7 Savory Recipes That Show Off Central Asian Cuisine
If you've never tasted Central Asian cuisines, you're missing out on a whole world of flavor. Savory, hearty, and unique, the cuisines of Central Asia have been influenced by China, Russia and Turkey, as well as the Silk Road, along with more recent immigrants like Russian Koreans, who arrived in the early 20th century.
Made up of the nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the varied regional cuisines of Central Asia are influenced by the area's arid, landlocked climate, along with the history of nomadic herding cultures. The story of Central Asian cuisine is complex and diverse, partially due to its location at the crossroads of multiple regions. Here are some of our favorite recipes.
Lagman (Uzbek Noodle Soup)
Lagman is a soup made with pulled noodles, beef or lamb, and veggies including tomatoes. Popular in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Uyghur and Dungan populations have long made these noodles and soup. The soup is made by rolling out and stretching dough into noodles. When you're in a pinch, store-bought thin Chinese noodles make a simple substitution. The remaining ingredients, including beef, tomato paste, carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, onion, celery, parsley and garlic, will be easily found at your local grocery store. All the ingredients, except for the noodles, can be cooked in one pot, so there aren't many dishes to clean either. This filling soup serves a family of four. Serve with a side of chopped onion and cilantro, chili slices, and minced garlic.
Manti (Traditional Turkish Dumplings)
Though this is a Turkish recipe, manti are also a beloved Central Asian dish. Making manti takes some time, but the end result is a delicious prize. When the dough is homemade, you can prepare your manti to the exact thickness you like, instead of being at the mercy of the wonton wrappers you buy at the store (but we won't tell if you use prepared wontons instead). If you're finding it difficult to roll out the dough very thin, you can always use your pasta machine on its thinnest or second thinnest setting. Just make sure you rest the dough at least half an hour before rolling it out. This recipe calls for easy-to-find ground beef, but use whatever ground meat you'd like (or go vegetarian or vegan with your filling). And for a finishing sauce, yogurt is the most traditional topping, but you can use sour cream too if you prefer.
Plov (Lamb and Rice Pilaf)
Central Asia's plov came from the Indian and Middle Eastern traditions of rice pilaf. (It even sounds like pilaf, right?). Similar in essence to a pilaf, it's the details that make it regional. Cumin is essential, and so is a medium- or long-grain rice, or a basmati. Lamb is traditional, but beef or pork will work in a pinch. With protein, grain, and vegetables all in one, this fantastic one-pot meal has all you need, including a hearty heaping of spices. Make a big batch — plov makes for great leftovers.
Russian Carrot Salad (Korean-Style)
Carrot salad is a fascinating Central Asian dish. Fresh, tangy and sweet, it's a palate cleanser that can prepare you for the next course or dish. Invented by ethnically Korean Russians who later migrated to Uzbekistan, the dish is hardly known in mainstream Korean cuisine. Vinegar does the work of marinating the carrots, along with garlic, coriander, and cayenne. If you have Korean gochugaru, you can even substitute it for the cayenne. A mandoline gives the best julienned carrots. For best results, let the carrots marinate for at least 24 hours.
Chorba (Lamb & Tomato Soup)
Chorba, a lamb and tomato soup, is eaten in Turmenistan and known as "dogroma chorba." The stew is also popular in Northern Africa, and this Algerian recipe includes freekeh and chickpeas. The acid in the tomatoes help cook the lamb, making it even better the day after cooking. Serve by cutting or breaking up small pieces of toasted flatbread and adding them to the soup, along with chopped onions.
Salat vinaigrette is a dish that came to Central Asia via Ukraine. This salad features super-healthy beets, which are low-fat and packed with fiber, folate, potassium, iron, and vitamin C. Combined with carrots, pickles, parsley and peas in olive oil (instead of mayonnaise), this salat vinaigrette recipe is an antioxidant-packed dish. If you like, try substituting avocado oil for olive oil. Serve with meaty dishes to offset the pucker of the pickles, or with a hearty flatbread or baguette.
Depending on where you're from, these small meaty dumpling are known as chuchvara or tushbera, joshpara or pelmeni. This Russian pelmeni recipe can be adapted to a more authentic Central Asian version by using lamb instead of beef, and by boiling the dumplings in meat broth. Serve them with vinegar or a topping of chopped herbs, tomatoes, and chilies. Whether served in broth as a soup or eaten on their own, these little pockets of dough are heavenly.