Monday, October 20, 2014

UnRecipe: To Manti!

Stupid/Nerdy Movie Reference Moment: that part in The Golden Child, where Eddie Murphy is performing all these different trials to earn the right to wield some mystical knife, so that he can save the Golden Child from a demonic captor (who also happens to be on Game of Thrones, as Tywin Lannister). I'm not making this up, People Who Were Born in/after the 1980s -- this movie exists. And it's wonderful. And in typical Eddie Murphy fashion, he's throwing humorous quips as he avoids Indiana Jones-like death traps, complaining that the trials are being run by famed game show host, Monty Hall. On one of the last trials, Murphy raises a glass of water and says: To Monty! And that long, stupid anecdote is how we get to Turkish dumplings, aka, manti. Sorry I'm a dork.

Wee manti - Turkish bite-sized dumplings with yogurt sauce and paprika butter - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I've never been to Turkey, but I know plenty of folks who have, and they say it's awesome. So hey, Yay Turkey! For the rest of us travel budget-handicapped, we can hit up local ethnic restaurants and delis. I like shopping at the different ethnic grocery stores for basics because what may be considered specialty or gourmet at fancier stores, they might be an inexpensive staple to be purchased in bulk at a small ethnic grocer. I love cooking Mediterranean food, and I'm always on the hunt for stuff like fenugreek powder. It's used in a lot of different cuisines -- you can often find it at Indian markets. The flavor is similar to oregano, but more fragrant. I also like using bulgur, a dried cracked wheat that's often used in salads. I found these, plus some other unique and reasonably priced ingredients like tamarind syrup (why not??) at Byblos, a Turkish deli and grocer in Bellevue. They also sell homemade dumplings, or manti. They're served hot in the deli on some days, but you can always buy them frozen, which of course I got several bags of.

Frozen manti from Byblos - frozen food done right! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Manti is kind of like little bite-sized pelmeni or pierogi. Typically filled with beef (or lamb) and onion, with mild seasonings, the fresh ravioli are boiled and then topped with a garlic yogurt sauce and melted butter with paprika. It's total comfort food, perfect for a rainy, cold day, and keeping a bunch of frozen manti in the freezer to quickly boil and eat should be on everyone's list of Must-Do's this fall/winter.

Homemade manti - labor intensive but worth it! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Easy enough to buy if you can get to Byblos or a Turkish deli in your area that makes them fresh, but if you're feeling the hankering to make your own manti, I encourage this! I found a great recipe on Honest Cooking for Marvelous Manti. The recipe is easy enough -- simple beef and onion filling, a basic dumpling dough, and a lot of fussy hand-made dumpling-making. This is a good rainy day activity when you have some time to sit in the kitchen for a while. You don't even need to cook them immediately, you can make all the dumplings, place on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, and freeze. Once frozen, you can bag them up and save for later use. They can be frozen with the raw meat filling -- they're so small and they cook quickly in the boiling water. You don't even need to thaw them, can throw the frozen manti into boiling salted water and they're good to go.

I provided a link to the manti recipe on Honest Cooking, but this is an UnRecipe, so I made my own variations, of course. I didn't use the dough recipe on Honest Cooking, instead I used a traditional Chinese dumpling skin recipe (that one's from Chow), which is just flour and hot water (I also add a little splash of olive oil) -- I find this dough is easier to roll thin by hand. I don't have a pasta roller, and I find that egg-based pasta/dumpling doughs can get a little tough. If you have a pasta roller, by all means, follow the recipe to a T, I just have weak, stubby T-Rex arms that get tired fast using a rolling pin. I also modified the beef filling a little bit -- I didn't drain off any of the liquid from the shredded onion -- I made khinkali, a Georgian version of juicy dumplings that got their juiciness from the juice and pulp of an onion mixed with beef, sealed tight in a dumpling dough. I also seasoned the beef/onion filling with some fenugreek powder, which just gives it a nice garlic-oregano flavor that I personally like. I like strong flavors, so if you do too, go heavy on garlic and whatever seasonings you like.

MOUS - Manti Of Unusual Size - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Here's the part where everyone's Turkish/Polish/Russian/Chinese grandmother can judge harshly. Yes, I suck at making dumplings. It's not like Italian ravioli where you do long sheets of pasta that are layered and sealed. There's a little bit of pinching and crimping for each little dumpling. This is the part when you're like, ohhhhhhh.... that's why you save this for a long-ass rainy day where you have absolutely nothing to do for four hours. Towards the end of my manti-making the dumplings grew exponentially. They went from bite-sized ravioli, to nearly pierogi size, to practically dim sum wontons. "I'll just boil these ones longer," I grumbled.

At this point, when you've got parchment-lined cookie sheets covered with manti of varying size and girth, you can do the freeze-n'-save technique, or you can be like me, who's effing STARVING, and cook up a huge batch to EAT RIGHT NOW. And so I did. Like I said, they boil and cook marvelously fast. Cooking a small handful at a time, fishing them out with a slotted spoon or spider when they float -- boom, you can eat 'em as is. But of course dumplings are all about the toppings and dipping sauces.

Homemade manti - oh baby! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The yogurt sauce is pretty much like the Honest Cooking recipe -- plain yogurt mixed with minced garlic, salt to taste. Let it get to room temperature for easy drizzling. Their version uses red pepper with melted butter, but I personally like paprika mixed in melted butter. The color is beautiful and adds a much-needed hue to an otherwise pale food.

I highly recommend trying this Manti Making Adventure the next time you have a rainy weekend all to yourself. Save half for freezing for later enjoyment -- the homemade frozen ones taste just as good -- and the ones you boil and eat right after handmaking an arsenal of manti will taste amazing. To Manti, indeed.

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