The humble pelmeni-like dumpling is something you can find nesting in pretty much every cuisine in the world. From Italian ravioli to Polish pierogis, Japanese gyoza to Tibetan momos: the simple act of wrapping a bit of meat or some vegetables in a pastry circle and then boiling it has caught on in every corner of the globe.
The chilly tundra and taiga of Siberia is no exception: pelmeni – ground beef and pork dumplings – is the Siberian national dish and a local staple that reaches as far as the dinner tables of western Russia across the Ural mountains.
Pelmeni have been around for so long and are so widely disseminated, it’s hard to get a definitive take on their actual origins. The most likely scenario is that the Chinese wonton took a stroll up north over the border and spread like wildfire thanks to its portability, convenience and simplicity of ingredients.
Cooking in the Arctic Circle
The Siberian diet is not generally known for being nutritionally diverse. Around one-fifth of Russian territory falls north of the Arctic Circle, an area where only the skilled and the hardy can eke out their own food on the inhospitable tundra where not even the most resilient trees can grow. There, the sun barely rises in the winter and the average annual temperature is in the 20s.
For indigenous people in this region, meat and fish have always been the main source of sustenance. They are often eaten raw, cut immediately from a just dead or dying animal in order that the flesh be consumed before rigor mortis sets in.
Blood, Milk and Fermenting Stomachs
Fresh blood is another favorite in these parts, with methods of blood letting from the arteries of reindeer and horses expertly developed so that the blood can be drawn without harming the animal at all. Adding milk fresh from the udder to a cup of blood is also considered a delicacy, and is the drink that has given rise to the Russian phrase ‘krov’s molokom’ – literally, blood with milk, when referring to a healthy complexion and ruddy glow of the cheeks.
Subarctic conditions also made it hard to get enough metal together to forge cooking implements, so for the most part, indigenous northern Siberian people cooked on open fires or used stone pots.
A hungry man’s ingenuity in the face of no cooking utensils knows no bounds, a point perfectly illustrated by the Chukchi people of the north of the country who perfected a dish called vilmulimul. Making vilmulimul involves fermenting reindeer blood by pouring it into a stomach, adding liver, kidneys, ears, hooves, as well as a few berries and sorrel, sewing the whole thing up and leaving it to fester until spring when it would be bursting with nutrients and fruit flavor.
Pelmeni – Siberia’s Seminal Frozen Food
Further south in Siberia, food foraging is a little easier. Plant-based ingredients are more common, though still scarce. Flour is probably the most ubiquitous of them all and so gives rise to the possibility of pelmeni aplenty.
The reason pelmeni most likely took off among the hunter communities in Siberia was the sheer convenience of the dish. Once made, they can be frozen and easily stored, as well as easily transported and reinvigorated with nothing more than a simple pot of boiling water. Even today, all around Russia, ready-made pelmeni are easily found in the frozen aisle of supermarkets.
All Hail the Pastry Ears
Pelmeni were most likely christened by the Komi people who live in the Ural area of the country. In Komi, ‘pelnyan’ means ‘pastry ear’, a reference to their shape which we’d prefer to associate with Italian orechiette than a certain scene from Reservoir Dogs. A plate full of severed ears isn’t, after all, our idea of a tempting meal.
And if you thought you loved dumplings, step aside: Siberians’ love of pelmeni is so great, it’s even spilled over into idolatry, as we can see from these examples of pelmeni statues in Izhevsk and Chelyabinsk.
About the Recipe
The ingredients of pelmeni might be pretty simple, but it takes a village to make a batch. At least traditionally, pelmeni-making in Russia is a family affair, with the menfolk as well as children pitching in with the women to roll, cut, fold and pinch the pastry. So if you do have idle hands in need of a job, this could be the perfect moment to wrest them off the Wii and into the kitchen!
The secret to getting a good filling for the pelmeni is varying the meats that go inside. The most traditional combination is a mix of beef and pork, and that is what we have decided to go for in our pelmeni recipe. The salt and onion are important too – not just for flavor, but in the days when the pelmeni had to go the distance of a Siberian hunting trip, they worked well as preservatives.
Prepare Your Ingredients
There is no need to pre-prepare anything when making pelmeni, so you can go ahead and get all your ingredients ready at the same time. You can use a food processor to chop the onions and the garlic to make them nice and fine. Leave them in for longer and add a tablespoon or two of water if you’d like to actually make a puree. Either way is good, and the puree will make for smoother pelmeni.
Meanwhile, prepare your filling by mixing the ground pork and beef together with the chopped onions and garlic. At this point, you can also add the salt and pepper. Mix it all together well.
When the dough is ready, break it up into smaller sections and place them one by one back on your floured surface. Shape them into balls and slowly roll them out flat with a floured rolling pin. Try and maintain an even thickness of the dough as well as the shape of the dough, keeping it circular or rectangular, whichever is easier.
Now fold the circle in half and pinch all the way around the edge of your new semi-circle, sealing the meat in the middle. Once that’s done, bring the two corners of the semi-circle together in the middle and you will magically have your ear shape. At this point, you can gather all the leftover strips of dough and roll them out again.
If you have too many pelmeni at this point, the best way to freeze them is by putting the whole board into the freezer for about half an hour and then transferring the dumplings into a ziploc bag. If you are planning on eating them right away, then put a large pot of water or vegetable stock on the boil along with some salt and bay leaves. Place your pelmeni on a slotted spoon, and insert them gently into the water in batches.
Transfer the hot pelmeni into a dish and add butter as soon as you can, so that it melts well over the dough. Serve with sour cream and, if you’re feeling up to it, a shot of vodka. Warm blood milkshake, optional.
Our Take on the Recipe
What can we say; dumplings are dumplings, and these pelmeni really are of the most simple and straightforward variety. Which is why we really appreciate them. Sometimes it’s good to get back to a basic dish that showcases the taste of just the meat itself without too much other flavor or seasoning.
Having said that, were we to make it again, we might experiment with some extra flavors, particularly herbs. We’d think about adding perhaps some cilantro and chives, and maybe even a handful of finely-chopped green onions into the mix.
The source recipe we used had an excellent formula for the dough, which we found came out with an excellent texture which was both firm and springy – the holy grail of dough-making!
And speaking of holy dough trials, the most difficult part of the process was definitely making the dumplings themselves. It’s a process that takes practice and years on the tundra to perfect, we imagine, but there were some curses that rose up from our kitchen counter as we tore the odd dough circle or overstretched the pouch and spilled the meat, forcing a restart several times during the preparation.
For the dough:
- 1 egg
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup milk
- 3-4 cups flour, sifted
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Extra flour for rolling the dough
For the filling:
- ½ lb ground pork
- ½ lb ground beef
- 3 onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
For boiling the pelmeni:
- 5 quarts of water or vegetable stock
- 5 bay leaves
- Sour Cream
Step 1: Prepare the dough
- In a large bowl, whisk the egg with the milk, water, oil and salt. Mix well so that the mixture is even.
- Add the flour and continue to mix with a wooden spoon, making sure you don't create any lumps or pockets of flour.
- Work the dough with your hands, kneading it for 5-8 minutes on a well-floured surface. If you have a mixer, set it to knead for the same amount of time.
- Roll the dough into a large ball. Cover it with plastic and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Step 2: Prepare the meat filling
- Meanwhile, prepare your filling by mixing the ground pork and beef together with the chopped onions and garlic. Add salt and pepper and mix together well.
Step 3: Constructing the pelmeni
- When the dough is ready, break it up into smaller sections and place them one by one back on your floured surface.
- Shape them into balls and slowly roll them out flat with a floured rolling pin. Try and maintain an even thickness of the dough as well as the shape of the dough.
- Take a 1½ -inch round cookie cutter and cut as many circles out of the dough as you can.
- Arrange the dough circles on your floured surface and spoon some of the meat mixture into the bottom half of the shape.
- Fold the circle in half and pinch all the way around the edge of your new semicircle, sealing the meat in the middle.
- Bring the two corners of the semi-circle together in the middle and you will magically have your ear shape.
- Gather all the leftover strips of dough and roll them out again.
Step 4: Boiling the pelmeni
- Put a large pot of water or vegetable stock on the boil along with some salt and bay leaves.
- Place your pelmeni onto a slotted spoon, and insert them gently into the water in batches.
- Cook them for about eight minutes. You'll know they're ready when they rise to the surface of the water.
- Remove them gently, again using the slotted spoon.
Step 5: Serving the pelmeni
- Transfer the hot pelmeni into a dish and add butter as soon as you can, so that it melts well over the little dumplings. Serve with sour cream.
Shakriya – a Syrian soup with yogurt, lamb, chickpeas and pine nuts, as well as a mouthwatering infusion of spices and herbs – is the kind of dish of our dreams we never imagined could exist until we accidentally ordered it one day in a restaurant in Aleppo more than 14 years ago.
It came in a bowl, surprisingly warm (we’d never come across warm yogurt soup before), and bursting with enough flavors and textures to set our taste buds into a frenzy. It’s not often that you come across a dish that’s a real paradigm-shifter in terms of your culinary landscape, but shakriya really did that for us – and we’ve never forgotten it!
Shakriya (also written shakriyeh) can be made from chicken or lamb, and its name comes from the Arabic word ‘shukr’, which means to thank. Given the relative luxury of the ingredients – plenty of meat and the richness of the yogurt – we can see how cooking up a pot of this stew would be an awesome way of paying homage to the good people in your life.
Melting in Syria’s Cookpot
Over the past few millennia, Syria has been conquered by pretty much every empire to rule in its region, from the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Muslim Arabs, the Mongols, the Ottomans, and eventually even the French. As such, it has had a colorful history of influences that have held sway over the country’s culinary traditions.
Levantine food has to be one of our favorites due to the diversity of what’s on offer. You’ll get meat, fish, vegetables, breads, dairy and sweets in such stunning varieties and with plenty of really creative crossover that is the legacy of a region that’s home to so many micro-populations.
Yayla Çorbası, Cucumber Soup, Shakriya
The concept of yogurt soup, for example, is well embedded in Syria’s northern neighbor, Turkey, especially in the country’s more mountainous regions, where dairy farming reigns strong and feeds into dishes like yayla çorbası, where the yogurt is cooked with mint and tarragon. To the west, the Greeks also have a traditional yogurt soup, a cold one for the warmer climes, made with garlic and cucumber.
Shakriya might not be as seminal a Syrian dish as kibbeh, but in our minds it exemplifies the inspired way Syrian cooks bring together a variety of spices, herbs and concepts into a well-rounded dish.
About the Recipe
Cooking shakriya takes a little skill and patience – the biggest potential pitfall is that the yogurt might curdle, since that is what yogurt does under the stress of high heat. But don’t fret! Decades and centuries of boiling yogurt in Syrian kitchens has come up with many solutions for dodging disaster, the most simple of which is to add cornflour and an egg.
Although the stars of shakriya are the perfectly seasoned lamb and the tangy yogurt taste, it’s the texture of the other more neutrally-flavored ingredients that really add grist to its soupy mill. Anything from vermicelli noodles and rice to chickpeas and pine nuts can be included, and in our case, will be included, as we figure this is the kind of dish where more is quite undoubtedly more!
Prepare Your Ingredients
Have all your ingredients weighed out and ready to go. If you have bought dried chickpeas for your shakriyah, remember to soak them overnight. Then prepare them by covering them with a few inches of water in a suitably large pot and boiling them for two hours or until they are tender but not so soft as to be falling apart.
Also, rinse your rice before you start, giving it a good rub under running water to wash away all the excess starch.
Cut the lamb into 1-2 inch cubes and season with salt and pepper.
Heat up some oil in a pan and sear the meat until it browns on both sides.
Add the chunks of onion and sweat them on a lower heat until they start to caramelize. This will release the onions’ natural sweetness and have them end up tasting really good.
Now add in the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves, and garlic and let them roast until they become aromatic and fill out your kitchen with their smells. This should always be done with spices to help them better release their natural flavors.
Add water to about halfway up the height of the meat chunks. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 2-2 ½ hours or until the lamb is tender. Keep skimming the top of the water using a spoon to leave a clear broth for the end, and keep an eye on the water level, in case you need to add some more.
While the meat is cooking, take another deep pot and add some butter, if you like, along with a little olive oil. Allow them to heat up, then add the vermicelli and stir well. Fry them until they are golden brown, which will make them nice and crispy.
Add the rice and stir in well with the vermicelli, making sure to coat the rice well with the oil that’s in the pan.Add the water to the rice and bring to the boil. Let it keep boiling until the liquid level comes down to that of the rice in the pot. Now turn the heat down to the lowest setting, cover and leave for 17 minutes – no peeking! Then turn the heat off and keep the lid on for another 15 minutes to let all the steam in the pot get absorbed by the rice.
While the rice and the meat are cooking, you can roast your pine nuts. Heat a pan on a medium heat then add the nuts, monitoring them very carefully and keeping them moving. Once you see them start to turn golden, and you can smell that delicious roasting aroma, it’s time to take them off. Set them aside.
Once the lamb is ready, remove the cubes from the pot and keep them warm. Pour the cooking liquid through a sieve and discard all of the chunky bits. Set the strained broth aside.
In a large pot, whisk the yoghurt with the egg, cornflour, remaining salt and pepper, crushed garlic and 250ml of the strained cooking liquid. Add more if you’d like your yogurt to be more soupy.
Turn on the heat and, stirring constantly to prevent coagulation, cook the yoghurt over a low heat until it comes to a simmer. Cook it for another 2 minutes once it boils, then turn off the heat. Stir in the chickpeas.
Place the lamb cubes in a deep serving bowl, then pour over the hot yoghurt. Now sprinkle the pine nuts and dried mint and work the whole thing over with a few turns of a black pepper mill. Serve up the rice and vermicelli mixture as a side dish.
Bel Hana Wel Shefa!
Our Take on the Recipe
We very much enjoyed the end product of our shakriya adventure: the stew alone, without the yogurt, is very aromatic and reminded us quite unexpectedly of a Vietnamese Pho. The yogurt soup, on the other hand, is very Mediterranean – like a shawarma garlic sauce.
The meat was really aromatic and flavorful, and was well worth the slow sweat of the onions and the roasting of the spices at the beginning of the process. The tanginess from the yogurt perfectly cut into the richness of the meat, and the pungency from the garlic further helped those aromatics in mellowing down that distinct lamb aroma, which doesn’t always please everyone.
We think that any kind of meat would go well in a shakriya. Next time we make shakriya, we might try it with chicken, or get more adventurous with some beef, mutton, or even duck. Another thought we had was to potentially add some more vegetables, like maybe potatoes and carrots, just to really push home the nutritional balance of the dish.
For the meat
- 2 lbs lamb shoulder, deboned and cubed into 1-2 inch squares
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp white pepper
- 2 onions, peeled and quartered
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp cardamom pods
- ½ tsp cloves
- 6 cloves garlic cloves, crushed
For the yogurt soup
- 2 oz pine nuts
- 4 cups full-fat yogurt (room temp)
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Dried mint
- ¾ cup dried chickpeas
Side dish of rice
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 6 oz vermicelli
- 13 oz short-grain white rice, rinsed
- 1 ¾ cups water
Step 1: General preparation
- Have all your ingredients weighed out and ready to go. Bring you yogurt to room temperature.
- If you have bought dried chickpeas for your shakriyah, remember to soak them overnight. Then prepare them by covering them with a few inches of water in a suitably large pot and boiling them for two hours or until they are tender but not so soft as to be falling apart.
- Also, rinse your rice before you start, giving it a good rub under running water to wash away all the excess starch.
Step 2: Prepare the lamb
- Cut the lamb into 1-2 inch cubes and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat up some oil in a pan and sear the meat until it browns on both sides.
- Add the chunks of onion and sweat them on a lower heat until they start to caramelize.
- Add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves, and garlic and let them roast until they become aromatic and fill your kitchen with their smells.
- Add water to about halfway up the height of the meat chunks. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 2-2 ½ hours or until the lamb is tender.
- Keep skimming the top of the water using a spoon to leave a clear broth for the end, and keep an eye on the water level, in case you need to add some more.
- Once the lamb is ready, remove the cubes from the pot and keep them warm.
- Pour the cooking liquid through a sieve and discard all of the chunky bits.
- Set the strained broth aside.
Step 3: Prepare the rice
- Heat up some butter and olive oil in a pan
- Add the vermicelli and stir well. Fry them until they are golden brown, which will make them nice and crispy.
- Add the rice and stir in well with the vermicelli, making sure to coat the rice well with the oil that's in the pan
- Add the water to the rice and bring to the boil.
- Let it keep boiling until the liquid level comes down to that of the rice in the pot.
- Now turn the heat down to the lowest setting, cover and leave for 17 minutes - no peeking!
- Then turn the heat off and keep the lid on for another 15 minutes to let all the steam in the pot get absorbed by the rice.
Step 4: Prepare the soup
- To roast the pine nuts, heat up a pan on a medium heat then add the nuts, monitoring them very carefully and keeping them moving.
- Once you see them start to turn golden, and you can smell that delicious roasting aroma, it's time to take them off. Set them aside.
- In a large pot, whisk the yogurt with the egg, corn flour, salt and pepper, crushed garlic and 250ml of the strained cooking liquid. Add more liquid if you'd like your yogurt to be more soupy.
- Turn on the heat and, stirring constantly to prevent coagulation, cook the yoghurt over a low heat until it comes to a simmer.
- Cook it for another 2 minutes once it boils, then turn off the heat.
- Stir in the chickpeas.
Step 5: Serve the shakriya
- Place the lamb chunks into a deep bowl.
- Pour over with the hot yogurt soup.
- Sprinkle with pine nuts and dried mint.
- Finally, finish with some fresh black pepper.
Besbarmak, a heap of sliced meat served on a bed of pasta squares is Kazakhstan’s national dish, as well as a tasty legacy of the nomads that roam the country’s steppes.
The name besbarmak literally means ‘five fingers’ and comes from the way the dish is eaten – on a large platter to serve several people, where cutlery is eschewed in favor of scooping up the pieces of meat with the pasta squares with one’s hands.
There’s also an alternative version of the name’s history, that the five fingers refers to the optimum thickness of the fat on the cut of meat – usually horse meat – used for the dish. If you’re having trouble sourcing fatty horse rump at your local butcher’s shop, the good news is that there are alternatives! Lamb is a very popular choice for besbarmak, as is beef, which we’ll be using for our recipe below.
The Kazakh’s Kazans
The steppes of Central Asia have been home to nomadic tribes for millennia and it’s from the giant metal kazans and tandoors of the wanderers that much of modern Kazakh cooking owes itself to. These methods of cooking would have grown out of necessity from the scarcity of resources on the steppe, including that of water and cooking fuels. With not much gas or even wood to build fires, the heat efficiency of the cooking vessel becomes paramount.
Poplar trees – which are relatively low in wood density – and shrubs served and continue to serve as the stuff of fuel, as well as dried animal dung. The tandoor is very cleverly designed to maximize heat in relation to the amount of cooking fuel available, and its ceramic walls are great for creating the kind of intense, short-lived heat necessary for flatbreads and roasted meats.
Like the cast iron cookware we like to take camping, a kazan retains heat in a way that can keep stews bubbling for a while, even after the fire that was initially warming it has burned itself out.
Living by Livestock
Central Asian nomads have always been herders subsisting from sheep, goats, camels yaks and horses. Living by livestock has always meant a diet rich in meat and dairy products, which is how Kazakh cuisine contains so much yogurt as well as cheese like the salty kurt, which keeps very well during the winter.
A herding capability gives nomadic communities their freedom of movement since they are not tied down by the need for agriculture, while at the same time providing them with plenty of fodder to trade in for the things they can’t produce.
One of these things is grain. Grain is something that’s quite easy to carry and preserve for longer periods of time, and the grain carried by the nomads was made into a naan bread that was easy to bake in the tandoor, as well as the kind of flat, lasagna-like noodles used in besbarmak.
Sogym: When Winter is Coming
For the people of the steppes, winter is a big consideration. When summer turns to fall, nomadic populations upend their yurts from the mountain pastures and head for the relatively warmer climes of the lowlands. At this time, the ritual of sogym takes place, when animals that are not deemed fit to survive the winter are culled and consumed, and fat and jerky are stored for the colder months. Those five fingers of fat come in very useful when temperatures start to drop and fat becomes a vital source of insulation.
Friends and relatives traditionally come over to help with sogym and to hang around for sybaga. Sybaga is the best part of the ritual, when honored guests get some of the choicest cuts of the meat which is also sent to friends who could not make it.
About the Recipe
So as we already mentioned, we’re steering clear of horse meat for this particular rendition of besbarmak and going for beef instead, which is a fairly common trade-off, especially in non-nomadic Kazakh kitchens. So no authenticity lost in the name of abiding by our national laws there!
There are two parts to making a besbarmak – cooking the meat (imagine boiling it in a huge kazan on the Kazakh steppes), and making the noodles (something actually best done in the safety of your own kitchen with lots of flour and a rolling pin). We’ve decided to take the traditional route to making our own noodles at home, but you will be forgiven for buying readymade pasta or noodles if you don’t have the time or the patience.
Prepare Your Ingredients
Try and get a nice fatty cut of meat for the besbarmak – in this case, we’ve gone for beef shank. In general, bone-in cuts with good marbling will taste best for this kind of dish. Shanks, short ribs or brisket would also be good choices. Even ox tongue would be nice, as would lamb or a mix of different types of meat.
Feel free to adjust the amount of onions you put in according to your own personal tastes: it can be up to three onions, though one large one would also suffice.
Boil the meat pieces whole in water with the big chunks of onion and the bay leaves. Add black peppercorns and salt and boil until the meat falls off the bone, which should take about 2-3 hours in a regular pot, 40 minutes in a pressure cooker or about 8 hours if you want to go the slow cooker way.
While the meat is cooking, you can start to prepare the pasta. Mound the flour on a work surface and make a well in the center. Add in beaten eggs, olive oil, and salt.
Mix with your fingers until the dough comes together into a ball, sprinkling water to moisten the dough as needed. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Wrap with cling film and leave to rest for an hour.
Cut the dough into workable portions, whether in half or into quarters.
Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 2mm, or as thin as you can get it. Use plenty of extra flour to stop the dough from sticking to the surface or the rolling pin.
Cut into two-inch squares using a knife or a rolling pizza slicer.
Once the beef is cooked and tender, take it out of the pot and set it on a colander to dry out any excess moisture. Keep the water the beef boiled in. Then take a knife and carve the meat into thin slices.
Bring the beef broth back to a boil and gently place the pasta squares into the water. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
Next, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Add garlic and sauté until aromatic, but don’t let the garlic brown. Add the beef slices and stir, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
In the same pan, toss the cooked pasta for a couple of minutes, just to gather up the flavors of the meat and garlic.
To serve, arrange the pasta on a large plate (if you’re planning on eating Kazakh style and having everyone take from the same dish) and pile the beef on top. Garnish with chopped parsley and chives.
Ас дәмді болсын!
Our Take on the Recipe
This besbarmak is a very straightforward dish that really showcases the robust flavor of good meat, beef in this case. Here at AA, we’re not always fans of recipes that are too fancy, so this besbarmak really hit the sweet spot for us in more ways than one. One of the main reasons we loved this dish was because it allowed the natural flavor of the beef be the star, and nothing else.
It’s also very easy to prepare – a one-pot meal that can be done on the stove, pressure cooker, or slow cooker. If we were to make it again, we might eschew the work of making our own pasta and include some dried fettuccine instead, which, in our opinion, would taste just as good. We might also add some chili flakes to the beef when sautéing it in a pan at the end, in an attempt to curtail a little of the richness of the beef.
Besbarmak is definitely a comforting meal too, and one that can be whipped up quite easily if you’re prepared to forego the homemade pasta.
For the Meat Stock
- 2.5 lbs fatty lamb or beef on the bone, like beef or lamb shank, or a leg of lamb
- 1-2 large onions, cut into big chunks
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp of black peppercorns
- Pinch of salt
- 5 cloves of garlic, bashed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
For the Pasta
- 2 cups flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. olive oil
For the Beef Saute
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- Handful of chopped parsley
- Handful of chopped chives
Step 1: Prepare the Meat
- Place the meat pieces in a pan and cover well with water.
- Add the onions, bay leaves, black peppercorns, bashed garlic cloves and salt.
- Cook until the meat is tender enough to fall off the bone. This should take 2-3 hours on the stovetop, 40 minutes in a pressure cooker, or about 8 hours in a slow cooker.
Step 2: Prepare the Pasta Dough
- Mound the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the center.
- Add in the beaten eggs, olive oil, water and salt.
- Mix with your fingers until the dough comes together into a ball, sprinkling water to moisten the dough as needed.
- Knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
- Wrap with cling film and leave to rest for an hour.
- Cut the dough into workable portions and roll into 2mm thickness.
- Cut into 2-inch squares.
Step 3: Remove and Carve Beef; Cook the Pasta Squares
- Once tender, take the beef out of the pot and set on a colander to dry out any excess moisture.
- Carve into thin slices.
- Boil prepared pasta squares in the beef stock for 10-12 minutes. Drain.
Step 4: Sauté the Beef
- Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.
- Add garlic and sauté until aromatic. Do not brown.
- Add beef slices and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Step 5: Serve up the besbarmak
- In the same pan, toss in cooked pasta.
- Arrange pasta on a serving plate and top with beef.
- Garnish with chopped chives or parsley.
Friday is abstinence day for meat-eating Orthodox Christians, which means that vegetarian dishes in the otherwise carnivorous Balkans do get an airing at least once a week. One of these dishes is tavce gravce, Macedonia’s national plate, nuances of which pervade all of the former Yugoslav countries under different names, including pasulj, prebranac and grah.
Put simply, tavce gravce is baked beans with the twist of slightly spicy peppers, onions, fresh tomatoes and the option of a very un-Orthodox addition of smoked meats. Pork (pancetta or smoked ribs) is a favorite addition, so in the name of pushing flavor as far as it will go, we’ve opted to dunk a little chorizo in our stew and we don’t think we’ll be regretting that decision.
A bean stew like this is a distinctly Balkan dish that can be found as far afield from Skopje as Croatia and the Greek islands. Macedonia, like the rest of the region, was under Ottoman rule for around 500 years, and the cultural crossover that occurred during that time, between the Turks and their conquered territories, as well as between the various Balkan countries themselves, created a regional cuisine that features echoes of certain foods from Istanbul to Belgrade and from Skopje to Thessaloniki and Tirana.
Tavce gravce literally means ‘beans cooked in a pan’, the ‘pan’ part coming from the Turkish word, ‘tava’. The name harks back to the legacy of food preparation in the area that revolved around open flames, with grilled meats yoking the tradition of social cook-ups – cuts of pork grilling over open coals, and stews bubbling for hours, days in clay pots and dutch ovens.
We can only imagine that this bean crock started life in a pan over an open fire and was refined into a baked clay pot as the advantages of the latter method became clear, and clay pots were as numerous as the heads of Briareus.
The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Macedonian Clay Pots
It’s no coincidence that Macedonia’s national dish is stewed in ceramics since clay pots have traditionally been one of the country’s most ubiquitous products. Veles, town in the center of the country, and Vranestica to the west, were historically significant hubs for clay pot production. The tradition flourished until the 1980s when the opening of a railroad brought with it trade in manufactured kitchen goods that disrupted the ceramics business in the area.
However, there has been a resurgence in recent times, when, after being laid off from factories that were disenfranchised by the Balkan upheavals at the end of the nineties, many former ceramic artisans have returned to their family’s trade in order to eke out a living. It means that traditional earthenware is making a comeback, though the threat of cheaply-produced Chinese alternatives still looms over the potters’ wheels.
About the Recipe
Any Macedonian will tell you that the secret to a good tavce gravce is in the beans. In Macedonia, premium white beans for the dish are sourced from the northwestern town of Tetovo, but they can be replaced with canellini beans, great northern beans, or even butter beans.
As we already mentioned, you can make your tavce gravce with or without meat. We have decided to go with some smoky, slightly spicy chorizo for our take on the dish, but for sure the beans in this dish can fend for themselves.
Prepare the Ingredients
Think about starting work on your tavce gravce a couple of days in advance, since the best and most authentic way to cook it is slowly on the day before you actually want to serve it, to give the flavors a chance to really come into their own.
Begin the day before you plan to cook by soaking the beans overnight in a bowl of water. Do not add salt to the water – now, or when cooking – since this will cause the outer shell of the beans to toughen, resulting in a longer tenderizing time. Then, when you’re ready to go, get all of your ingredients ready and chopped. Take care to dice the peppers especially small, as you’ll want them to virtually disappear and melt into the sauce later on.
Put the beans to boil in a pot of water along with the onions, pepper, garlic and cherry tomato halves. This could take anywhere from 2-3 hours depending on the age of the beans. This step can also be done in a pressure cooker, taking around 1-1.5 hours. Take care that the beans do not overcook and become too soft, as you want them to retain their shape for the dish.
Heat a little oil in a large, deep frying pan and add the sliced chorizo. Stir the meat chunks to render off the fat.
Stir in the cooked beans as well as all the liquid in the pot.Add the dried mint and the chopped parsley. Put in a little salt at this point if you think it’s necessary and keep cooking the dish until it comes back to a boil. Once the stew has simmered a while, you can transfer it into a ceramic dish. Bake in the oven at 350ºF for about an hour. Cook the dish uncovered, so as to nicely brown the top.If you have the self-restraint and willpower, leave your tavce gravce to cool off before serving. Better still, leave it overnight, or just be sure to leave a little to enjoy the next day. You’ll see how much the flavor intensifies overnight.
The beans are best served with a side salad and lots of thick crusty bread. When the beans are cold, you can even experiment making a kind of bruschetta by layering them on top of the bread and adding lots of good, high-quality olive oil.
Our Take on the Recipe
We can honestly say that this is the best beans and pork recipe we’ve ever tasted, and it’s a must-try for anyone who loves a baked pork and bean dish. It’s really flavorful and comforting, and tasted great the next day too.
Mostly following the traditional method from our source recipe, we decided to switch out the tomato sauce for fresh tomatoes, and to take our cue from this alternative source to add meat to the mix. We were able to skip the boiling stage of the preparation – which tenderizes meats like ribs or pancetta – and put the chorizo straight into the dish via the frying pan, since chorizo’s natural softness lends itself to immediate cooking in this way.
In making the dish another time, we think we might experiment with spices more to see what kind of variation we could get on the flavor. We’d think of playing with the likes of berbere, cumin or garam for example, to see if they might give this dish new character (though, certainly less traditional).
Macedonian Tavce Gravce
- 1 lb cannellini beans, dry
- 2 onions, chopped
- 7 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 red and 1 green finger peppers, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 14 oz chorizo, sliced into about 1" pieces
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1-2 tablespoons flour
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- 1 tbsp parsley
- Olive oil
- Handful of parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the beans
- Soak beans in water overnight.
- Boil the beans with onions, peppers, tomatoes and garlic until tender. This could take anywhere from 2-3 hours depending on the age of the beans. This step can also be done in a pressure cooker, taking around 1-1.5 hours.
Prepare the sauce
- Heat a little olive oil (1 tbsp) in a large and deep saute pan or cooking pot.
- Once hot, add sliced chorizo and stir to render off the fat.
- Add paprika and flour, and stir vigorously to form a roux.
Combine the beans with the sauce
- Stir in the boiled beans including the liquid and aromatics.
- Stir in dried mint and chopped parsley.
- Season with salt to taste.
Bake the tavce gravce
- Transfer everything to a baking dish.
- Bake uncovered for an hour at 350F or 180C.
- Allow to cool, at least for an hour or if you can wait until the next day, even better.
- Serve in the ceramic dish in which it was baked with a side salad and crusty bread.
M’battan – small, deep-fried balls of potato stuffed with a seasoned minced meat – might just be your next finger food favorite. Compact, tasty and portable, this Libyan specialty makes a great snack, party platter or picnic item.
Kept for special occasions in its home country, m’battan – also known as mubatan – is pretty unique to Libya and especially popular around Ramadan.
Like deep-fried kofte with a potato twist, to us these little nuggets resemble mini-burgers. Since meat and potatoes go so well together, what better idea than to combine them into a mouth-watering melee that could revolutionize the slider industry?
If you’ve not experienced the hot sandy plains of Libya first hand, you only need to look at a map of the country to see quite how much of it is just desert. There is an agricultural oasis around Tripolitania, which houses the nation’s capital and puts out produce such as wheat and barley, olives, fruit like dates, watermelons, citrus and tomatoes, as well as peanuts and soybeans.
It’s also damn hot. El Aziziya, a town just south of Tripoli, was thought to have recorded the highest temperature on earth (136.4ºF) in 1922, until a meteorological investigation in 2012 proved the figure invalid. Which is not to say that it’s not still blazing there, with temperatures usually soaring over 120º in the summer.
This kind of heat lead to much innovation, especially where cooking was concerned. Sand ovens are still used by the country’s Tuareg people, who bury dough, eggs and potatoes in the hot dust to cook them the way nature intended.
Libya’s kitchens have long been under the influence of the various cultures and populations that have dominated the region, from the original Berber tribes who inhabited the territory to the Pheonicians, Greeks and Ottomans who ruled the country at various times. As such, Libya’s cuisine is steeped in a mixture of Mediterranean and Arabic influences, as well as leftovers from the legacy of the Ottoman cookbooks.
There’s not much literature on the origin of M’battan to would satisfy our lust for knowing exactly how they originated, but we can take an educated guess that the Ottomans probably had something to do with it, given their propensity for stuffing pretty much any vegetable that could be filled with herbs and mince.
About The Recipe
One of the keys to making good m’battan will be your knife skills. The little pouches that hold the meat mixture are made from thick slices of potato with a slit through the middle that doesn’t go all the way through. Make sure you have a good sharp blade before you start that will allow you precision cutting through the pieces of potato. Don’t be put off if your first few attempts don’t pan out and your pieces of potato break up – it’s a learning curve for sure, and if you have a large bag of Russet potatoes at your disposal, you should wind up with enough successful pieces for a hearty plate of m’battan.
Prepare the Ingredients
M’battan is a very quick dish to prepare once you have everything ready, so lay out your ingredients to begin with. We recommend using waxy, russet potatoes as they are likely to be creamier and hold a better shape.
Put the potatoes in a bowl of water to soak while you prepare the meat mixture. This will help to soften them for the stuffing.
Prepare the meat – mix together the ground meat with the scallions, garlic, ginger, all the dry spices, the chillies, herbs, breadcrumbs and tomato paste.
Now you can take the potatoes out of the water and peel them.
Cut them into slices thick enough that you can cut an additional slice through the middle, and so create your m’battan pocket. The second slice should only go about 3/4 of the way through the potato slice.
Make a little potato and meat sandwich by stuffing your potato pouch with the meat mixture.
Dip in a beaten egg then douse in the flour and breadcrumbs mixture.
Heat up a pan of oil to 330ºF and deep fry the potatoes. When frying the potatoes, keep the oil at a medium heat. This will give the potatoes time to cook through without darkening the breading too much.
Take your m’battan out of the oil when they are a nicely brown colour. Leave them to dry and cool on some paper towels, and they will become more solid after a few minutes. Serve on a platter garnished with parsley or cilantro.
Bel hana wel shefa!
Our Take on the Recipe
It’s an impressive on-the-go snack that’s complete with a protein component. The meat filling was really aromatic from the mixture of all the herbs we put in, and it was also perfectly seasoned going by the exact measurements in the source recipe. The potatoes also turned out really moist with a slight crunch from the breading.
The one thing we changed from the source recipe, is we didn’t put our m’battan in the oven after frying them. By keeping them on a medium heat through the fry, the potatoes were able to soften sufficiently not to need any time in the oven. We think this also helped max out the crispiness factor.
- 3-4 large russet potatoes
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 5oog minced beef or lamb
- 1 bunch of scallions, finely chopped
- 1 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1 garlic clove, finely grated
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 chili pepper, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 beaten egg
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 tbsp fine breadcrumbs
- 4 tbsp white flour
- 2 beaten eggs
Step 1: Prep the Potatoes & Meat Stuffing
- Put the potatoes to soak in a bowl of hot water to soften them.
- Prepare the meat - mix together the ground meat with the finely chopped scallions, parsley, cilantro, garlic, ginger, all the dry spices, the chilies (if you like), egg, breadcrumbs and tomato paste.
- Peel the potatoes.
- Cut them into thick slices that you can cut again only ¾ of the way down, making a small pouch in the middle of the potato slice.
- Carefully, fill the potatoes with the meat stuffing.
Step 2: Dredge the Meat-Stuffed Potato Slices
- Mix together the remaining 4 tbsps of breadcrumbs and white flour to create the coating that you'll dredge your meat-stuffed potato slices in.
- Break 2 eggs into a bowl and beat them together.
- Dip the potato pockets into the beaten egg and then into the flour and breadcrumbs mixture, so they are well coated.
Step 3: Fry the Stuffed Potato Slices
- Heat oil to about 330ºF
- Deep-fry until golden (approx. 5 minutes)
- Remove from oil and leave to drain on paper towel.
- If you want to further soften up the potatoes, you can optionally place them on a baking sheet and into a warm oven (350 degrees) for 5-10 minutes.
Step 4: Serve
- Serve on a platter garnished with parsley or cilantro.
Injera is the soft, bubbly, pancake-like flatbread that’s the first and last word in Ethiopian cuisine. Made from the country’s indigenous teff flour, injera has a very particular sourdough taste that comes from the fermentation process of the batter used to make the bread.
Perfect for absorbing the rich flavors of the country’s saucy culinary arsenal, injera is a kind of sponge-mop best eaten when thoroughly soaked through with sauce. As such, we’ve decided to pair our injera with misr wat, a lentil stew spiced with Ethiopia’s prime condiment – berbere.
Teff, Ethiopia’s Ancient Grain
Injera’s main ingredient teff is an ancient grain in an ancient country. It’s possible that it was being farmed as far back as 5,000 years ago, when the earliest agricultural societies were putting spade to soil around the area of the Ethiopian plateau, though there is no real archaeological confirmation of the use of teff for the production of injera until the first few centuries AD.
Excavations in the 1970s unearthed a collection of clay mitads, the large, round skillets used to make injera. Dating back to around the 5th-6th centuries AD, these were over a foot in diameter and shaped like the modern mitads – round and flat with raised edges.
The Little Grain that Could
Teff is tiny. Measuring about 1mm across, it’s the smallest grain in the world, and one of the fastest to cook. It’s also a sturdy little grain, notorious for its ability to grow pretty much anywhere – from wet to dry climates, and in highlands or lowlands. This, in addition to having the immune system of a hardy ox: teff is much less susceptible to disease than other grass plants.
Teff is also packed with enough nutrients to rival quinoa and chia seeds on the shelves of our western health food stores: packing in a lot of manganese as well as well as moderate amounts of thiamin, zinc, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, teff flour supposedly provides two-thirds of Ethiopians with their daily protein needs.
And as if this litany of accolades wasn’t enough, teff is also gluten-free. For our particular recipe, we’ve added wheat flour to the mix to lend more pull, bite and elasticity to the dough, but it’s absolutely not necessary to do so, and it’s worth bearing in mind that the most authentic injera breads in Ethiopia are made from 100% teff flour. Being low on the glycemic index, it’s also a good food for people with type 2 diabetes.
Teff On Hold
What’s curious is that despite teff’s glowing CV, it’s actually grown in very few places in the world – with a few exceptions, pretty much only in Ethiopia. And with Ethiopian cuisine gaining traction as a popular ethnic food in the west, the global demand for teff rose so sharply that in 2006, the Ethiopian government was forced to put a ban on all teff seeds and teff flour leaving the country.
They were trying to avoid the same problem that occurred in Bolivia when quinoa became a fashionable food and demand made local prices of the go up by ten times their original amount. The good news is that as of 2016, after an increase of 50% in teff yields, Ethoipia has restarted controlled exports of the grain again, and to boot, teff can now also be found growing in pockets of the United States.
About The Recipe
As we mentioned before, we decided to go with a 50/50 mixture of teff and wheat flour for our injera, just to add a little more elasticity to the bread. But if you prefer to go all teff, you have our blessing!
Bear in mind you need to prepare your injera mixture ahead of time and allow it to ferment for a day or two, so plan ahead for when you want to make it. How long you leave it to ferment is up to you: once you start to see bubbles rising, you’ll know the process is underway. Then, the longer you leave it, the stronger the sour taste of the dough will be.
The reason this fermentation occurs is that teff flour actually has a symbiotic yeast that grows on it and that is the element that ferments when the grain is soaked in water. Which is why you don’t need to add yeast to this bread! Beware, however, there is such a thing as over-fermentation where the taste will simply become unpalatable, so use your nose to know when the time’s right: a good rule of thumb is not to leave the mixture for more than three days.
There is also an informal rule in Ethiopia at the bowl used for fermenting the injera never be washed properly, but only partially, so that the fermentation will happen more easily the next time around.
In Ethiopia, teff is usually prepared in a very wide mitad and the bread is then folded onto a plate and topped with various curried dishes whose flavors soak into the pores of the injera. For our purposes, we made the injera a little smaller, as Santa has yet to bring us the two-foot non-stick skillet of our dreams. We’ve also decided to keep things simple by just cooking up a misr wat – a traditional red lentil stew. It’s delicious in its own right, and the perfect showcase for berbere, Ethiopia’s catch-all spice that goes perfectly with the flavor of injera.
Prepare The Ingredients
A couple of days before you want to eat your injera, you need to prepare the batter for the dough. Weigh out your teff flour and mix with any other flour you might like to add.
Blend the flours together with a whisk until they are evenly mixed.Add the water and mix well with a spoon, working out any lumps.Now cover with a dishcloth and leave to ferment at room temperature for at least a night, and a maximum of three days.
Making Misr Wat
When you are ready to make your misr wat, add the chopped onions to the pan with some olive oil on a medium heat and allow them to soften.When the onions turn golden, add the garlic, ginger and berbere. Stir well to spread out the spice, and if the mixture looks like it might be getting a bit dry, don’t hesitate to add a little water.Now add the lentils and the rest of the water. Cover the pot, turn the heat down and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Once the lentils are creamy, give them another stir, add a knob of butter and/or some coconut cream for ramped up creaminess.
Once your injera batter has fermented sufficiently, you can uncover it and give it a very thorough stir. Some people like to skim the bubbles off the top of the liquid, but we mixed ours in.
Prepare a non-stick pan with a little oil. Allow the pan to heat up on a medium heat, and then pour in about a quarter-cup of the mixture. Watch for the thickness of your injera – you want to aim for the territory in between a French crêpe and an American pancake.
Bubbles will start to form as the injera heats up. Monitor it closely, and when the edges of the injera can be lifted from the pan, your injera is ready to go. Take it out immediately with a spatula, as it could overcook or burn very quickly.
Keep frying injera until you finished the batter, and you can pile them up on a plate like pancakes. Make sure your misr wat is nice and hot and good to go, then serve the two together. Knives and forks are optional, but discouraged. A true injera meal involves using the bread as your eating utensil: rip pieces off it and scoop up the misr wat for optimum injera satisfaction.
This injera gets a very definite nod of approval from our test kitchen. The slightly sour note from the fermentation of the dough gave the bread a cheese-like flavor. This may not be pleasing to everyone, but we personally love it. The texture of the injera turned out quite bouncy and airy, which we think is a good thing with most breads.
If we were to make our injera again, we might try experimenting with 100% teff flour, or with adding something else rather than wheat flour like all-purpose gluten-free flour to keep the bread without gluten. We also thought of adding some cumin to the mix, as we have a hunch it’d go really well with the sourdough flavor.
A little more or a little less water in the batter mixture could go a long way to making a big difference to the feel and texture of the bread, so it’s important to be precise. A non-stick pan is also essential for frying the injera as it would be impossible to keep in one piece otherwise. And the bigger the pan, the better!
Injera and Misr Wat
For the Injera:
- 3 oz teff flour
- 2.5 oz grams wheat flour
- 1 cup filtered water
For the Misr Wat:
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp ginger, minced
- 1½ tbsp berbere
- 1 cup red lentils, washed
- 2 cups water
- 1 tsp butter
- 1/2 cup coconut cream or milk
- A few cilantro leaves to taste (optional)
Prepare the injera batter
- Mix the teff flour with the wheat flour with a whisk to blend together evenly.
- Gradually add water to the flour and mix together until the flour slurry is smooth and lump-free.
- Leave in a bowl covered with a towel at room temperature overnight or for up to three days. Once you see bubbles at the surface of the dough mixture, you know it's fermenting and ready to use.
Prepare the Misr Wat
- Heat pan over medium heat and add oil
- Once the oil is hot, add the diced onions and let them sweat and cook down until they start to turn golden (~10 mins)
- Add the garlic, ginger and berbere, stir well to make sure the berbere is evenly incorporated (if the mixture seems dry and starts to stick to the pan, add a tablespoon of water or oil), cook for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Add the lentils and the water, stir to incorporate everything together.
- Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the lentils are soft and easily crushed.
- Stir in a teaspoon of butter and half a cup of coconut cream, incorporate completely.
- Add cilantro, to taste.
- Keep the pan over the lowest heat setting (or just keep the pan covered) until you're ready to serve.
Fry the injera
- Prepare a flat, nonstick pan and heat up a glug of oil over medium heat.
- Once the oil is heated, pour the injera dough mixture into the pan and cover the bottom of the pan entirely. Aim for a thickness somewhere between French crepes and American pancakes.
- Let the mixture start to bubble. The injera is ready when the edges lift from the sides of the pan.
- Remove quickly and repeat until all dough is used.
- This is a dish that is best served family style, simply transfer the lentils into a big serving bowl next to the stack of fried injera and let everyone dig in! Fork and knife are optional - traditionally injera is used as the main utensil or vessel for eating the misr wat or whatever it is being accompanied by.