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

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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.

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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.
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

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 “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.

BagelsPile600px

BakingBagel600px

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.
FlourYeast

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

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.
RisenDough

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!

girde_nan

Introduction

My first encounter with Uyghur food was in the summer of 2007. I left on a 30-hour train from Xi’an, and got off in Turpan – a different world. Over the next few weeks, I became well-aquainted with laghman, kavap, polo, chuchvara, and other Uyghur foods as I traveled through Urumqi, westwards to Kashgar, and along the southern edge of the Tarim Basin to Hotan.

Seven years since, those places and that food have become almost mythical to me. Uyghur and Central Asian food has been a rare treat for me wherever I could find it – whether it be a Uyghur restaurant in Montreal’s Chinatown that has long since closed, or an Uzbek restaurant in Seoul’s “Little Central Asia.”

Here are a few of my culinary obsessions:

1. Plov

plov3_2000px
My plov.

A person could cook plov for years and never fully master it. Every time I cook plov, I learn something new about my technique, and find someplace to improve. There are so many variables – the choice of rice, the soaking time, the amount of oil, the amount of water, how much you cook the rice, how long you steam it – and countless different variations in the technique. Here is my post about cooking plov.

2. Laghman
dapanji_laghman
I have yet to find a restaurant that makes the hand-pulled, bouncy, chewy noodles like in Xinjiang. Same for “suoman” – pulled flat noodle pieces. Even the sauce does not taste quite the same as in Xinjiang – rich and savory with tomato, with a touch of sweet. Here is my post about cooking laghman.

3. Nan bread
naan
I’ve had some decent renditions of laghman, but nowhere else in the world have I had any bread that comes remotely close to Uyghur bread in Xinjiang – specifically, the big disc-shaped bread that is flat in the middle, oily, and flavored with onion and spices. Uzbek restaurants make a type of bread called “lepeshka”, but this is often doughy and minimally flavored. Here is my post about baking nan bread: Uyghur nan bread and Uzbek nan bread.

Over the years, I searched for Uyghur recipes in an attempt to make it myself, but found almost nothing on the English-speaking web. Only recently did I discover that there is a wealth of information about Uyghur and Central Asian cooking available in Russian. It makes sense, given that most of Central Asia used to be part of the Soviet Union, and there are many expatriate Uyghurs living in these countries.

My two biggest resources have been:

1. Stalic Khankishiev. He is an amateur-turned-celebrity chef who runs a livejournal with detailed recipes and beautiful photos, and there are countless Youtube videos of his cooking shows. He’s also written several books, which I will review in another post. He is fairly well known in Russia, where most people are familiar with Central Asian food (almost all Russians have tried plov and shashlik, for example).

2. Abdulaziz Salavat. He is a professional chef who runs a Youtube channel with lots of detailed videos about Uyghur cooking.

Trying these recipes myself as someone who rarely cooked before, I found most of these recipes quite simple and forgiving for a beginning cook. It’s a blend of Eastern and Western cooking: like Eastern cooking, most dishes are simply fried or stewed without the complicated procedures of Western cooking; like Western cooking, many dishes are cooked relatively slowly, and the ingredients are few and easy to find in NYC groceries: meat, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, cumin, flour.

You may notice that I generally do not give measurements or quantities in my recipes. This is because the measurements and fussy parts of cooking were what turned me off from it originally. I like cooking simple food. I don’t mind labor intensive dishes, but I don’t like overly complicated recipes or too many ingredients. I never measure anything. Generally, your own common sense for the amounts will do just fine. The pictures should help give you an idea of proportions. If the proportions make or break the dish, I will point it out.

I am far from an expert on Central Asian food. With this blog, I will chronicle my experiences in cooking, and hope to share what I learn with others who want to recreate this amazing food at home. I appreciate any advice you have.

– Pravit

All photos on this site are my own work unless a different source is mentioned.