17 March 2005

Central Asian Food

I pulled out my Uzbek cookbook yesterday to get some recipes for this weekend. I have to say that Central Asian food isn't as good as Middle Eastern food. But that's to be expected since Central Asians haven't had access to the variety of foods that are available along the Mediterranean Sea. Traditional Central Asian society is nomadic, so many of the dishes are based on meat and dairy products. Central Asia does produce a huge array of fruits though, if you live in the right places. The techniques and food are also heavily influenced by Persian and Indian cooking in many parts.

There are a variety of different flatbreads made in Central Asia, but the most common is naan (non). Some are made with yogurt, some are topped with onions or nigella seeds, some are rather plain. Many are cooked in tandor ovens (I have wanted these ever since I tasted tandor breads in the Middle East). My favorite cookbook, Flatbreads and Flavors, has great recipes for all these and how to make your bread a little more like tandor breads. (I'd put some of the recipes here, but I think I'm pushing copyright laws with the number of recipes I've posted here.)

Buuz or manti are very widespread throughout all the Turkic areas. I first read about manti in relation to Turkey, but I've eaten it with Mongolians (it is called buuz in Mongolia), Kazakhs, and Uzbeks. They are steamed meat dumplings and quite tasty. The techniques and spices are a little different from place to place. This is a Turkish version, and here is an Uzbek version (you'll have to scroll down quite a way, or search for "manty").

Lamb is commonly eaten in Central Asia. Shurpa (lamb soup), fried dumplings (these are different from manti since they are not boiled), shashlik (kebabs), chektyrma (boiled lamb soup)and more.

Rice is also eaten. There are a huge variety of plovs (pilafs): Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkmen, sabzi pilau (this is an Indian and Pakistani version). There are many good rice dishes in Seductions of Rice.

Here are some sites that have descriptions of national cuisines. Uyghur (more), Uzbek, Mongolian, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh (more Kazakh and another Kazakh site with a very tiny font).

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