My knowledge of Asian dumplings never expanded much beyond the doughy wontons I’ve been fishing out of brothy Chinese soup since I was a kid. I was enlightened recently by my friend, cookbook author and food blogger Andrea Nguyen (www.vietworldkitchen.comwww.asiandumplingtips.com) who shared the wisdom she gathered researching her latest book, Asian Dumplings. As I sat there listening to Andrea wax poetic about why she loves dumplings, “they just make people happy,” it hit me: Afghans have Asian dumplings of their very own.
And of course it makes sense that this Central Asian country located smack in the middle of the famed spice route would count dumplings amongst its culinary delights. I’m familiar with just two varieties of Afghan dumplings: aushak and mantoo, although there may be other regional varieties in Afghanistan.
My favorite of the dumplings is aushak. It’s made with a delicate dough and is traditionally filled with gandana, a member of the onion family with a mild flavor and an appearance similar to leeks. Although you can find gandana in some specialty markets, I substitute garden variety green onions. The dumplings are gently boiled and then topped with garlicky yogurt followed by paprika- and coriander-spiced meat sauce. Dried mint finishes the dish.
A lot of people are intimidated by the notion of making homemade dumplings, particularly when frozen ones are just a Trader Joe’s freezer section away. But making aushak by hand is both satisfying and fairly easy to do. And to be honest, as busy working mothers, both Humaira and I take a major short-cut: we use store-bought wonton wrappers in place of hand-made dumpling dough. In Afghanistan these dumplings are typically served on a big platter as a main course. Arranged four to a plate on your best china, aushak also makes an elegant first course.
Seems to me, dumplings are the sort of thing that should be made in community. Growing up in Afghanistan Humaira remembers large groups of extended family gathering for the sole purpose of making aushak. The festivities would conclude with everyone sitting down together over heaping platters of dumplings. I made them for dinner recently with the assistance of my very capable six-year old. We had enough left over for the kids’ lunches. I suspect mine were the only children at the lunch table dining on Afghan dumplings smothered in garlic yogurt sauce.
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground lamb (you can substitute beef or turkey)
1 cup tomato sauce
1 ½ tsp. paprika
1 ½ tsp. ground coriander
3 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 lb. green onions, washed, stems removed
½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 package won ton wrappers
1 tsp. vinegar
1 cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon ground dried garlic
1 tbsp. dried mint
Saute the onion over medium heat in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the lamb and sauté until cooked through, breaking it up like finely minced taco meat. Add the tomato sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, the paprika, coriander and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring regularly for 20 minutes.
While the meat is cooking, finely chop the green onions (use the entire onion). A Cuisinart is useful for this step. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the green onions, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the crushed red pepper. Turn heat to low and sauté until tender, 10 minutes.
To assemble the dumplings, fill a small bowl with water and put it at your work station. Set a won ton wrapper on your work surface and dip the tip of your finger in the water. Moisten the edges along two connecting sides of the wrapper. The water will serve as glue for the dumpling. Put about a teaspoon of green onions in the center of the wrapper. Fold the dough in half over the green onion in the shape of a triangle. Use the tip of your finger to firmly press the edges of the dough together to form a tight seal. Next, lift the two longest points of the triangle and press them together, creating a little circle over the dumpling. It will look like a fancy napkin fold (see photos below for clarity).
While you are assembling the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil. Add the vinegar. Once all of the dumplings are done, immerse them in the water and boil according to directions on the won ton package (about 4 minutes). While the dumplings are boiling, quickly stir together the yogurt with the garlic and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt.
Gingerly scoop the cooked dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon, a few at a time, and arrange on a large platter.Spoon the yogurt over the dumplings and the ground meat on top of that. Sprinkle with dried mint and serve immediately.
Makes 25 dumplings.
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