Uzbek nan bread

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My version of Uzbek nan bread.
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Another pattern.

This recipe is for the Uzbek bread, obi non, or in Russian “lepyoshka“, but you will see various breads that look very similar to this all over Central Asia – round, and pressed down in the middle, almost like a giant bagel or pizza crust. In Central Asia, bread is such a basic staple food that you get it with literally every meal, without asking for it. If you visit someone’s house, they will bring you bread and tea.

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Beautiful bread bought at the Siyob bazaar in Samarkand.

This is a versatile bread and tastes great just eaten by itself, fresh out of the oven. It’s also great to eat with soups and stews, or with jam. It’s most similar to a baguette in taste and texture. This bread is pretty similar to the Uyghur version I wrote about earlier. The difference is that it is much thicker and the pressed down part in the middle is smaller. If the Uyghur nan bread is like a big pizza crust without any sauce on it, the Uzbek nan bread is like a giant inflated bagel.

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Bread served at a restaurant in Bukhara.

Making bread is truly an art – don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out right the first few times you make it. I had to make this bread 20+ times before it turned out the way I like it, and I’m still trying to perfect my technique.

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Bread, tea, and salad at a Khiva restaurant.

In Central Asia this bread is made in an oven called “tandyr”(similar concept to a tandoor oven), slapping the dough directly onto the oven walls, as you can see in the video below. I obviously can’t replicate that at home, but I’ve gotten good results with a pizza stone. Failing that, it would probably turn out OK on a baking pan.

I use some bread stamps I bought in Uzbekistan to make the patterns on the bread. They are called “chekich”; you can see the bakers in that video stamping the dough with them in the beginning. You can buy them from this store on Etsy, or if you know someone traveling to Central Asia, ask them to buy a couple for you – they only cost a few dollars and should be sold in almost any bazaar. In New York, you can buy bread stamps at Fortuna grocery in Brooklyn – they sell small wooden ones behind the checkout counter, along with plates and teapots. If you don’t have a chekich, you can just use a fork.

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Ingredients
Flour
Dry yeast
Salt
Sugar
Milk – optional, use instead of water to make the bread more soft. I like using a mix of milk and warm water.
Egg (optional) – to glaze the bread
Toppings for the bread – sesame seeds, nigella seeds, finely minced onion, garlic

Directions
Make a pile of flour with an indentation in the middle. Don’t worry about how much or how little flour to put; you will either end up with a bigger or smaller bread and after a few tries you will know roughly how much flour makes how big a bread. In the middle, pour some warm water. Put in half a packet of dry yeast, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of flour. Then stir up the middle and wait for a few minutes until it bubbles up and turns into a foam.
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Begin mixing the water into the flour. Mix until everything is dry and slowly add more water until you have a semi-solid dough, scraping the excess flour off the walls of the bowl. Don’t worry about exactly how much water to put; if you put too much water then put in more flour until it’s solid. I generally err on the side of too little water, because the dough will end up getting very sticky once you start kneading it. You can always add more water.

When it is solid enough to work with your hands, flour a clean surface and start kneading the dough, adding more flour as required if it gets sticky. Knead this for 10 minutes until it no longer sticks to your hands and is relatively firm and pliable.
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Put this in a bowl and let it rest for 40 minutes in a warm place, covered with a clean cloth.
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After the 40 minutes are up, the dough should have risen (but don’t worry if it appears not to have risen that much). Take out the dough and knead it again for a few minutes, then shape it into a fat disc and let it rest for another 15 minutes, covered. Why do we rest the dough so much? So that we can form it into a big doughnut later. If we don’t rest it enough, we’ll find the dough is resistant to shaping.
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After the 15 minutes are up, take the dough and roll it out into a big circle, not too thin. Then use your fingers to press down the middle of the dough, pushing the air outwards. Don’t make the middle too thin. Use your fingertips to press a circular ring into the middle of the dough. You really want to define a nice circular edge, it’s not so important to press the middle down. Let this rest for another 5 minutes.
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Press all the way around your circular indent again. Now use a bread stamp to press down the middle and make nice patterns. The patterns aren’t just to be pretty, the holes help prevent the middle from rising, giving us that nice giant doughnut shape we want. If you don’t have a stamp, you can just use a fork to make holes all around the center. Whether you use a stamp or fork, make sure to press down hard so the holes go all the way through the dough.

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Use a brush to cover the bread with a mixture of beaten egg and milk. This will give the bread a nice shiny golden brown crust when it’s done, and also make it sticky so our toppings won’t fall off. If you don’t have egg, you can use just milk to glaze the bread, or failing that, water. The point is to wet the bread – the choice of egg or milk or water just has different effects on the finished appearance. Whatever you do, just glazing the top and sides is fine – don’t glaze the very bottom because it can end up getting stuck to the peel. Then add your toppings – I usually just put sesame seed, but nigella seed works nicely too, as does finely minced onion or garlic. Imagine it’s a giant bagel, just add whatever you would like on a bagel.
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Rub flour into your baking peel to create a rough surface. Now you need to be fast so the dough does not stick to the peel. Put your dough onto the baking peel. Then quickly slide the dough onto the baking stone in an oven preheated to 400F. You just put the tip of the peel on the far end of the stone and wiggle it back and forth until your dough slides off – that’s why it’s crucial to flour the peel first, otherwise the dough might stick. If your dough ends up sticking to the peel and won’t come off, it’s no big deal, just take the dough with your hands and put it onto the stone (be careful not to burn yourself).
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Bake this for about 15 minutes until the bread has a nice golden brown crust. Enjoy!

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Goosh Nan: Uyghur Meat Pie

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My version of Uyghur meat pie or goosh nan. Deep fried version.
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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.
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4. Cover it with the other dough sheet, pressing down firmly all around the meat so the dough sticks together.
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5. Use a knife to cut out a circle, leaving room around the edges.
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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.
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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.
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8. If you want the steamed version, put the pie in a steamer, cover, and steam for 25 minutes.
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Ishtiha bolsun!

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Deep fried version

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Steamed version

Uyghur “bagels” (Girde nan)

Bagels

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.

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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.

Directions
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.
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2. When you have a somewhat firm mixture, flour a surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes.
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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.
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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!

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Uyghur Nan Bread

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My version of Uyghur nan bread, with nigella and sesame. The bread stamp gives it the nice patterns.
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Uyghur nan bread made without a bread stamp.

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.

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Selling Uyghur bread in Kashgar.

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.

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“Lepyoshka” bread from Cafe Kashkar, an Uyghur restaurant in Brighton Beach.

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.

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Various types of Uyghur bread being sold in Turpan.
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Baking Uyghur “bagels” in Kashgar.

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. It is a bit tricky getting it to the US – I went through a Taobao agent called Bhiner that was fairly straightforward. The shipping ended up being far more expensive than the stamp itself (it cost around $30 total and the stamp itself was only $9). You can sometimes find bread stamps on Ebay or Etsy as well, though it is quite expensive (the shop I linked charges $50 including shipping!). The stamp is definitely important in making an authentic bread, 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).

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My Uyghur bread stamp.

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)
Egg (optional)
Warm water
Yeast
Salt
Sugar

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, 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.
FlourYeast

2. When you have a somewhat firm mixture, flour a surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes until firm.
kneading

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.
RisenDough

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.
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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.
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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).
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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.

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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!

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