Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Images of Kazakhstan

The Land is inside Me, a "creative documentary," is a montage of images from everyday Kazakhstan. From skiing in the Tien Shan mountains to worship at the Mausoleum of Khja Ahmed Yasavi in Turkestan, urban street singers and window cleaners to valenki-wearing horsemen herding sheep. The filmmaker, Jürg Da Vaz, is a Swiss artist who has made several other films in and about Kazakhstan. This one, from 2003, is just under 10 minutes long. Check out the mass manti (?) production at about 2:30 mins.

Last winter, Ben at posted an artist's view, a profile of Da Vaz and commentary on one of his longer films on Kazkhstan, Born to Move: Kazakhstan Unlimited. YouTube fans won't find these through casual surfing; Da Vaz has uploaded his films only to GoogleVideo and his own website.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Kazakh Cooking Experiment #2 - Lagman

A few weeks ago a friend asked if I could find information about some sort of Kazakh stew that a young KZ adoptee was missing but didn’t remember much about. The question was never answered entirely, but the two best possibilities seemed to be lagman and zharkoe. Lagman is a thickish soup with noodles, zharkoe is more stew-like.

And so, the recipe explorations began. Oh my, the variations seem endless. However, I had it on good authority (thank you, W & A) that neither lagman nor zharkoe have one proper way to make them (like a Mama's spaghetti sauce), but that lagman should have homemade noodles, small pieces of meat, tomatoes, pepper and paprika. What the heck -- it was the first day of spring!

A word to the wise -- don’t try this on a weeknight (I did), especially if you are making noodles without a pasta machine (I gave mine away after owning it for 10 years without using it once. Aargh). Dinnertime could be quite late (it was).

The recipe below is a combination of noodles from one site, the soup/stew from Please to the Table & , and personal preference. The page has pictures of the noodle-making process, which is very helpful. has pictures of many favorite Kazakh dishes, including lagman (recipes in Kazakh and Russian). My noodles were a bit chubbier than theirs, but delicious. And yes, it’s true! Homemade makes all the difference.

When Kazakhs celebrate Nauryz, presence of the number 7 is essential - it embodies seven days of the week – the time units of universal eternity. One traditional Nauryz dish includes seven different kinds of meat. Happy wolves! I used only chuck roast, but I accidentally ended up with seven different kinds of vegetable in this lagman. Could this be why we had great spring weather that week?

From “I remember this!” to “Can we have it for lunch tomorrow?”, this cook was pleased by the family’s verdict. We’ll have it again -- on a weekend, minus the red bell peppers, and possibly with the addition of some marjoram and/or mint.

All notes, variations and additions are welcome. Please comment!
After all, there’s here’s no one proper way to make lagman.


I'm giving the soup part first, because, if you're pressed for time, the most important part to make on serving day is the noodles. You can make the lagman "soup" the day before (flavours meld in the fridge overnight anyway). Reheat it to serve over the homemade noodles. Make sure there's plenty of broth -- add more if needed.

For maximum effect, play
Kazakhstani tunes (download here or here) in the kitchen while cooking :-)

1/4 c. olive oil
1 lb. chuck roast (or any meat you like), cut into small pieces or strips

2 onions, cut in half across the rings, then thinly sliced
1 Japanese eggplant, diced
3 or 4 carrots, sliced
2-3 large tomatoes (peeled, seeded & chopped - see end for tomato peeling info)
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled & diced
3-4 cans beef broth (or 6-7 cups homemade beef stock if you have the time)
large dash paprika (1 Tbs., maybe more)
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. vinegar (apple cider, balsamic, or red wine)

In a large pot (at least 4 qt.) heat olive oil over medium heat until hazy. Add meat, cook until all sides are browned. Remove and set aside.

Add onions, eggplant and carrots to pot, and saute 7-8 minutes, or until soft. Add tomatoes and peppers, and continue to cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until all ingredients are 'well colored' (whatever that means) or they look right to you.

Add potatoes, cook 5 minutes or so. Season with salt & pepper, cook for 2 minutes. Return meat to pot, stir to combine with vegetables, then add broth (3 cans or 5 cups). Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes or so, until meat is tender. Taste & adjust seasoning. Add vinegar & garlic, remove bay leaves. Remove from heat, & let sit at least 10 minutes before serving, or, cool, place soup in refrigerator & reheat later. Add extra broth if too thick. Lagman should be more like soup and less like stew when served.


If you're making soup and noodles all in one day, begin with the noodles. Start the soup while the dough rests.

4 cups flour

1-1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup water (add more by Tbs if dough seems too dry)

To make the dough, stir together the flour and salt, then make a well in the center. Whisk together the water and eggs, then pour this into the center of the flour. Stir the dough until a thick mass is formed, then turn out onto a smooth surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and pliable. Divide the dough into two pieces, then cover one of the pieces while you work with the other.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness, then cut into thin strips. Boil the noodles for two minutes, then transfer them from the water to a colander. Rinse the noodles with cold water and allow them to drain while you prepare the soup.

To Serve

Place a handful (or so) of noodles in a serving bowl. Ladle soup over the noodles. Enjoy.


To peel tomatoes (a mother's wisdom) -- boil a pot of water and prepare a bowl of ice water. Place whole tomatoes in boiling water for maybe 30 seconds, then put tomatoes in ice water for a minute or so. It's amazing -- the peels practically slide right off the tomatoes. Then scoop out the seeds with your fingers, and chop, and you're good to go.