Sunday, December 5, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Mongolia

After tackling the culinary challenge in Greece, my adventures take me half-way around the world ... to Mongolia.  For me (and, I would guess, a lot of Americans), Mongolian cuisine conjures a certain image ... a cook standing over a flat top grill cooking meat and vegetables with some sort of sauce.  That image is derived from what "Mongolian" cuisine is in the United States.  While in college, I would go to Tony Cheng's in Gallery Place, which held itself out as an all-you-can-eat Mongolian Barbecue place.   Later it was BD's, which is a large chain of all-you-can-eat Mongolian Barbecue places.  At either Tony Chengs or BD's, customers choose their meat, vegetables and sauce, handing over the overflowing bowl to a cook who then cooked (or, in some cases, played) with the food until it was done.  The food was good, but it is not true Mongolian cuisine.  This concept of "Mongolian Barbecue" is more American than Mongolian.  Actually, it is more Japanese than either American or Mongolian, because the cooking style is actually patterned after Japanese Teppanyaki. 

True Mongolian barbecue involves something a little more basic, like Hoorhog, which involves heating stones to very high temperatures and stuffing the stones into a milk can, layering meat on top of the stones.  One then closes the can to allow the stones to cook the meat.  Or Boodog, which involves heating stones and placing those stones in the cavity of a goat that is tightly sealed to cook like the sheep in the Hoorhog recipe.  While I would love to try either of these recipes, I lack a metal milk can and, most likely, the patience of my neighbors because all of this type of cooking would have to be done in my back yard.

Yet, there were a wide range of other dishes available for me to make. I chose two dishes, a soup and a main course, for my personal culinary challenge. First, I made Guriltai Shol, which is a soup that, at least according to what I have read, is fairly common in Mongolian cuisine.  Second, I made Huushur, which are basically deep-fried meat dumplings.  Although both dishes are fairly simple when it comes to ingredients, the preparation requires some more skill, which, during the course of this challenge, I learned I still have to develop.

THE APPETIZER

Guriltai Shol is a soup of meat, vegetables and dough strips.  The key to the soup is the broth.  Mongolians make the broth using fatty meats, allowing the fat to flavor the broth.  Traditionally, this soup is made with mutton.  But mutton is not always available, so I decided to make the soup with the younger version ... lamb.  I bought lamb in the supermarket that included some bones, because the bones would also add to the flavor of the broth.


GURILTAI SHOL (MEAT AND DOUGH SOUP)
Adapted from e-Mongol.com  and Mongolfood.info
Serves 4 

Ingredients: 
1/2 pound lamb, cut into thin slices
1 onion chopped
1 carrot, sliced
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of dried thyme
3/4 cup of Water
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
8 cups of water or more for the broth

Directions:
1.  Saute the vegetables.  Saute the onion in a pot with the vegetable oil.  Add the carrot and continue to saute until the onion is translucent and the carrots are softened.

2.  Saute the meat.  Add the lamb, salt and pepper.  Saute briefly, but do not let the lamb cook completely.

3.  Make the soup.  Add the water and bring it to a boil.  Then reduce the heat and let the soup simmer.  If you have lamb bones available, add the bones to give additional flavor to the broth.  Let it simmer for about 25 minutes.

4.  Make the dough strips.  Make the dough strips by adding flour to 3/4 cup of water.  Kneed until smooth.  Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes.  Knead the dough again.  Roll out the dough until it is thin.  Cut the dough into strips and sprinkle with flour to keep the strips separate.

5.  Add the dough strips and finish the soup.  Add the dough strips and continue the simmer for about five minutes.  The dough strips (with the flour) will work to thicken the soup.

6.  Plate the dish.  Spoon the soup into bowls and serve immediately.

This soup worked out well.  If there is one tip that I can give, it is to make sure that the pasta strips have enough flour on them or are completely separated from one another.  Otherwise they will stick together (as they did when I made the dish).  I tried to pull them apart, but that is very difficult.  As a result, the dish got a more "rustic" look.  

THE MAIN DISH

Hushuur is a meat dumping that is, as with the Guriltai Shol, made with fatty mutton or lamb.  To add to the artery-clogging nature of this dish, most recipes call for the hushuur to be deep-fried in animal fat.  A little wary of consuming that much fat and cholesterol, I decided to use ground lamb in the meat mixture and to deep fry the dumplings in vegetable oil.  


HUSHUUR (FRIED MEAT DUMPLINGS)
Adapted from Epicurious.com
Serves 4 

Ingredients:
1 pound of ground lamb
2 cloves of garlic, mashed into a paste
1 cup of minced onion
2 scallions, minced
1/4 cup of water
6-8 cups of vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of water

Directions:
1.  Make the dough.  Make the dough by stirring together the flour and salt and then stirring in warm water until the dough forms.  Transfer to a floured surface and knead briefly.  Form into 14 or 16 balls of about one and one-half inch in size.  Let stand, covered by an inverted bowl, at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.

2.  Prepare the filling.  While the dough is resting, make the filling by stirring the lamb, onion, scallion, garlic, water together in a bowl.  

3.  Make the dumplings.  Roll out the dough balls into rounds on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin.


Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture to each round.
 

Fold the round to make a half-moon and flatten slightly.


Begin to seal the edges (I used a fork). Before sealing each half-moon completely, make sure the air is forced out.  


4.  Fry the dumplings.  Heat the oil on high (to 350 degrees Fahrenheit) in a wok.  Cook four dumplings at a time.  Drain the cooked dumplings and use a paper towel to remove any excess oil.  Put the dumplings in a preheated oven to keep warm while cooking the others.

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The Hushuur turned out well, especially considering this was the first time that I ever deep fried food outside of a restaurant.  Deep frying food is much easier with a large deep fryer and baskets.  It is a little more difficult when doing it with a wok.  Still, if I could change one think, I'd probably trim the edges of the Hushuur.  I did not do that this time because I wanted to leave them on to ensure that the dumplings cooked without breaking open. 

THE BEVERAGE

Finally, I decided at the last minute to make a beverage to go with the meal.  I found a recipe for Suutei Tsai, a Mongolian milk tea.  This is a fairly straightforward recipe, but I decided to use a short cut.  I used a green tea teabag and steeped the combined water/milk until it began to boil. 


SUUTEI TSAI (MILK TEA)
Adapted from Recipes Wiki
Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon green tea

Directions:
1.  Boil the water.

2.  Add the tea and salt.  Then add the milk.

3.  Boil again and strain.  Serve warm.

*     *     *

In the end, I would say that I passed the culinary challenge in Mongolia.  I was pleased with the fact that I able to make a meal using the two principal ingredients in Mongolian cuisine, meat and milk.

Mongolian food is not very healthy, whether it is the use of fatty meat in the soup or the deep-frying of the Hushuur, but that is to be expected when you consider that they live on the steppes, where the fat is needed to help keep them warm.

If there is one thing that I came away with from this challenge, it is that Mongolian cuisine is much more than some high school age kid standing over a flat top stove playing with the ingredients you choose from a long bar-like counter.  I hope you come away with that same understanding.  Until next time....

ENJOY!

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