Monday, January 22, 2007

Kazakh Cooking Experiment #1 : Manti

It seems that few of the dishes that I consider to be traditionally Kazakh aren’t also claimed as national dishes of other Central Asian peoples; the only one I can think of is beshbarmak. Something about the other ‘Stans has grabbed global imagination more so than Kazakhstan has -- there's plenty on oil, politics, and adoption, but comparatively little depth of research and information available on Kazakh culture, as opposed to the music, history and lore of Uzbekistan, for instance.

My hypothesis is that three factors are in play here -- 1) Kazakh culture was nomadic and orally transmitted (the old “moving target” research problem, with no ancient texts or libraries to consult); 2) most of the Kazakh territory is north of the traditional Silk Road routes, not directly involved in the cultural exchanges related to trade of that time, and mostly overlooked in contemporary “Silk Road revival” events; and 3) fully one-fourth of the ethnic Kazakh population died of starvation in the middle of the 20th century, thanks to poorly executed Soviet agricultural collectivization programs. With them perished a quarter of the cultural memory of the people.

All this to say that when I went to make manti this evening, the recipe (in Please to the Table, p. 409) is titled “Uzbek Steamed Lamb Dumplings.” (I’ve also seem them described as Turkish, Tatar, and Caucasian.) This was a pretty successful attempt, more or less resembling the manti the kids and I remember eating in KZ, so I’ll pass what I did and what I Iearned.

Since I don’t like lamb (neither does Gulnara, so I don’t feel terribly inauthentic here), I substituted ground beef. It works just as well. You need some sort of steamer basket arrangement -- I used the fan-folding veggie steamer basket in a soup/dutch oven pot. It cooked about 9-10 at a time.

Making manti wasn’t as hard as I thought, so it will definitely get a second go. Gulnara spent New Year’s Eve with other KZ friends who were making manti, and that Yuri is some kind of cook! Next time I hope to benefit from from his expertise.

(makes 24; takes about an hour to get at least 1 batch ready to eat)

Whiz 2 cups unbleached flour and 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of a food processor. With the motor running, add 2 egg yolks and 1 TBS. oil through the feed tube, then pour in approx. 1/2 cup water in a slow steady stream, until the dough clumps up around the blade. Plop the dough ball onto a floured surface (I use the Formica-topped counter cutout from when I got a got a new sink as my breadboard) and knead until smooth ( a couple of minutes at most). Cover with a smooth dishcloth and let rest for 30 minutes.

Meat Filling
Mix 1 to 1.5 lb.. very coarsely ground meat (hand chopped lamb is specified, ground sirloin worked for me) with 2 finely chopped onions, 1/3 cup stock (lamb or beef), black pepper & salt to taste. The recipe also calls for cilantro, but it just seems too “southern” (remember the cumin in the Uzbek plov?) and I didn’t remember it anyway, so I left it out.

On the floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll 1/2 the dough into a thin sheet about 1/16” thick (I think I got close). Cut 4” rounds with a cookie cutter (if you have one. I don’t do rolled dough, and haven’t used my rolling pin in years until I started these Central Asian/Caucasus cooking experiments. I used the 3.5” top to an old peanut butter jar for size, and finished the job with a knife). Cut as many as possible (I got 8 the first try) then roll out the dough scraps again and make as many more as you can. Then do it all over again with the other half of the dough. If you go thin enough, you will get 24.

Get your steaming contraption ready, with 1-2 inches of water or as high as the basket will allow (you’ll need enough to last for 15-20 minutes of steaming). I didn’t grease the steamer basket, and the manti survived, but I think it would have worked better had I followed the recipe and greased it somehow. A few did stick enough to tear.

Mound 1-2 TBS. of the filling in the middle of each dough round (the recipe says to top each mound with a piece of butter, but I couldn’t do it. The fat thing, you know. Maybe next time). Then pull the sides up to the top, dip your fingers into cold water and pinch the sides together together. I made a puffy arch of a dumpling, like a big gyoza or a little pasty (or fried peach pie) instead of the more rounded peak in the pictures, because they look like that in my (possibly faulty) memory. The wet fingers help the dough edges stick to each other better, and not stick to your fingers at all.

When the water is boiling, place as many manti in the basket as will fit without touching (or take your chances on them sticking together. They still taste good). Steam for at least 15 minutes, maybe 20, depending on how big you made them. If you’re lucky enough to have a multilevel steaming contraption, switch the levels halfway for even cooking.

Then eat! The cookbook recommends serving with a yogurt-garlic sauce (sounds ‘southern’ again), but these got gobbled up plain and seconds were demanded (and gotten), so sauce is definitely optional.

I've heard of, but not yet eaten, a variation with pumpkin filling. That's next on the "to try" list.


Amira said...

Even the Kyrgyz claim beshbarmak as their national dish.

I've had manti (or its equivalent) from Mongolia to Turkey. I certainly don't crave them, but they're pretty good, especially when the company is great.

Are samsas popular in Kazakhstan? I like baked samsas better than boiled or steamed manti.

KZBlog said...

My wife doesn't put any spices in the manti, just salt and pepper. We also use ground beef instead of lamb, though it's good here where the ground meat is fattier.

I think part of the issue with Kazakh cooking too, is that traditional Kazakh food appears to be meat. Period. Not real exciting. As nomads, they didn't grow vegetables or experiment with cooking techniques.

Nyura said...

Well, there goes my beshbarmak theory, though historically Kyrgyz and Kazakh were closely linked. Would itbe more fruitful to explore regional variations of dishes, do you suppose? Like hamburgers across the English-speaking world (Aussies like beetroot and carrot). How is beshbarmak done in Kyrgyzstan?

And yep, samsas are KZ too.

Nyura said...

Good point, KZB. At least there are many different of kinds of meats available!

What does your wife use for cooking the manti?

Amira said...

Regional differences would be interesting to explore. People in Kyrgyzstan were adamant about differences in plov in different areas. And I noticed a bit of the same thing with samsas. I would be interested to know how widespread boursak is.

(That is why I asked about samsas- I knew they are in KZ and I was really wondering if they sell them on every corner with all sorts of fillings like they do in Bishkek. I should have asked the question better.)

Amira said...

Oh, and here's a recipe I have for beshbarmak. I think it's quite similar to Kazakh beshbarmak.

1 medium sheep or 3 kilograms of mutton or beef
1 kilogram onions
4 cups of flour
1 egg

Put the meat in a large pot along with onions and boil for two hours. While the meat is cooking prepare the noodles (store bought noodles can be substituted). Make a pile with the flour. Beat the egg and add it to the flour, then mix in warm salt water (1-2 teaspoon salt) until it holds together but is not so sticky. Knead well and then let stand for 10 minutes. When meat is done it is removed from the water and the noodles are then boiled in the same water to give the noodles a meaty flavor - noodles only need to cook for 5 minutes or less.

Nyura said...

Hmm, maybe there's a regional difference showing up already -- beshbarmak in KZ is often made with horsemeat (whenever I had it).

Maybe KZB or someone in KZ now can give a more authoritative answer on samsa fillings?

Amira said...

Beshbarmak is quite popular in Kyrgyzstan, but if it were only made with horsemeat it would be too expensive for most people. The only time we had horsemeat was at weddings and funerals and then it was simply boiled. Is horsemeat more affordable in Kazakhstan? It's very expensive in Kyrgyzstan.

KZBlog said...

Nyura: we make manti with chopped meat and pumpkin and onions. If we need to do it fast, we use fatty hamburger meat instead of chopping the meat ourselves.

Amira: horse meat is expensive in KZ, but most people eat beshbarmak only on special occasions--birthdays, weddings, or when they have visitors from far away, etc... so they go the extra expense anyway. At least around here, people don't usually just eat beshbarmak for lunch. Horse is about 800 tenge a pound, beef is 400-500.

Leila said...

My mum (Kazakh) makes manti not with garlic sauce, but with carrots and onion sauce, that's how I knew them until a Kyrgyz girl made them with yogurt sauce, and I really liked it! Manti is also an Afghan food.

As for beshparmak, there are variations: my relatives in Southern Kazakhstan sometimes make it with rice instead of dough. And I heard (but never tasted) that in the West Kazakhstan, near the Caspian sea, people eat it with fish!

And yes, samsas are sold on every corner in Kazakhstan.

My mouth watered while I was writing this comment.

Nyura said...

There's nothing like food favorites to get a good discussion going. Thanks for all the input. We're planning a "teach Nyura to cook" evening soon -- plov, manti, belyashi. Yum. Will report back afterwards.

Gulnara said...

It is a must in Alma-Ata to cook beshbarmak with horse meat. And, yes, KzBlog, people eat it at the big events. As for manti, - personally, I think that manti without pumpkin are not manti at all.
Let's get together and cook all this!

Gulnara said...

The BEST sauce for manti is fresh diced tomatoes and garlic! Ever!

ambar said...

My Uzbek mother-in-law is going to teach me how to make beshbarmak next week! (sans horse meat)She calls it a Kazakh dish.

I also dislike lamb. I will cook it in osh sometimes for my husband and pick the lamb meat out of mine. My husband also loves horse meat. His family serves it to him when he goes to Uzbekistan to visit.

Manti is good. I will try ground beef.

W. Shedd said...

The BEST sauce for manti is fresh diced tomatoes and garlic! Ever!

I agree - I actually make mine with chopped tomatoes, onion, and hot peppers. Basically the same idea, just similar to salsa.

I was taught that various nations and people fold their mante in different styles i.e. one method of folding them closed is Uzbek style, another Kyrgyz style, etc.

I'm afraid I haven't tried horsemeat. I suppose that there are perhaps more noble (if less tasty) purposes for a horse. :-)

Dilshod m said...

i like manti it is easy to cook and fine

Dilshod m said...

i like manti it is easy to cook and better than samsa

Biev said...

Ooh, I have a tip for you! Instead of greasing your steamer basket, you could simply place the dumplings over little pieces of parchment paper, or better yet, any kind of cabbage/lettuce leaves. I like to use napa cabbage leaves for this because they add just a hint of flavor to the food (that's not too cabbage-y). Hope this helps : D

Anonymous said...

Guys, can one cool manti in a steam oven?
Please advise!