Introduction: Afghan Mantu
In the very crowded family tree of savory meat-filled dumplings, one could easily miss the minor branch of Afghan specimens. A distant cousin of Chinese baozi, an unacknowledged step-child of Mongolian buuz, and the younger, hotter half-sister of Turkish manti, Afghan mantu may be the best dumpling that most of the world has yet to meet.
Makes approx 100 dumplings INGREDIENTS 2 T vegetable oil1 lb ground beef (85/15 works well)1 t fine sea salt, plus more to taste1 t freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste1 t ground turmeric2 1/2 t ground coriander6 T (3 oz) tomato paste3-4 medium yellow onions100 store-bought wonton skins (dumpling skins of any kind will work, really)12 oz whole-milk plain yogurt3 cloves garlic, minced+ dried mint, for garnish+ cayenne pepper, for garnish (optional) 1 Heat a wide skillet or pan, coat with the vegetable oil, and drop in the beef, breaking it up with a spoon. Add the salt, black pepper, turmeric, and coriander. Inhale and briefly experience how great I had it growing up in my mom’s kitchen. Continue to cook the meat all the way over medium-high heat, stirring sparingly enough to let the oil create at least a few crispy morsels. Once browned, remove half the beef to a plate and set aside for the filling. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. 2 Add the tomato paste and 1/3 cup water to the remaining beef in the pan, and continue to simmer on low heat to form a thick meat sauce, about half an hour. Turn off the heat and set aside. 3 Meanwhile, finely mince the yellow onions. Pro tip: use a food processor. Quarter the onions, throw them in there, and pulse about 4 pulses short of a purée. If you get distracted and liquefy, start over. You want to end up with about 4 cups of minced onions. 4 In a mixing bowl, combine the minced onions with the reserved cooked beef. This is the mantu filling. The goal is to have the mix be more onions than beef—a roughly 3:1 ratio will get you where you need to be. 5 Once the filling is cooled to room temperature, it’s time to make the dumplings. Mix a small bowl of water with a drop of vegetable oil; it’ll help you seal the dumplings. Place about a heaping teaspoon of filling (depending on the size of the wrappers) in the center of a wonton wrapper. Use your finger to paint half of the outer edge of the wonton with water-oil mix, fold in half, and press to seal shut. Repeat this painstaking process until you run out of wonton skins, filling, or patience, making sure to cover both the skins and the filled dumplings with damp cloths so that they don’t dry out. 6 Carefully place your filled mantu in a steamer, making sure that they don’t touch each other. You may want to lightly oil the steamer surface to keep the dumplings from sticking. Steam in batches for about 10 minutes or until the wonton skins are slightly translucent and a shade past al dente. 7 While the dumplings are steaming, mix the yogurt, minced garlic, and a big pinch of salt. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Spread a thin layer of this mixture on your serving platter. 8 Once the mantu are steamed, arrange the dumplings on the platter in whatever formation you like, though concentric circles are a crowd pleaser. Next, do your best Jackson Pollock impression when adding another thin coating of yogurt atop the dumplings. Add several dollops of the now deliciously thick meat sauce. Finally, cover the dumplings with a generous dusting of dried mint and, if you want an extra kick, a light dusting of cayenne pepper. 9 Serve family-style, with additional yogurt and meat sauce on the side. Nooshe jan!