Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I am Craving Now: Aushak

I’ve tried somewhat unsuccessfully to trace the origin of the dumpling. The only consensus that emerges repetitively is the fact that a) they originate somewhere along the Silk Road- the trade routes from China and Japan in the east across central Asia and India through Antioch, Byzantium and the Mediterranean in the west; and b) every dumpling variation involves a kind of dough that is stuffed with a savory or sweet mixture and boiled or fried.

From Chinese dumplings such as the wonton, which literally translates as ‘swallowed clouds’ to zhong-zht, sticky rice filled with sweet or savory mixtures, wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied together with string, to har gow, the ubiquitous ‘dim sum’ filled with shrimp, to potstickers or guo tie.

Heading into other parts of Asia, from the Japanese gyoza and Korean mandoo, both versions of the wonton with slight variations such as Korean kimchi in the mandoo mixture; to lumpia, the Filipino triangular pocket of spiced potatoes and spring roll skins; to delicious momos – Tibetan dumplings washed down with delicious Tibetan beer, a mealy, tangy malt beverage slurped through a straw.

I carb-dived into plates of pelmeni and vareniki while I was in Ukraine a few years ago – stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms or meat and drenched with butter or sour crème (hold the mayonnaise, please!!) - it’s a recipe for a nap. Would anyone like a little fat with their carbs? Pierogi, the Polish cousin, are stuffed with cheese, onion, cabbage or potatoes and also served with sour cream, fried onions or apple compote.

Continuing west to my home of record, Germany, where I have developed a sincere appreciation for German/Austrian cuisine (my Wisconsin roots, maybe?) like the big doughy knodel, preferably with venison and red cabbage or sweet with vanilla sauce. Or Dutch bitterballen – especially tasty after an afternoon in an Amsterdam coffee shop. Ending up in Italy, for ravioli (con burro e salvia, mmm), tortellini (in brodo, mmm) and other delicious stuffed pastas.
While I was in Afghanistan, I fell madly in love with the two primary variations of dumplings. Mantu are steamed dumplings filled with ground beef and topped with yogurt, lentils and more meat. Aushak, the slightly more vegetarian friendly version, are filled with spring onions and boiled, then covered in ground beef (though you could skip this for vegetarians) and yogurt (which you could skip for vegans) and sprinkled with mint.

I spent a Saturday in the kitchen with Wahid, an Afghan chef who excels in the art of dumpling making. With my limited Dari and a few hours of observation, I have assembled this recipe for one of my favorite Afghan dishes, aushak.

Recipe for Wahid’s Aushak

You will need:

Dough (if you are making it from scratch)

Lots of flour
A little salt


Either one bunch of spring onions (just the green part) OR one large leek OR one bunch of spinach – all finely chopped
One generous clove of garlic, minced
One teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch of salt and pepper
A little bit of chopped cilantro/coriander

Meat sauce

Half pound ground beef
One yellow onion
1 minced glove garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
Sprinkling of coriander

1 cup plain yogurt
1 clove minced garlic

While I’ve seen recipes that use pre-packaged wanton wrappers, Wahid made the dough from scratch, which if you’ve never done it before and are in a hurry, may be frustrating. So go for the pre-packaged stuff if you prefer or use one kilo of flour (roughly 5 cups), a teaspoon of salt and add water as you go to make the dough. You will need a pasta maker (like the old school Imperia my friend Raffaella gave me as a wedding gift) will put the dough through until you get to ‘4’ – the desired thickness/thinness. Be sure to keep the dough well floured so it won’t stick and tear. Once the dough is rolled out, cut it into rectangles slightly bigger than a playing card. Brush them with water on the sides and bottom (making a square U shape).

They are now ready for the filling which you prepare by rinsing and finely dicing one large leek, a bunch of spring onions or a half a kilo of spinach (depending on your taste – Wahid uses spring onions as they are most readily available but I will experiment with leeks when I can get my hands on them). Mix the greens with salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic and a touch of cilantro – unless you’re one of several people I know who have an acute aversion to it.

Wahid heated oil and flash fried the mixture in a large sauce pan for 60 seconds. He removed the mixture from the pan into a colander to drain excess water and oil. You can do this before you prepare the dough. Then pinch a small bunch of the mixture and place in the middle of the sheet of dough, in the middle of the U. Fold the top of the dough to the bottom and seal it around the sides. Use a pasta (cookie-like) cutter (or a knife will do) to cut the folded dough into a half moon. Set the dumplings aside on a heavily floured tray for cooking later.

To prepare the meat – sautee one medium yellow union until limp and then add the ground beef, garlic, coriander and ginger, stirring occasionally until the meat is browned. With a little added water, simmer for five minutes; then add a scoop of tomato paste optional) and take it off after five more minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare the yogurt – blend plain yogurt with chopped garlic and a teaspoon of salt.

A few minutes before you are ready to eat, drop the dumplings in boiling salted water. They will float to the top when they are done – it only takes 1-2 minutes. Scoop them out, lay them out on a serving platter and cover them with the meat sauce, a thin layer of yogurt and sprinkle with dried mint.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Jiffer, Suzanne from Oz here. Have you ever had Khinkali, a dumpling institution in Georgia? There are rules to its consumption (you must not let any meat juice escape, nor eat the nexus) and we even had a cheesy desert option, swimming in butter, that surely would have brought on Elvis-like bowel blockages had we soldiered on through them.