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.

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

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Beshbarmak – Central Asian Nomad “Lasagna”

Beshbarmak_1
My version of beshbarmak.

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 as served in Kazakhstan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Ingredients:
Flour
Egg
Salt
Oil
Lamb meat
Onion
Cumin seed
Bullion cubes/powder
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.
CutDough

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.
RollDoughPieces

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.
CookNoodles

5. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water. Layer the noodles in a plate.
PlateNoodles

Making the topping
1. Sautee the lamb meat in oil over medium-high heat until browned.

CookMeat
2. Add in the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add salt, cumin seeds, and white or black pepper. Mix well.

CookOnion
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.
CookBroth

5. Open the lid and add in the bell pepper. Cook this briefly over medium heat.

AddBellpepper
6. Pour some hot broth over the noodles to warm them up. Put the topping on the noodles. Ash bolsun!

Beshbarmak

Uyghur laghman noodles with omelette

Lagman2

EatingLagman
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.

I really like the addition of sliced omelette. The recipe is adopted from Abdulaziz Salavat who calls it “suiru lagman”(video in Russian).

Ingredients
Flour, salt, and egg for laghman dough – or buy premade flour noodles
Lamb or beef meat – diced in small pieces
Bell pepper – diced
Tomato paste, 1-2 tablespoons
Onion – diced
Garlic – diced
Salt
Red pepper powder
White pepper powder
Paprika
Chinese black vinegar (e.g. Chinkiang vinegar)
Soy sauce
Cilantro – chopped
3-4 eggs (for omelette), beaten

Directions
1. Make the laghman noodles following the directions in the previous post. Boil in salted water until done, then rinse and plate.
RinseNoodle

2. Prepare the omelette in a separate pan: fry the beaten eggs in oil until solid, turn and fry a bit more on other side. Cut the omelette into slices.
CutOmelette

3. Over high heat, stir-fry the lamb pieces in a heated wok until lightly browned.

4. Add in the onion and cook until soft and translucent.

5. Add the garlic and a bit of cilantro, cook this until the garlic is fragrant.
add garlic

6. Add in the tomato paste, cooking it for a bit first, and mix well.

7. Add some water or bouillon to make a sauce. Turn the heat down to medium. Add in the bell peppers and cook for a bit.
Cooking

8. Add salt, white pepper, red pepper, and paprika. Let everything cook and the sauce reduce for a bit.

9. Add a dash of soy sauce and black vinegar. Add in the cilantro.

10. Finished! Top the noodles with sauce and omelette slices.
LagmanTop

Shaanxi “Belt” Noodles with Cumin Lamb

Kudaimian1

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.

Biang biang noodle shop in Xi'an
Biang biang noodle shop in Xi’an with the special “Biang” character

“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.

Xi'anBiangBiangNoodles
Biang biang noodles with pork, in the Xi’an noodle shop pictured above

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.

This recipe is loosely adopted from 雯婷茜子’s recipe at Meishijie (recipe in Chinese).

Ingredients
For noodle dough:
Flour
Salt
1 egg

For topping:
Lamb meat
Cumin seeds, coarsely ground
Salt
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.
DoughRoll
DoughPieces
3. Coat these pieces in oil and set aside.
OiledDough
4. Take one of the pieces and flatten it out with a rolling pin.
FlatDough
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.
PulledNoodle
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.
NoodlesReady
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.
DrainNoodles
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.
PlateNoodles

Topping:
1. Chop up some lamb meat, fry over high heat, and add salt and cumin seeds. Put aside.
CookLamb
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.
NoodleWTopping
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!
Kudaimian3
EatingNoodles