I (and my family) have been craving this staple of Uzbek cooking for more than a decade, maybe even as long as 15 years. You see, this isn’t a dish you make every day or even every weekend. This is a dish for special occasions. It requires absolutely the freshest lamb, from a butcher shop, not a grocery store, and a specific steamer (мантышница). Since there are no Uzbek restaurants where I live, not even a decent middle-eastern or central-asian restaurant, so we couldn’t even go out and get this dish. The dish is juicy, flavorful, scrumptious, recognizable by the “number 8” design on top, and completely depends on fresh ingredients. It does take about 4 hours to make, from starting the dough until you taste your first deliciously luscious manta (manti is plural of manta). Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
So we were very excited when a new friend offered to show me how to make these delicious morsels. How could I pass up such an offer, especially from someone who would show me the authentic way to do this (yes, she is an Uzbek, from Uzbekistan). Doesn’t get better than that when it comes to authenticity of food. She made everything from scratch, and I helped chop some things. Since I don’t have the exact amounts of what we did, I do have a recipe that explains the basics of the mechanics.
But first, a few tips.
Tip 1. No, there is no substitute for the fat. If you’re uncomfortable with it, just don’t make the dish.
Tip 2. DON’T drink anything cold WHILE eating it or AFTER. You can get serious stomach issues.
Tip 3. Drink hot green tea during or after the meal. Skip the soda. Seriously.
Tip 4. Some people like to dunk manti into vinegar, so it’s an option.
Ingredients for filling:
Lamb – 500grams
Lamb fat – 50 grams (DON’T SKIP THIS!)
Onions – 4-6 medium
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, cumin – to taste
Ingredients for dough:
All purpose white flour – 400 g
Water – 1/2 cup
Steps for the Dough:
1. Salt the water to be saltier than what you think is salty enough. Add the salted water to the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Since the last time I made dough I was about 15 and I don’t really remember any nuances about making dough. When talking to Nora, the friend who was making these scrumptious packets, she said that dough can be finicky and the amount of water depends on the how dry the flour is and such things.
2. When the dough comes together, separate it into 2 equal parts and let rest for about half an hour.
3. Kneed the dough until until it’s all soft and no more lumps are visible.
4. Roll it out to be very thin (not too thin, but thin enough to steam the meat mixture that will go inside, about 1/4 of an inch, or slightly less).
5. Cut the dough into about 3 inch squares. If the squares aren’t exact, that’s OK.
Steps for the meat:
When we got the lamb from the butcher, we got it in sections about 1-2 pounds in weight and still on the bone.
1. Our first task was to dice the meat into very small pieces, about 1/16th inch in size. Dice/Mince the fat too. None of that ground meat some recipes call for. This isn’t “pel’meni” (Russian style tortellini).
2. Dice/mince the onion to be in very small pieces, but don’t use the grater or a food processor. You want pieces of onion, not just onion juice and pulp.
3. Season with salt, pepper, and cumin.
4. Mix all together. Though the ingredients state that there should be about 10% of fat to lamb ratio, but Nora suggests more like 30%. So that’s what we did. The fat gives the juice/moisture/flavor when the packets are steamed.
Steps for assembling:
1. Spoon the meat mixture into the center of the dough square.
2. Fold 2 opposite sides of the dough so they meet above the meat mixture.
3. Fold the other 2 sides just like in Step 2. Now you should have all sides folded up above the meat mixture and you have 4 corners.
4. Put your finger to one of the side and fold 2 corners so they meet.
5. Do the same Step 4 on the opposite side. The top should look like it has a an “8” on the top.
To cook, place these assembled manti into a special steamer (мантышница). Mine has 4 tiers, a main pot for the water to boil in, and a lid. Fill the main pot with about 8-10 cups of water and boil. Let it boil for about 45 minutes, and manti should be all ready. I’ll update the post once I have a picture of the steamer.
Here I’m sacrificing a few manti to show you the inside. Please keep in mind that these are picked up by hand and if you can put the whole thing in your mouth, do. You don’t want any of the juice escaping. 🙂