Tag Archives: manti

Chaihana Continued…

Ok, as promised, now to the food….

Lagman

Lagman

My dad ordered Lagman. I love lagman (pronounced: lah-g-mahn, with emphasis on the last syllable). I subconsciously tried making it when I was adding my own twist on a chili recipe I read on the back of a can of beans. And I’ve made it myself quite a few times and you can check out my version. It has carrots and celery (though I don’t know how authentic the celery is and I never use it) and noodles and red bell peppers and lamb. Dad liked it.  And it had scallions as a garnish.

Mastava - Uzbek soup

Mastava

This time around, I ordered Mastava (I think that’s how that soup is called and spelled and if I’m wrong, please let me know). It was delicious. The lamb was very well prepared, so tender it melted in your mouth as you ate it. No need to chew, really. Just inhale…. It had rice, lamb, carrots and other stuff I forgot about. And specks of emerald cilantro garnished the soup. Really good. Authentic. Notice how my sentences tend to shrink when the food is really fabulous. Probably because that’s all my mind is capable of at that moment and all the other mental powers are reserved to fully experiencing the decadence of the food. Love the flecks of cilantro garnishing most dishes. Just try it…Very yummy. I might have to try to make this at home one of these days. I wonder if I have a recipe somewhere… Hmmm. Oh, and this is a half-portion. Notice the difference between the full portion of Lagman and the half portion here. Not a whole lot of difference.

Manti - Uzbek food

Manti

Then we ordered manti. I’ve been wanting to try them here and so we did. There are several kinds on the menu, but we got the ones with lamb. Notice how huge these are; they were about the size of my fist, not like the ones we typically make. Also, notice that they’re served with sour cream and vinegar (the bottle behind the dish). You typically don’t mix the vinegar and sour cream, it’s either or. These were so right. I can’t say that about many places, but not many places claim to have Uzbek food. But these were sooooo good! And huge… The dough was a tad thick, but barely noticeable, and the meat was all good. The spices, meat to fat ratio, and all other aspects of manti were nearly perfect. I’d definitely recommend that dish to anyone.

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

We also ordered liver shashlik (shish-kebab). I think this specific type is called “djigar”, but I could be wrong. Someone correct me on this please. I don’t understand why it was served with the veggies. But ok. The onion is the authentic part of how it’s typically served. None of us liked this dish. It was too dry.

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

See in the picture how dry it was? It should be a lot more pink in the middle. It was like rubber; a workout for our knives and teeth. I hope they improve this. When it’s right, it melts in your mouth and has a very nice mouth feel, like pate. When it’s right even a baby/toddler could eat it.

Shashlik - shish-kebab

Shashlik - shish-kebab

Next, we tried “regular” shashlik. I must say that this is made from beef and not lamb, that’s why it’s in quotes. It’s as “regular” as you can have there. This is a hit or miss dish. The first time I had it I didn’t like because it had some weird spices. The server must have heard me describe that and had the kitchen leave it off this time so it was actually pretty good this time. It was seasoned and marinated properly and was very soft. Each skewer had plenty of meat and a serving is more than plenty.

Samsa - Uzbek dish

Samsa - Uzbek dish

The first time I was at this restaurant I also tried samsa. It was pretty good, but not how I remember, but then again, it’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had an authentic samsa. And this one was also very huge. These portions are very filling.
So let’s start at the beginning.

Samsa - inside view

Samsa - inside view

A samsa is a minced meat, fat, spices, and onion mixture that’s wrapped in dough and baked in a tandoori oven (tandyr). There are several kinds: rounds ones made from regular dough and triangular ones made of layered dough and not quite as tall as this one though they do puff up. This sucker was the size of my head! Not quite, but nearly. It also had more than onions for veggies but I couldn’t discern what all comprised the mixture. Still, it was very good. When made in a tandyr, the crust that forms on the bottom is very crunchy and the top is soft and when you bite into it, the juices run down your chin and the steam that escapes is like a sigh of contentment. I actually have a recipe that I’ve been thinking of trying for this.

Plov - Uzbek dish

Plov

And finally, what I always crave. Plov! This is definitely not for the weight-watching crowd. This thing is packed with most delicious calories. You got beef, fat, oil, rice, carrots, and other yummies. Don’t get me wrong, plov is worth it! This is my “holy grail”, something I really want to learn to make; I don’t have the correct pot for this (it’s cooked in a “kazan“, a cast-iron pot much like a dutch oven that’s not enameled). So if you know where I can get my hands on a kazan, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!
This dish alone is worth the trip (because I can’t make it home at the moment, not because it’s legendarily good). It’s the only consistently good dish I’ve had here (but I’ve only been here twice…) and I would go there just for it again, even if the meat was just a tad dry.  That they use beef instead of lamb is not authentic but that substitution is made often enough. It’s good, but don’t get me wrong, any competent home cook can make something far better. My grandma’s plov is hands-down a thousand times better; it’s legendarily good.  And I can’t even learn it (no kazan)!  Grrrr!  I tried a few times in an enameled cast iron pot, but everything sticks, so there’s burned rice on the bottom affecting the taste of everything else. But it was still edible.

Note: if you’re familiar with Indian cuisine, some things might look/taste familiar (like the use of lamb, rice, and spices).  Uzbek food is delicately spiced, but not spicy-hot; it’s heavy on the meat and very filling. (With all that we ordered, we had a lot of leftovers.)

Bring an empty stomach and an open mind if you’ve never tried these dishes before.

Manti – an authentic Uzbek dish (манты)

Manti on a platter

Manti on a platter

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
Salt

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.

Lumpy dough

Lumpy dough

Lumpy dough resting

Lumpy dough resting

Rested dough, ready to roll

Rested dough, ready to roll

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Small dice of lamb

Small dice of lamb

Another view of lamb diced

Another view of lamb diced

 

 

 

 

 
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.

Filling on Dough - Step 1

Filling on Dough - Step 1

Folded Manta - Step 3

Folded Manta - Step 3

Folded sides - Step 4

Folded sides - Step 4

Finished Manta

Finished Manta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 🙂

 

 

Open manti

Open manti

Close-up of an open manta

Close-up of an open manta

Juicy manti

Juicy manti