For many years I hosted an Afghan dinner as an auction item for my daughter’s school fundraiser. I found myself slaving over the meal for many days and at the end there was nothing to show for my hours of labor except for a kitchen full of dirty dishes. After someone mentioned that they wanted to learn how to cook Afghan food, a light bulb went on. Why not do a “Cook Your Own Afghan Feast” auction item? That is exactly what I have done in the past two years and I must say it has been lots of fun sharing the cooking with my guests.
Jeja, my mom and all her friends would be horrified to find out that I have my guests cooking the whole meal. It is against all the rules of Afghan hospitality. So, when I told Jeja about this dinner party, I left out this minor detail. Instead I focused on my mantoo dish, which is a conglomerate of various recipes that I tested over and over until I got just the right flavors. Normally, Jeja is my source for recipes, but she prefers aushak to mantoo and rarely makes this dish. The basic difference between the two dumpling dishes is that the aushak is boiled and served with a meat sauce on top while mantoo is steamed with the meat mixture inside the dumpling. You would think this is not a big deal but the meat is cooked differently in each recipe, which of course makes the dishes taste very different.
I tinkered with this mantoo recipe until it ended up tasting like the dish I was served in in Ghazni, Afghanistan two year ago when a warlord brought dinner for us on the NATO forward operating base (a story that will be revealed in a different post).
My conclusion after various versions of the recipe is that lamb meat is key in getting the best flavors with mantoo. I have said many times that I don’t like lamb but what can I say, it is the only way to go with mantoo.
When I was little girl in Afghanistan, my relatives from Ghazni would have an aushak and mantoo making party in the spring. It was an all day event, we would arrive at Boboa Jan’s house in the early afternoon, our mothers would stuff fresh dough cut into thin square wrapper with various stuffing. They would gossip, laugh and pass the afternoon away. The servants would steam the stuffed dumplings and serve it on a distarkhwan on the floor where we would all gather to feast on these mouth-watering dishes. Maybe it was the memory of those afternoon which inspired me to have my own “Make Your Afghan Feast” party.
In the spirit of Afghan hospitality I suggest you gather a few friends and create your own mantoo making party filled with an afternoon of gossiping, cooking and eating.
Afghan Meat Dumpling
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup dried kidney beans boiled for 20 minutes on high heat but not cooked through
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. diced garlic
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
2 cups organic chicken broth
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions diced
1 lb. ground lamb
1 tsp. coriander
2 medium white onions diced
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 large package of wonton dough
½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
½ cup full fat plain yogurt
1 tsp. salt
pinch of garlic powder
Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan on medium-high, and add garlic. Sauté for two minutes until golden. Add all the ingredients of the sauce to the pan, stir well, and bring to a boil. Once the sauce is boiling, turn down the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for an hour until the beans are soft and the sauce thickens.
In a large frying pan, sauté the diced yellow onions in olive oil. When the onions are golden brown add the lamb and coriander. Mix well; make sure the lamb does not clump together. Cook over medium heat for around 30 minutes. Remove from heat; place the meat in a colander until all the juice is drained. Let it cool.
While the meat is cooling mix the sour cream, yogurt, salt and garlic powder in a bowl. Stir with a fork until creamy. Set aside.
Add the meat, cilantro and the diced white onions in a bowl and mix by hand until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. On a large clean surface, set out as many wonton wrappers as you can.
In each wrapper, place a tablespoon of the meat mixture. To assemble the dumplings, fill a small bowl with water and put it at your workstation.
Dip the tip of your finger in the water. Moisten the edges of the wrapper. The water will serve as glue for the dumpling. Take two opposite edges of the dough and bring them together in the center, use the tip of your finger to firmly press the edges of the dough together to form a tight seal. Nip together the two remaining sides of the wrapper. Repeat until all the wrappers are used.
Use a dab of oil to grease the steamer shelve with the tips of your fingers, this will prevent the mantoo from sticking to the pot.
Place each stuffed mantoo next to each other leaving a little room in between each one. When the water is boiling, place the steaming rack inside the pot, cover and steam each batch for around 7 minutes. Spread 2 tablespoons of the yogurt sauce on the large platter.
Remove the cooked dumplings from the steaming rack and place on the platter. Repeat these steps until all the dumplings are steamed. Arrange the cooked mantoo on the platter in one layer
Spoon the piping hot bean sauce on top of the mantoo. I like to pour some of the yoguft sauce on the finished platter but traditionally the sauce is served separately for each person to add to their own taste.
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