firm dough out of flour, water, egg, and salt. Knead for 10 minutes and let it rest for 30min-1hr (it will be easier to roll out if you rest it).
2. Take two pieces of dough about the size of your palm. Roll each of these out to a wide, paper-thin sheet.
3. On one of the dough sheets, put your meat filling in a circle a bit smaller than the pan you will fry it in. Make the filling smooth and even.
4. Cover it with the other dough sheet, pressing down firmly all around the meat so the dough sticks together.
5. Use a knife to cut out a circle, leaving room around the edges.
6. Use your hands to make little folds all around the edges of the dough and press firmly so the dough pieces do not come apart.
7. Deep fry the pie until golden brown. If you want to make the steamed version, you don’t have to deep fry it (steaming will make it un-crispy again anyway) but still fry both sides until golden brown. When it’s done, drain the pie on a thick pile of paper towels and dab oil off the top.
By the way, if you want to make cheburek, just do all the above steps, except make only one dough sheet, put meat on one half side, then fold it over.
8. If you want the steamed version, put the pie in a steamer, cover, and steam for 25 minutes.
Khachapuri is probably the most famous Georgian dish, and for good reason. It is incredibly simple to make and very tasty. If you like cheese and bread, you will love this dish.
There are several different varieties of khachapuri but they are all variations on the same idea: cheese stuffed with bread. Adjaruli is a boat-shaped bread filled with cheese and topped with egg and butter, mixed before serving. Megruli is a round-shaped bread filled with cheese and/or egg, sometimes with cheese on top. If you have enough dough and cheese, you can make both types at the same time.
In Georgia, khachapuri is filled with Georgian cheese, typically suluguni. I use a mix of mozzarella and feta or goat cheese. The idea is a cheese with the consistency and melt of mozzarella but with saltiness and tang. If using goat cheese, I would not use the rind.
Cheese (equal parts mozzarella and feta or goat cheese)
Butter (optional, for adjaruli)
1. Make a dough out of flour, warm water, yeast, and salt. Knead this for ten minutes, then rest covered in a warm place for 1 hour.
2. Mix your cheeses together with an egg white and a bit of salt depending on how salty your cheeses are. Mix well until you have produced a cheese mix of solid consistency.
3. When your dough has finished resting, take a piece and roll it out into an oblong shape. Not too thick or thin, maybe 1/2 cm thick.
4. Roll the long edges of the dough inwards and press the ends together to make the boat shape. Experiment with shapes; some people make a more fat and round shape, some twist the ends together, etc.
5. Fill the dough boat with cheese. You can brush the dough with egg yolk if you want the resulting bread to have an extra golden crust.
6. Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the filled dough onto a pan lined with parchment paper or oiled foil. (It may be easier to fill the dough directly on the pan so you don’t need to move it). Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.
7. Take the bread out, make a small indentation in the middle of the cheese, and crack an egg onto it. Return the pan to the oven and let it bake for a few minutes longer until the egg white has set.
8. Cut two slices of butter and stick into the cheese on each side of the egg. Mix everything together well before eating.
3. When your dough has finished resting, take a piece and roll it out into a round shape. Not too thick or thin, maybe 1/2 cm thick. Place a ball of cheese on top. You can mix the cheese together with egg yolk, but make sure it doesn’t get too runny.
4. Fold up the edges of your dough around the ball of cheese.
5. Press down to flatten the ball into a round disc of dough. Flip the dough back and forth a couple times to widen out the disc.
6. (Optional) Brush the top of the bread with egg yolk and sprinkle some extra cheese on top.
7. Rip a little hole in the top of the bread. This is an important step that will prevent the bread from rising up and bursting inside the oven.
8. Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the filled dough onto a pan lined with parchment paper or oiled foil. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
Beshbarmak looks like something a nomadic horseman would eat: wide pasta topped with big hunks of meat and onion. It doesn’t look particularly appetizing. But believe me when I say it is something special.
I added bell pepper to my version to give it some color, but it is entirely superfluous. The magic is in the rich, savory meat broth and the tender pasta sheets. My wife, upon seeing it for the first time, called it an “open-faced lasagna.”
Beshbarmak literally means “five fingers” due to the way it used to be eaten. It originates from the nomadic peoples of Central Asia, and nowadays this type of dish is enjoyed all across the region: as beshbarmak by the Kazakhs, Kygryz, Tatars, and Bashkirs, as turama or dograma in Karakalpakstan and Turkmenistan, and naryn by the Uyghurs. Truly a pan-Central Asian dish!
Traditionally, beshbarmak is cooked with all sorts of different lamb and horse meat cuts, as well as kazy (horse meat sausage). I have a hard enough time finding lamb meat here in NYC, so I just used lamb shoulder chops. It would work well with beef, too.
My version is a little different from the traditional dish. Traditionally, the meat is boiled (I sautee it then simmer) and there are no vegetables other than onion. I was inspired by this Uyghur video which is actually for a different dish entirely. Stalic has a video for beshbarmak, as does Abdulaziz Salavat (both videos in Russian). The Russian Wikipedia article for Beshbarmak has everything you would want to know about its etymology and its different national variants.
White or black pepper
Bell pepper (entirely optional)
Directions: Noodle making 1. Make a dough out of flour, egg, salt, water, and a bit of oil. Knead for 10 minutes and set aside, covered. Let it rest for at least half an hour.
2. Roll the dough into a cylinder and use a knife to cut off a small piece. Lightly oil the piece.
3. Use a rolling pin to flatten out the piece into a big, thin, pasta sheet. Continue until you’ve used all the dough. Make sure to space out the pieces so they don’t stick together.
4. Bring some water to a rolling boil, lightly salt, and put in the beshbarmak pieces one by one. After the water has returned to a rolling boil, let it cook for another 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the noodles – you want them al dente.
5. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water. Layer the noodles in a plate.
Making the topping 1. Sautee the lamb meat in oil over medium-high heat until browned.
2. Add in the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add salt, cumin seeds, and white or black pepper. Mix well.
3. Add bouillon/water until the contents are barely covered.
4. When it starts to boil, turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
5. Open the lid and add in the bell pepper. Cook this briefly over medium heat.
6. Pour some hot broth over the noodles to warm them up. Put the topping on the noodles. Ash bolsun!
Kutab (qutab, кутаб) comes from Azerbaijan: a Turkic country on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Although they don’t share a border, Azerbaijanis can understand Turkish and vice versa to some extent.
Kutab is a wonderfully simple dish that makes a great brunch: thin dough stuffed with filling and grilled on a saj (or in my case, a frying pan). The filling can be vegetables, cheese, and/or meat; I made mine with cheese and realized how similar it was (at least in concept) to a quesadilla.
Cheese (your preference; I used a mix of mozzarella and feta)
Greens (up to you; I used spring onions and cilantro; dill, basil, or parsley would be nice too)
1. Make your filling: mix the cheese, greens, and some oil together in a bowl.
2. Make a dough of flour, water, salt, and oil. It will be easier to roll out the dough if you let it rest for a bit (30min-1hr, covered so it doesn’t dry out). No need if you’re in a hurry, though.
3. Break the dough into small pieces as above. Lightly oil a piece, then roll it as flat and wide as you can. It should be almost paper-thin and slightly translucent when it is thin enough.
4. Spread the filling on one half.
5. Fold the dough over and press hard around the filling so the dough seals.
6. Cut a nice round shape out of the dough.
7. In a frying pan or on a griddle, grill the kutab on medium heat until the bottom has golden brown spots (should take 3-5 minutes). Flip the kutab over. The other side will get done much more quickly, so be attentive – after 1-2 minutes it should be nice and golden brown. Eat by itself, or with melted butter, sour cream, or yogurt. Enjoy!
We covered the iconic round Uyghur nan bread in another post. Another one of my favorite Uyghur breads is “girde nan”, which resembles a bagel, or more precisely, a bialy. It’s shaped like a bagel but the hole doesn’t go all the way through. They cook it in tandoor ovens just like nan, slapping it onto the walls and prying it off with tongs when done.
Making these yourself is actually really simple, and way easier than the big disc-shaped bread because you want it to be thick. The instructions are the same as for nan, but shaping them is much easier. You can put your favorite bagel toppings on them too; I like putting garlic even though that isn’t really common in Xinjiang.
1. In a large bowl, make a mountain of flour with a hole in the middle. Pour warm water into the middle, add 1/3-1/2 packet of dry yeast, salt, and a bit of sugar. Mix well and let stand for a few minutes. When it has gotten frothy, add the egg in. Then mix everything well, adding water as needed.
2. When you have a somewhat firm mixture, flour a surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes.
3. Oil a bowl and put the kneaded dough ball in, cover with a cloth and let rest for 1 hour in a warm place. Preheat the oven to 500 F at this stage.
4. When the dough has finished resting, punch it down and knead it a bit more.
5. Take a piece of dough and roll it into a ball; flatten it a bit with a rolling pin and use your thumbs in the center to make a deep indentation. Use a fork and poke holes all around the edge of this indent and in the center so it doesn’t rise.
6. Coat the outside with egg or oil, and add your favorite toppings: sesame, nigella seeds, poppy, garlic, onion, etc. Bake on a pizza stone for ~10 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!
Every restaurant has its own variety of laghman. In Uyghur restaurants, it usually means a dish of noodles topped with lamb and vegetables in a tomato-based sauce. In Uzbek or more Russianized restaurants, it’s often more like a noodle soup. In essence, laghman is just wheat noodles with sauce. Even Italian spaghetti bolognese could be considered a distant European cousin of laghman.
Shaanxi province lies on the northwestern frontier of China’s “heartland”; the last stop before the Gansu corridor, which snakes northwest between the Tibetan plateau and the Gobi desert up to Xinjiang and Central Asia. Shaanxi food has some clear Central Asian influence: lamb, beef, and cumin are commonly used, unlike the rest of China. You could think of Xi’an (the capital of Shaanxi, and in ancient times the capital of China) as the eastern end of the Silk Road. Kebabs are a common street food in Xi’an, as are fried bread sandwiches stuffed with lamb meat.
“Belt” noodles (裤带面 ku dai mian) are a Shaanxi specialty. They’re also known as “biang biang mian”, written with a special, extremely complex Chinese character that doesn’t exist in dictionaries (Wikipedia article). Just like the name, they’re wide like a belt and somewhat thick with a good chew to them.
I spent the summer of ’07 in Xi’an and tried this dish in a couple restaurants. Every place selling belt noodles serves it slightly differently; the common feature is red chili powder, garlic, scallion, and vinegar. The noodles are often eaten with no meat at all, but stewed pork, lamb, and beef are common toppings.
New Yorkers will be familiar with Xi’an Famous Foods, who serve a similar dish. I like their food, but I find their noodles aren’t as good as in Xi’an, or homemade. Their cumin lamb noodles are absolutely drenched in oil – while it is an oily dish, their version is way too oily even for me.
Cumin seeds, coarsely ground
Garlic, finely diced
Spring onion, finely diced
Red chili powder – ideally the somewhat coarsely ground kind where some pieces of seed are still visible. In between powder and crushed/flake form. It’s sold in Chinese groceries.
Chinese black vinegar (e.g. Chinkiang vinegar)
Light soy sauce
Bok choy or other leafy green vegetable (optional), boiled. Bean sprouts, green pepper, and cilantro could also be nice garnishes.
Directions Noodle making:
1. Make a dough out of flour, egg, salt, and water. Knead well for 10 minutes and let this rest for 1 hour.
2. Make a thick cylinder out of the dough and cut it into smaller pieces.
3. Coat these pieces in oil and set aside.
4. Take one of the pieces and flatten it out with a rolling pin.
5. Lift the flattened piece, holding each side, and wave it up and down, smacking with the middle of the dough while pulling gently. You should hear a “thwap! thwap! thwap!” noise. Smacking the dough helps stretch it out. You should end up with a long piece of dough about 1-2 inches wide and very thin.
6. The ends you held will probably be a bit thicker than the rest of the noodle, flatten these out with your fingers or the rolling pin. Cut the noodle in half if you like (makes serving them easier).
7. Unlike laghman noodles, these noodles (owing to their flat shape) have a real risk of sticking together even when they go in the water. Either space them out or oil them to make sure they don’t stick.
7. Cook the noodles in boiling salted water; after the water returns to a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes, the noodles will be done (taste one to make sure). Pour the noodles into a sieve and rinse with cold water.
8. Plate the noodles. Some sticking/ripping of the noodles is inevitable. If you can make belt noodles without them sticking together or ripping, I salute you.
1. Chop up some lamb meat, fry over high heat, and add salt and cumin seeds. Put aside.
2. Finely dice the spring onion and garlic, set aside.
3. Put a dash of soy sauce and black vinegar on each noodle bowl and mix well.
4. On top of the noodles, put the diced garlic, spring onion, and a heap of crushed red pepper in mounds next to each other.
5. Heat some oil until it is very hot. Now, for the magic step: pour the scalding oil directly onto the heap of red pepper. You should hear crackling and smell an aroma as the pepper and garlic is instantly cooked.
6. Top with the lamb meat and any vegetable, if you like.
7. Mix everything well before eating. The hot oil turns the chili powder into chili oil. Enjoy!
Georgian food is quite different from Central Asian food; if I had to describe it simply, it’s like a fusion of Russian and Turkish cuisine. I’ve only had Georgian food in restaurants here in NYC, but loved what I’ve tried. Some foods, like the famous khachapuri cheese bread, are rich and hearty, reminiscent of Eastern European cuisine; others, like khinkali dumplings or tolma stuffed grape leaves show the influence of Central Asia or the Middle East.
Chakhokhbili is a Georgian dish of stewed chicken made with a special mix of herbs and spices called khmeli-suneli. Reading the label, khmeli-suneli has: marjoram, dill, thyme, basil, celery, mint, parsley, coriander, safflower, summer savory, red pepper, hyssop, black pepper, fenugreek, and bay leaves. I found it in Kalustyan’s. If you can’t find it, just use your favorite herbs. Probably just marjoram and thyme would be a decent substitute.
This recipe is from BigGeorgeHighlander, watch his Youtube recipe here (in Russian).
Chicken, chopped into medium sized pieces – 1lb
Onion, diced – 1 medium sized onion
Garlic, finely diced – 4-5 cloves
Basil, roughly chopped
Cilantro, roughly chopped
Diced tomatoes – 1 can or a few tomatoes
Khmeli-suneli spice mix
Red chili pepper, finely diced
1. Sautee the chicken in oil over high heat.
2. After the chicken is browned, add the onion and cook until soft.
3. Add the red chili pepper and cook everything for a bit.
4. Add black pepper and a few teaspoons of khmeli-suneli and mix everything together.
5. Add the diced tomato and a bit of sugar.
6. Turn to low heat, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
7. Add salt, garlic, and the basil and cilantro. Cook everything together for a bit. Complete!
I first tasted durap at the night market in Turpan. Sweet, cool, tangy, and refreshing, it was like no other yogurt I’d had before. It’s thin yogurt served over shaved ice and sweetened with sugar or honey. Some people also call this “doogh”, though in other countries that word refers to a saltier yogurt drink.
Many years later, having discovered kefir, I realized how similar it was to durap. You can make something that tastes very similar at home. Just mix some plain kefir together with sugar or honey, then pour over shaved ice in a bowl. In the US, Trader Joe’s stocks a great plain kefir, and Lifeway brand is fairly easy to find in groceries.
My quest for perfect Uyghur nan bread is still ongoing. In the seven years since I was in Xinjiang, I have never eaten anything like the freshly baked nan bread sold in the streets. Of course, there are countless different varieties of bread being sold – but my favorite was the big, disc-shaped bread. Thick around the edges and thin in the middle, slightly oily and usually topped with sesame and sometimes onion or other spices, it is sold on the street in every city in Xinjiang for only 1-2 kuai.
I’ve eaten at several Uighur, Uzbek, and other Central Asian restaurants in the US since then and I’ve never found it. They serve a bread called лепёшка(lepyoshka) in Russian that is thick and bready, but nothing even resembling the big disc bread.
The big oily round bread is not the only type of bread in Xinjiang. One other variety is a big, round, thick, extremely dry bread that can be stored for a long time. Other nationalities in the region (like Kyrgyz, Kazakhs) make this bread too. I remember visiting a Kyrgyz yurt where the hosts kept a big partially eaten round of dry bread in the corner covered with some cloth. They took it out and served it to us with tea. This bread is usually eaten with soup, sauce, or other liquid as it is too dry to eat on its own. Yet another common variety resembles a bagel, or more precisely, a bialy. We’ll cover this variant in part 2.
My own attempts have been getting better after many tries and many burned or misshapen breads. I’ve gotten good results with a pizza stone, but I suspect the perfect nan bread requires a tandoor oven. FarWestChina has a good post and video about how Uyghur bread is made in Xinjiang.
Before buying some bread stamps in Uzbekistan for cheap ($2-3 for each one), I bought an Uyghur bread stamp from Taobao – just do a search for 囊戳子 and you’ll find plenty of them. You can sometimes find bread stamps on Ebay or Etsy as well. The stamp certainly helps give the bread the right look, but I have used a fork plenty of times with decent results. Finally, in New York, Fortuna grocery in Brooklyn sells bread stamps (they keep them behind the cashiers where they sell plates and teapots).
This bread tastes good by itself and especially with soup or sauce (like dimlama or dapanji). I also like eating it for breakfast with kefir or yogurt.
Ingredients Flour (experiment with all purpose or bread flour, they will give different results)
Warm water. Ratio of flour to water by volume: 3 to 1. By weight: 1.5:1.
Directions 1. In a large bowl, make a mountain of flour and indent the middle. Pour warm water into the middle, add 1/3-1/2 packet of dry yeast and a bit of sugar. Mix well and let stand for a few minutes. When it has gotten frothy, add the salt and the egg in. Then mix everything well, adding water as needed.
2. When everything is well mixed, flour a surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes until it no longer sticks to your hands.
3. Lightly oil a bowl and put the kneaded dough ball in, cover with a cloth and let rest for at least 40 minutes in a warm place.
4. When the dough has finished resting, punch it down and knead it a bit more. You will have to eyeball how much dough you want to use for how big/thick you want your bread.
5. Roll the dough out into a round, flat circle. It should not be too thick or too thin, maybe a bit less than 1cm thick. Do not let the dough get too thin, or it will burn when you bake it! Let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.
6. Form an edge all around the bread with your hands. If you’ve rested the dough for long enough, it should mold easily without resistance.
7. Time to stamp down the center. If you have a bread stamp, stamp concentric patterns all around the center, making sure to press hard so the spikes go all the way through. If you don’t have a bread stamp, use a bottle or other round object to stamp around the center. Then use a fork to poke holes, poking all the way through. There should be holes all over the center. This helps prevent the center of the bread from rising up (we only want the edges to rise in the oven).
8. Lightly brush oil all over the top and sides of the bread. Then put the toppings onto the center, pressing in lightly so they stick. I usually use sesame and nigella seeds, sometimes with very finely diced onion. Some people also put black pepper and/or cumin seeds. Experiment with what you like; there is no fixed recipe.
10. Ready to bake. Put the dough into your 500F preheated oven (I use a pizza stone) and bake until the bread is golden brown all over (10-15 minutes). If you like, you can lightly brush the bread with oil after it is baked. Enjoy!