When we say we like dumplings here at Food is Love, we really mean it… this is part 2 of last week’s post, where Central Asian grandmother Marta Pinhasov made her small tortellini like dumplings called Dushpera. This week, she makes that other Central Asian classic Mantu.
And watching Marta create first dough and then dumplings out of flour and water, with an egg thrown in is like wizardry...
MAN WHO? MANTU!
The dough is the same hand rolled thin dough, but the dumpling itself is larger, folded into a fat semi-circle and the ends pinched - almost woven - together to form a shell like shape. It looks like a Cornish pastie or Japnaese gyoza. And then you don't bake it or fry it - you steam it!
The original is filled with meat, of course, but we also make 2 vegetarian fillings, one with pumpkin and the other with mushroom, with a GF pasta dough from unstoppable Amanda Hampel in Melbourne. (In fact, both fillings are vegan, but the dough is made with eggs... )
CENTRAL ASIAN FOOD
Dumplings have a starring role in the bursting-with-flavour Central Asian cuisine. They accompany grilled meat and chicken and wonderful round flatbread loaves, dense and chewy, sprinkled with black sesame seeds. I’ll stick my neck out and say they’re one of the best white bread loaves anywhere in the world.
Chickpeas, carrots, tomatoes and coriander (cilantro) also feature strongly. Fruit from the region - apricots, melons, watermelons, grapes and pomegranates – is eaten across Russia. I lived in Moscow as a correspondent, and I remember that you knew summer was finally coming in May, when tomatoes from Tashkent appeared in the markets.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
“Man is me and Tu you – it is about togetherness and eating together,” says Marta Pinhasov.
Her daughter Lena helps to prepare the dumplings, along with everyone else in the house – including the youngest grand-daughter.
“Here at home we prepare everything with love or not at all,” says Lena.
Her sister Regina adds, laughing, “We even boil water with love!
You can read the family story and their father Ilya’s war story here in last week’s blog post. Ilya survived World War Two, and the at times very difficult situation for Jews in the Soviet Union, and two migrations. First from Soviet Russia to Israel; then from Israel to Australia.
CENTRAL ASIAN JEWS
This is not the story of the Jews who escaped to Central Asia for a short time during World War Two – it’s the story of the local Jews, who’d lived there for close to two millennia when they finally departed in 1990.
Below: Jews from Central Asia, known as "Bukharan Jews", even when they came from other places than the town of Bukhara in today's Uzbekistan.
Russia had always been the regional superpower, but once Central Asia became part of the Soviet Union, the people there endured the same lack of freedom as all Soviet citizens, and also the same rules about not leaving, or even travelling outside the Soviet Union.
The Iron Curtain affected everyone.
A chink appeared when the reforming leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1988, and agreed to let the Jews leave. They grabbed the opportunity. Between 1989 and 2006, 1.6 million Soviet Jews emigrated.
The majority departed in 1990, including almost the entire Jewish populations of Central Asia, the Pinhasov family among them.
They brought their wonderful cuisine with them to Israel, where most ended up; but also to the US, and in much smaller numbers, to Australia.
(You can halve or even quarter this recipe to suit your needs. There's no cooking in small quantities in Central Asian families!)
- 1 kilo lamb, chopped finely, not minced
- 2 kilos onion
- S and P
- You can leave it plain, but it's tastier with spices: 1 teaspoon coriander and 2 teaspoons cumin. You can also add: 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic or 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- Optional: Afghans add 2 tablespoons tomato paste; In Kyrgyzstan and Turkey they add a cup of finely diced potatoes or pumpkin.
- Chop onions finely if you plan to prepare the dumplings immediately. Chop in larger slices if you are leaving mix in fridge for a day before you cook.
- Mix all the ingredients and allow to sit. You can do this in the morning, and return to prepare the dumplings in the evening. Either way, if you make the filling first and let it sit a little, it will be tastier.
Watch this videoto see how Marta fills and shapes the mantu. Beneath that there's the video from last week to see how she rolls the dough.
- 1 kilo flour
- 1/2 litre water
- 1 egg
- Whisk together the egg, water and salt. Add to flour and knead till it has become elastic, about 5 minutes. You can do this by hand or in a mixer with the dough hook attachment. “Mix with love – or it won’t work,” Marta reminds us at this point.
- Let the dough sit, covered, for 30 minutes. This really does improve it.
- Next, if you have a pasta machine you are streets ahead because the dough has to be as thin as you can get it! In Marta’s kitchen, the only equipment she uses is a wooden rolling pin and curtain rod.
4. The dough squares are larger than for last week’s dushpera. These squares will be 5cm by 5cm (2 inches by 2inches) and they will contain a 5 cm knob of filling. You fold the dough over into a semi-circle in your hand and pinch or weave the dough together, to hold the filling in.
5. Dip the bottom of each dumpling in oil, so it won’t stick to the steamer, and when the steamer trays are full, cook for 45 minutes, over a moderate -high heat. NOTE: The central Asian steamer has lots of layers, like a multi-storey car park, so you can fit a lot in. A multi-storey mantu park …
Serve with a cooked tomato sauce and – for the non-kosher eaters - yoghurt mixed with garlic and salt.
Marta also roasts eggplant, and mashes the flesh with garlic and salt, or garlic salt and mayonnaise as an accompaniment, influenced by her time in the Middle East.
There is also a fantastic Central Asian tomato salad they make as an accompaniment in the summer, cooking together tomatoes, green apricots and chilli – but I think I will try that in a few months, when it's summer in Jerusalem, and there’s a better chance of finding green apricots! Am including the recipe now, in case anyone in Australia stumbles over some green apricots before June.
Tomato and Apricot summer salad
- ½ kilo tomato grated
- 250 g raw green apricots, cut in half; leave their seeds in
- Fresh chili to taste
Cook grated tomato in olive oil with salt and chilli - chopped or whole. As it becomes cool throw in the apricots, with their seeds. Can serve with seeds or remove them.
"It’s sour, bitter and hot."
Marta does make mantu with vegetarian fillings. The two classic Central Asian fillings are potato – the Russian influence! – and pumpkin. They makea loaf shape, which is less work than filling dumplings.
They don't usually cook the vegetables before filling the mantu, but I've made them both ways now, and I think the baked pumpkin filing has the edge, so that's the recipe below.
- 250 g onion, finely chopped
- 250 g pumpkin, chopped for roasting
- One head garlic, whole, for roasting
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh ginger for grating
- Spices – fennel seeds, ground coriander, nutmeg
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
- Optional - 2 extra tablespoons olive oil, to bind, if necessary.
1. Bake the pumpkin and the whole head of garlic in the oven. I leave the skin on as it is easier to remove once the pumpkin is cooked. Wrap the garlic in foil, then baste the pumpkin with olive oil and salt and pepper. You can also grate in a little ginger at this stage. Roast for 30-40 minutes, at 180 degrees, or until vegetables are soft.
2. While that’s roasting, fry some fennel seeds for 30-60 seconds and then add the onions. Cook till caramel coloured and sweet. Add salt and nutmeg if suing, at about 5 minutes in when the onions are becoming transparent.
3. Remove pumpkin and garlic from oven when done. When they're cool enough to handle, cut away the pumpkin skin and mash flesh with a fork. Squeeze out the insides of the roasted garlic and add to the mash, distributing evenly. Add fried onions, spices, lemon rind and more salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste.
4. Divide dough in two. Roll out first rectangle. Top with filling. Fold one half over the other, into a loaf shape. Place seam side down into steamer. The Central Asian steamer has a post in the middle so they will often form their loaf into a ring around this. Either shape will work well. Steam 45 minutes, as for the meat dumplings.
JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN
So a mixed report card this week, and the fault is all mine. I made the pumpkin 'loaf', curled in on itself like a snail, and the taste was great; the consistency not so much.
Last week I didn't make the pasta dough; I bought it pre-made and only filled it. This week, when I finally did make the dough, it was a different ball game.
The instructions were easy to follow, and the dough came together beautifully, without a pasta maker, or even a curtain rod, just using a rolling pin. (Not any old rolling pin, but my friend Michele’s grandmother’s rolling pin, which is longer and thinner than usual.)
But even though I’d watched Marta Pinhasov make this dough – twice! - I didn't roll it out thinly enough :-(((
So the mantu dough was a bit too thick, which made it chewy. And not in a good way.
In Marta’s original recipe the dough was folded over twice, but in light of this experience I have adjusted the recipe slightly, so that you only fold it over once. Because chances are none of us will make pasta dough as thin as Marta’s, even with a machine!
VERDICT: I took the dish to friends for dinner and they kindly ignored the pasta dough and concentrated on the spicy lemony pumpkin filling, the freshly made tomato sauce and the yoghurt topping, which did all complement each other beautifully. So this it's worth trying again till I crack it! As I've learnt time and again with these grandmother recipes, practice makes perfect is not an empty slogan ...
MELBOURNE TEST KITCHEN
In Melbourne Amanda Hampel opted for a total gf overhaul. A mushroom filling and a home-made, home rolled gluten free pasta. Way to go Amanda!
“First, OMG I’m going to have to get myself a curtain rod!!! Seriously inspired after watching that video. I didn't get this anywhere NEAR that thin, that would be my aim, and I probably could get close, but didn't want to push it this afternoon because I wanted it to stay together before I could ‘push the limits’!” Amanda says.
GF Mushroom Mantu
- 500 g mushrooms
- 1 ½ onions, finely chopped
- ¼ cups mixed nuts, toasted and chopped – mix walnuts and pine-nuts, but one or the other, or pecans would also work
- S and P
- ground coriander, ground fennel or dukkah
- Optional: ½ cup chopped parsley or coriander, finely chopped
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1 cup tapioca flour (Amanda used 1/2 cup tapioca + 1/2 cup brown rice flour)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon xantham gum
- 2 small eggs (see note – you may need another egg)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Amanda didn't have fine almond flour, made from blanched almonds, so she used regular ground almonds.
“It didn't seem to make a difference but I'm sure it would have been “finer” if I used the true almond flour. Will just have to try it again!” says Amanda.
1. Make the dough first. Mix ingredients in a bowl, then knead and roll into a big ball. Wrap in plastic and put in fridge for half an hour.
Note: The dough didn't have enough ‘stick’, so Amanda ended up adding another small egg and a tablespoon of olive oil. That did the trick.
2. FILLING: Amanda used slightly less mushrooms, as she had less dough. She left out the onions, and sautéed the mushies in onion infused olive oil with a splash of garlic infused olive oil and added ground walnuts, salt and pepper, and dukkah.
“All those amazing herbs rolled into one :-)”
3. Once the filling’s cooked and cooled, take the dough out of the fridge and roll it between two sheets of baking paper - that's the trick with GF rolling.
4. Slice dough into rectangles. Spoon one heaped teaspoon mushroom mixture in the middle. Fold one end over the other and pinch the edges together. (Amanda ended up with a ravioli like-shape. It would be close to impossible to fold GF dough into a standard mantu shape - it doesn't have enough 'give'.)
5. When they're all done, throw into a pot of boiling water, at a high boil. If your pot is large you can do them all at once, otherwise do them in batches, waiting till they float to the surface. They took at least 5 mins, maybe a little longer as gf pasta is thicker. Serve with a tomato passata. Sprinkle any remaining filling on top.
VERDICT: “Ta da!! Wow – I haven’t tasted pasta this good in a VERY VERY LONG time!!! Even if you’re not gluten/fructose intolerant I’d recommend trying this recipe, full of flavour and so much goodness!” Amanda enthuses.
And great to be writing this on International Women's Day, which was a meaningful day in Russia. Happy IWD to you all - and especially to our grandmothers. This project is built on their strength, wisdom - and kitchen secrets!