Noted frequently in printed literature and across the internet, Tajik recipes are difficult to find. I aim to remedy this by providing instructions for my favorite Tajik food, courtesy of my mother-in-law.
When asked about their comfort foods, many Tajiks fondly think back to mantu made by their mothers. A full, layered mantu steaming pot is an impressive sight towering on the kitchen stove, though the dumplings may also be cooked in an electric or bamboo steamer.
Savory, juicy lamb (or beef) parceled in delicate dough and steamed creates a nostalgic and filling meal that is eaten at home or at the bazaar. Mantu may be enjoyed with sour cream or eaten by itself. It may take some time and patience to make mantu—especially when learning how to seal the wrapping—but the results are well worth it.
Step 1: Step 1: Gather Ingredients
- 1 cup water
- 3 cups flour (plus extra for dusting)
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 lbs. beef or lamb
- 1 large onion
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon priprava blend (see below)
- neutral oil
This spice mixture can be found in a variety of
recipes, from stuffed peppers to pilaf. Traditionally called priprava (Russian for ‘spice’), this
mix includes chili pepper, yet varies in the spice intensity. This recipe makes enough spice mix to store in a small container to add to recipes throughout this book.
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons coriander
- 1 teaspoon chili pepper
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Mix the dried spices in a bowl until well incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to six months.
Step 2: Step 2: Making the Dough
Blend the water, egg, and two cups of flour in a bowl. Add the remaining cup of flour in ¼ cup amounts until the dough is incorporated, being careful not to make the dough too sticky. Rub flour on the outside, then let sit in warm place while preparing the filling.
Step 3: Step 3: Preparing the Filling
Dice the onion and beef/lamb into ½ inch cubes. Mix in a bowl, adding the pepper, salt, and priprava.
Step 4: Step 4: Rolling and Filling Dough
Break the dough into fist-sized balls. Roll the balls into sheets with a rolling pin until 1/8 inch thick. Cut the sheets into three-inch squares.
Take the squares and stretch them out by hand to prepare for the filling. You will want to make sure the squares are thin to ensure they do not become too chewy after steaming.
Drop spoonfuls of the filling mixture into the center of the square. To seal the dumplings you may or may not need water to dampen the corners (properly mixed dough should be sticky enough to not require water).
Step 5: Step 5: Shaping the Mantu
To fold the mantu, bring two opposite corners together in the center and pinch them shut.
Bring the opposite corners together over the first two and pinch them together. You will now have four new corners created.
Take two adjacent corners and pinch them together, leaving an open gap along the edges (creating an ‘eye’ between the filling and pinched corners). Take the remaining two corners and pinch them together.
Step 6: Step 6: Steaming the Mantu
Note for Steaming the Mantu:
You will need a steamer to cook the mantu. A traditional Tajik steamer has multiple layers stacked on top of one another, but you can cook individual layers as well in an instant pot, single-layer steamer, or bamboo steamer. Rub oil over the steamer layers to keep the mantu from sticking to the surface.
Place the dumplings on the steamer layer, taking care to space the mantu so they are not touching each other.
Fill the bottom layer of the steamer with 1 1/2 inches of water.
Heat the steamer on the stovetop over high heat. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium. Steam the mantu for the following times based on the steamer used:
- Multi-layer steamer: 45 minutes
- Single-layer steamer: 20 minutes
- Instant pot: 7 minutes pressure cook, followed by quick steam release
Step 7: Step 7: Enjoy!
Serve mantu on a decorative plate with sour cream, vinegar, or butter on the side as potential toppings.