This comforting little meat filled dumpling is the beating heart of Turkish cuisine. Also known as Boerek of the Tartars or Tatar Boregi, it found it’s way to the region by migrating Turks traveling back from Mongolia in the 13th century (the time of Genghis Khan). It was made popular by nomads because they could travel long distances without having to worry about spoilage and the dumplings could be reconstituted quickly by steaming, it was truly the quintessential camp food. After the fall of Constantinople (Instanbul) in the 15th century, art infiltrated the culture and cuisine of Turkey and one began to see ornate presentations of food coming out of the palaces. Over the past couple of centuries, other cooking methods such baking took hold and now over a dozen varieties of manti can be found throughout the region.
Contemporary varieties of manti are the meat filled or meat with pumpkin, and are typically served with a cool garlicky yogurt (hadari) and sprinkled with sumac. Sumac is a deep red bulbous fruit of a bush that grows in funny upward clusters. It’s usually dried, ground and used as a spice to add a soothing lemony tang to dishes (it’s the stuff you think is paprika that’s sometimes sprinkled on hummus).
The preparation of this dish is quite simple but does require patience. I cut the prep time down by using chinese egg roll wrappers instead of making and rolling out my own pasta dough. Since summer has come late to Santa Barbara this year, and 93 degree heat isn’t that conducive to fresh pasta making, it was the way to go. You can find them in the grocery store usually next to, or around the tofu. I used the large 4.5″ x 4.5″ sheets and cut them into 1.5 in. squares (cut the sheet into thirds, creating strips, then cut across in thirds, making 9 squares from one sheet). Make sure to keep covered with a dry paper towel, topped with a damp one.
The filling is easy and almost identical to a meatloaf or meatball recipe without the bread crumb. Though the meat staple of Turkey is lamb, one could easily substitute beef or veal if lamb isn’t readily available. In fact I used a combination of lamb and veal to achieve a richer flavor.
Combine 2 pounds of ground meat, with one medium onion grated, one bunch parsley chopped and one whole egg. Season with a good helping of salt and pepper and mix together until lightly incorporated.
Now, for the fun! (grab your egg whites and begin the assembly line!) These dumplings characteristically are folded leaving a small portion of the dough unsealed so the meat filling is popping out (think shu mai). Work with 4-8 pasta squares at a time so they don’t dry out.
Brush the edges with egg white and fold the edges over on themselves (not diagonal though as you would with ravioli or wontons but literally into a rectangle like you’re folding the square in half on itself). Place into an oiled baking dish, I used a paella pan but any round baking dish will do.
Once you’ve folded yourself silly, and filled your round dish in a beautiful array of meat filled goodness, make sure the oven is set to 325. Most of the time, one would simply steam the manti, but in this case they are parbaked for about 12 minutes before seeing any liquid. After this initial time in the oven, remove and top with a healthy portion (4-6 oz) of butter and a cup of high quality broth or stock (I used an organic beef stock but chicken stock or even water is suitable) and put back into the oven for another 15 minutes.
After the second baking, you should see the edges turn a crispy golden brown, if you don’t see this because your oven is unpredictable like mine, up the temp to 500 and pop them into the broiler for 2 minutes.
mmmmm, hot, crispy, buttery & meaty manti!
Manti wouldn’t be the same without all the delicious accouterments that accompany it. A cool, refreshing yogurt seasoned with garlic and a hearty dish of stewed peppers top it all off. Green and red bell peppers are a staple in Turkey, but to make use of the remaining bounty from my summer garden, I used a variety of ripe and green cherry peppers, pasilla and seranno’s. I didn’t want to impart the heat of these peppers, just the vegetal flavor of them, so each was carefully seeded and deveined. Sauteed with onion, mushroom, garden heirloom tomatoes and sumac powder, a sauteed turkish salsa of sorts is born. So simple yet phenomenal in flavor that I immediately made a mental list of a dozen other dishes I could spoon it on (buttered toast would be one of them).
This dish is one I truly enjoyed working on. From research to execution to eating. If you freeze at the thought of having to stand for over an hour folding manti all by your lonesome, invite some friends over and make a party out of it. You can explain to your friends the history of the fall of Constantinople and the rise of the the regions most precious and endearing dumpling. Everyone will swoon over the finished product and eating it becomes a very communal and satisfying event. If you’re vegetarian, use roasted sweet potato or pumpkin in place of the lamb, a colorful dish that will sing your praises as a culinary master.
This post is the second challenge for Project Food Blog, presented by the lovely folks at Foodbuzz.com. The challenge was to tackle a classic dish from another culture, not Italian nor French. I certainly stepped outside my comfort zone with Turkish cuisine, as I have never had the opportunity to visit the country and I am not Turkish. But through this challenge I now have a deep desire to travel to the country and embark on a culinary journey, discovering what may be one of the best cuisines on the planet.
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