We had something really wonderful for dinner last night that I had to share with you: a Turkmen Savory Meat and Onion Pie. It is a dish of Tartar origin that is now eaten in different variations across Central Asia and into Southern Russia. Although Turkic in origin, it clearly has influences from mother Persia, because it can best be described as a biryani enclosed within two delicious crusts of bread baked into a pie. It is two or three alternating layers of differently flavored meat, rice, onions and eggs, finished with sweet chaka (drained yogurt) and raisins. Topping each set of layers is a healthy handful of fresh chopped cilantro.
I simply love the combination of meat and fruit that one encounters in Persian and Central Asian foods and this pie is no exception. The meat layer – which could be of either lamb or beef (I used lamb) has a healthy dose of diced, dried sour plums flavored with sweet paprika, coriander and cumin. The rice layer was a straight up saffron basmati and the onion and egg layer had lots of delicious dried fenugreek in it. With the sweet chaka I used golden raisins for a lighter sweeter taste.
It is a dish usually prepared for holidays or celebrations of some sort, so, be warned, it is a bit of work, but one that has tasty rewards.
Turkmen Savory Meat and Onion Pie
1 cup plain yogurt
3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lukewarm water
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus a tablespoon or two as needed)
2-3 teaspoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 pound ground lamb or beef
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ cup beef broth (optional – if needed to moisten meat)
1 teaspoon dried coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/3 cup dried, sour plums, pitted and chopped
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
2-3 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice mixed with
2 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon saffron
Chaka and Raisin Finish
1/3 cup raisins
Drained sweet chaka (from step 1)
1 medium bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon milk
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Make the chaka first to ensure time for it to drain. Place 1 cup of plain yogurt into a clean coffee filter and set aside to drain for a few hours. When it is drained enough, mix it lightly with the sugar and raisins. Do not mix to much because this will tend to liquefy the chaka.
- To make the dough, combine the milk and butter in medium saucepan and heat- stirring until butter is melted. Remove from the heat and cool. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and water and let stand until yeast is activated. Add the beaten eggs to the milk mixture and then add the salt and mix again. Then combine all with the yeast mixture and mix well.
- Stir in 4 cups of the flour 1 cup at a time, and mix well after each cup. If needed, add a bit more flour until the dough stops sticking to your hands when handled. Then, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead, until smooth, about 5-8 minutes. Place the dough in a sprayed or greased bowl and set aside, covered in a warm, quiet place to rise for about an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit while making the fillings. Combine the rice, water and saffron in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over medium low heat for 30-40 minutes. When done, remove from heat and set aside, covered until needed.
- Heat half the oil in a sauté pan and sauté the ground lamb or beef until it becomes opaque and firm and starts to color around the edges. Add salt, pepper and paprika and mix again. If needed to moisten the mixture (this will depend on in large part on the fat content of the meat) Add the ground coriander and cumin and stir again. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
- Heat the rest of the oil and sauté the onions until they become translucent and start to color. Add the salt and pepper and dried fenugreek and mix well. Add the chopped eggs, mix lightly and remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
- Grease or spray a 9 to10-inch round baking pan and set aside. Then, punch the dough down and knead for about a minute before dividing into two pieces and rolling the first piece out so it is no more than ¼ inch in thickness. Line the prepared pan with the rolled dough, leaving the excess to hang over the edges of the pan for now.
- Add the meat layer first; making sure the layer is even across the pan. Then add the saffron rice layer. Next add the onion and eggs – mounding the onions high in the center as you would apples in an apple pie. Layer the filling in the crust in the following order: Meat, rice, and egg and onion. Finish each layer with a bit of the chopped cilantro. I usually make 2 or three layers. Finish the whole pie with the raisins and sweet chaka.
- Roll out the other half of the dough into a circle larger than you need (at least 12-inches around) and no more than ¼ inch thick. Place it on top of the layered fillings, cut excess and seal the crusts together with your fingers. Crimp with a fork to really seal the crusts and cut small vents in the top crust with a knife or fork.
- Just before baking, brush the top of the pie with the egg-milk wash, and put a few pats of unsalted butter on the crust before baking for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let sit after baking for at least 15 minutes to rest before serving. Makes a wonderful meal on its own or serve with a light salad like the Turkmen Tomato Salad with Cheese. And remember, if you like the fillings, they are easily transferrable to small handheld pastries as well.
- Hints and Issues: The elasticity of the dough makes it a bit tough to roll out – but keep at it, it needs to be thin (no thicker than 1/4 inch, and better if thinner). Also, I recommend going easy on the salt. Lastly, I recommend reading this and every recipe you cook from thoroughly so that you have all of the ingredients well before hand and that any pre-preparation that needs to be done is completed before you start. For example, in this recipe, the chaka usually takes several hours for it to get good and dry, and to pit the dried, sour plums is a onerous task that takes some time. Make sure that these tasks are done well beforehand.
- Enjoy your savory pie and know that there is a wonderful world of food in Central Asia that is largely unknown in the west outside of immigrant communities. Many of these recipes will be available in the next volume of The Silk Road Gourmet. Other Central Asian recipes offered on this blog so far include: Turkmen Stuffed Grape Leaves, Turkmen Tomato Salad with Cheese, and Tajikistan’s Lamb Kebabs with Star Anise and Mint. (Words by Laura Kelley, Photo of Gubadia borrowed from a Tartar food site).