Da Pan Ji: “Big Plate Chicken”, a Chinese/Uyghur Fusion Dish

Dapanji_600px
My version of dapanji, with nan bread.

Da pan ji (大盘鸡 “big plate chicken”) is one of the few foods that is equally popular among Chinese and Uyghurs. It originates from Xinjiang, but is claimed by neither group: Uyghurs regard it as a Chinese dish, and Chinese regard it as a Xinjiang specialty. Regardless of who originally came up with it, it’s become quite popular in the rest of China and can even be found in Chinese restaurants abroad.

Dapanji_urumqi
Dapanji served in an Urumqi restaurant.

Just like the name, it’s a big plate of chicken stewed in a rich, spicy sauce with potatoes, green bell peppers, and chilies. The star anise makes it amazingly fragrant when complete. There are plenty of variations in the sauce and how it is served: some places serve it with noodles, other with bread, others just by itself. I personally love eating it with Uyghur nan bread to soak up the sauce.

Dapanji_kashgar
Dapanji served in a Kashgar restaurant.
Newnan5
Nan bread is great with dapanji, recipe here.

This recipe is adopted from JadeCw’s recipe on Xiachufang as well as Abdulaziz Salavat’s version.

Ingredients:
Chicken (1-1.5lb, I use dark meat that won’t get tough during the cooking)
Potatoes (3-4 medium sized ones)
Green bell peppers (1-2)
Onions
Chinese fermented black bean sauce (豆瓣酱 doubanjiang)
Chili garlic sauce
Tomato paste
Soy sauce
Dried chilies
Star anise (八角 bajiao, 5-6 pieces)
Sichuanese peppers (optional, a small handful)
Can of beer or Shaoxing cooking wine (optional)
Sugar
ingredients

Directions:
Prep: Chop the potatoes into medium pieces – not too big or they won’t cook through, not too small or they’ll get overcooked and make the sauce starchy. Chop the chicken into small to medium-sized pieces. Chop the green bell peppers into medium-sized square pieces.
1. Heat the wok on high heat and add oil. When the oil has heated, add a small amount of sugar (1-2 teaspoons) and mix well.

2. When the sugar has melted into the oil, put in the chicken and stir fry this until it is browned. The melted sugar will give the chicken a nice golden color.
cook_chicken

3. Put in the onions and cook these until soft and light brown.
cook_onions

4. Add the black bean sauce, chili garlic sauce, and tomato paste. Add a good dollop of each – maybe 2-3 tablespoons worth. Mix everything well.

5. Salt, and add the dried chilies and Sichuanese peppers, mixing everything well.
cook_chicken3

6. Add soy sauce, add the beer or wine (if you are using it), and add enough water so the broth almost covers everything.

7. Put in the star anise. Once the water boils, turn the heat down to medium. Mix everything well, cover the wok, and let this cook for at least 25 minutes.
cook_sauce2

8. Taste the sauce and reduce if too watery. The sauce should be spicy, aromatic, and savory. Finally, add the bell peppers and let them cook briefly. Dapanji is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day after it has been sitting in the fridge; the flavors thicken and become more complex with time. Ideally, let it simmer over minimum heat for a while before serving. Serve in a big serving plate; you can put noodles or bread on the bottom to soak up the sauce, or serve them separately. Enjoy!
finished_sauce

dapanji3_600px

Dapanji_Noodles_600px
Dapanji served over noodles.

Samsa: Baked Meat Buns

Samsa600px
My version of samsa.

Samsa (самса, 烤包子) are baked buns that are eaten all over Central Asia. The filling is usually meat (beef or lamb), onions, and plenty of fat. As you might guess from the name, they are distantly related to Indian samosas. In Xinjiang, they sell these on the street in every city.

selling_samsa
Samsa being sold in Turpan.

Samsa are usually fairly greasy and, like most Central Asian food, best washed down with hot green tea. I often bought samsas to eat on long-distance buses in Xinjiang; one time a man next to me saw my water bottle and cautioned me against drinking it with the samsas. The traditional belief (not only in Xinjiang, but across Eastern Europe and Asia) is that drinking cold things is bad for your digestion, especially after eating greasy food.

IMG_20151225_221138
These are traditionally baked in a tandyr oven like nan bread – sticking them straight to the wall and prying them off with tongs. I used a pizza stone and got good results – unlike nan, you can get pretty close to the real thing at home.

The recipe here is for the standard meat samsa. You can also fill them with pumpkin and onion. Although not traditional, I imagine yam or sweet potato would work well too, maybe even taro! You can wrap a chicken drumstick with onion and samsa dough and make amazing baked chicken samsas that turn out wonderfully juicy and tender inside.

Natalia Kim has a nice video demonstrating the process.

chicken_samsa
Chicken drumstick samsa.

Ingredients
Flour
Water
Egg
Salt
Black pepper
Meat (beef or lamb) – use a somewhat fatty cut
Onion
Butter

Directions
1. Make a dough of flour, water, egg, and salt. Knead this until it is fairly firm and let rest for an hour, in the fridge.

2. Take some dough and roll it out until it is very thin and takes up almost all of your rolling space. Lightly brush this with melted butter.
rolldough

3. Roll up the dough sheet into a tube. Coil up the resulting dough twist and keep in the fridge. Do this for all of the dough.
tube dough

4. Chop up the meat into fairly small pieces, making sure to leave the fatty bits in. Mix this with finely diced onion, salt, and black pepper.

5. Portion the dough twist into small pieces. Holding a piece upright (so the spiral faces the ceiling), press down on it with your other hand. What you are doing is squashing the spiral out and creating the layered dough.
dough_pieces

6. Roll this dough out until it is thin. Spoon a good amount of filling in, then fold it up.
fill_piece

If you want to make circular samsa, just bunch up the edges and press it together in the middle (a bit of water may help it stick), but make sure the edges are fairly thin or you will end up with too much dough in the center of your samsa.
wrap_piece

If you want to make triangles, simply fold up two sides then fold the bottom. You can fold into a packet shape (two sides, then two ends) as well.
triangle_samsa

Whatever you do, make sure your samsa are sealed well so the juices don’t leak out during baking.

7. Brush the samsas with beaten egg and top with sesame and nigella seeds.
coat_samsas

8. Have the oven preheated to 420 degrees. Place the samsa directly onto the baking stone. Alternately, you can put them on a baking sheet lined with oiled foil.

9. Bake for about 25 minutes at 420 degrees. When they are done, you should see golden brown spots appearing on them. Enjoy!
baking_samsas

Samsa

“Uzbekistan” Salad: Pinnacle of Soviet Fusion Food

SalatUzbekistan
“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.

greenRadishAtStore
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!
SalatUzbekistan2

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

Manti: Central Asian Steamed Dumplings

manti

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.
dumplings1
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!
steamer2

Basma: Uzbek Slow-cooked Lamb Stew

dimlama5
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.

Newnan5
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.
greens

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.
cover

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!
finish

dimalama1

Goosh Nan: Uyghur Meat Pie

goshnan
My version of Uyghur meat pie or goosh nan. Deep fried version.
meat pie slice 2
Steamed version of goosh nan.

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.

meat nan in urumqi
Goosh nan in an Urumqi restaurant.

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.

gosh_nan
Gosh nan in an Uyghur restaurant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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:

meat pie in kashgar
Goosh nan in a Kashgar restaurant.

This recipe is from Abdulaziz Salavat (in Russian). Here is an Uyghur video as well. I like the deep fried version the best, but try the steamed version too; it gives it a unique texture and flavor.

Ingredients:
Finely minced beef or lamb. It’s better when you mince the meat by hand, but ground meat will do.
Onion
Salt
Black pepper
Flour
Water
Egg

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. 
farsh

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.
rolled dough

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.
dough with filling

4. Cover it with the other dough sheet, pressing down firmly all around the meat so the dough sticks together.
layer dough

5. Use a knife to cut out a circle, leaving room around the edges.
cut dough

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.
folded edges

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.
frying pie
draining pie

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.
cheburek2
8. If you want the steamed version, put the pie in a steamer, cover, and steam for 25 minutes.
steam pie 2

Ishtiha bolsun!

goshnan2
Deep fried version

meat pie with salad
Steamed version

Khachapuri: Georgian Cheese Bread

Khachapuri2_2
My version of adjaruli khachapuri.
khachapuri
My version of megruli khachapuri.

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.

This recipe is adopted from BigGeorgeHighlander and also this New York Times recipe for khachapuri (where I got the cheese mix idea).

Ingredients
Flour
Yeast
Salt
Cheese (equal parts mozzarella and feta or goat cheese)
Egg
Butter (optional, for adjaruli)

Directions
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.
raised dough

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.

cheese1cheese2

For Adjaruli:
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.
roll dough

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.
shape dough

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.
fill cheese

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.
put_egg

8. Cut two slices of butter and stick into the cheese on each side of the egg. Mix everything together well before eating.
khachapuri_mix

For Megruli:
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.
make_round1

4. Fold up the edges of your dough around the ball of cheese.
make_round2

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.
make_round3

6. (Optional) Brush the top of the bread with egg yolk and sprinkle some extra cheese on top.
make_round4

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.
make_round5

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.

Enjoy…
khachapuri with chakhokhbili

 

Khachapuri2