The National Dish
When Brendan first offered to let me contribute to Case in Pointe, I was initially hesitant as to what I wanted to write about. Given my cooking hobby, it seemed like a good fit to try and do recipes of some kind, or posts à la the New York Times Food section. After some thought, I finally settled on an idea. In conjunction with Brendan Johnson’s “Weekly Roundup” of international news, I’ll select a country from his weekly post, and cook a common meal from that country. It seems like an interesting way both to explore culinary traditions in other countries, while learning more about their history and culture in general. I am not a trained chef, and I do make mistakes. My goal is to try and give you the best recipe and advice based on my missteps. This is “The National Dish.”
Of this week’s countries, I chose Mongolia at random. After some detailed research, the recipe I settled on is called “buuz” (pron. boze), which is a style of steamed meat dumpling.
The cuisine of Mongolia, located in between Russia, specifically Siberia, to its north, and western China to its South, is an interesting blend of both of its neighbors. Etymologically, however, buuz is of Chinese origin and are similar to jiao zi dumplings. Buuz are consumed throughout the year, but they are prepared especially for the Mongolian New Year, Tsagaan Sar. They are traditionally accompanied by milk-tea or vodka, and served with salads and bread. They are also a meal all onto themselves if one so chooses. Other traditional Mongolian dumplings like “kuushuur” and “bansh” are also commonly consumed and are almost identical to buuz, but differ in preparation. Kuushuur are deep fried, while bansh are boiled. Read more about Mongolian cuisine here.
Buuz are dead simple in concept, but do require a bit of finesse to make (for reasons I will explain later). At its simplest, the recipe for buuz features two main ingredients, meat and dough. The meat, either ground mutton or beef, is typically flavored by two things, onions and salt. Garlic is also frequently added, but is optional. Other items which also can be featured include cabbage, carrot, green onion, various seasonal herbs, or simply whatever else the cook prefers. The dumpling dough is just water, flour and a pinch of salt (which, depending on who you ask, is not traditional). Surely, you could also make vegetarian buuz if you’d like, but you might lose out on authenticity. Meat, and milk along with it, are integral to traditional Mongolian cuisine.
The biggest issue I had with this recipe was forming the dough around the meat using the traditional method. From my research, how your dumplings look can be a point of honor for many Mongolian cooks. This method involves pinching the dough around the meat in such a way to form a floral-like pattern. My dumplings did not live up to this pattern. In comparison to other pictures of buuz online, my buuz are the proverbial Quasimodo to others’ Esmeralda. I’ve not made many dumplings before, and I also lack what many people may refer to as fine motor skills. As such, while I will explain a method for making your dumplings in the recipe, here’s a link to a good website that may better explain it. There’s also quite a few good YouTube tutorials that I encourage you to look at before attempting this dish.
I have decided to add a few optional ingredients to the standard, but you are free to do away with them or add more things as you please. I have additionally chosen to use ground lamb for my recipe, but I realize this isn’t accessible for everyone, and beef is a perfectly good alternative. When selecting your meat, it is more authentic to seek higher fat options (80% lean meat and 20% fat, for instance) as that is frequently associated with more quality meat in Mongolia. I used my rice cooker to steam these, but any old steamer basket (or MacGyvered alternative) will do. While traditionally served with soy sauce or ketchup in Mongolia, as these smart cooks suggested, I have opted to include a recipe used on traditional Chinese jiao zi dumplings. This is most certainly not required as even without a sauce buuz are DELICIOUS.
Mongolian Buuz Recipe:
Time to make: 1.5–2 hours.
Yields: 25–30 Dumplings
Ingredients for Dough (make this before anything else):
4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups of water
1½–2 teaspoons salt (optional)
1 teaspoon of any oil, set aside for use while steaming
Ingredients for Filling:
1 to 1½ pounds of ground lamb (or ground beef with 20% fat content)
½ to ¾ cup of diced onion
3–5 cloves of minced garlic
1 medium carrot, or two smaller carrots, grated (optional)
2 green onions, sliced thin (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Ingredients for Jiao Zi dipping sauce (optional):
¼ cup of rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce or chili sauce like Sriracha (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ green onion, sliced
Make the Dough:
- In a medium or large bowl, sift together the flour and salt, or simply add both and mix gently with a fork until incorporated. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.
- Slowly pour in your water and begin mixing, taking turns between adding water and mixing. I go about a half cup at a time.
- Once fully combined, place the dough on a work surface and begin to knead it until the dough is smooth. You can play around with the flour/water mixture here a bit, if you feel it’s necessary.4) Place the dough back in the bowl, cover, and let sit in the fridge between 30 minutes and 1 hour.
Make the Filling:
- Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands until combined.
Make the Dipping Sauce:
- Whisk together all dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl. This part is pretty self explanatory!
Assembling the buuz:
- Take your dough out of the fridge, and place on a smooth, lightly floured surface and knead the dough.
- Slice your dough ball into separate 1-inch-thick slices (this is a departure from the method I used, but seems to be a better alternative).
- Roll each of these dough slices into a log, about an inch in diameter.
- Slice the logs into roughly 1-inch pieces (can be a little longer than this).
- Roll the pieces you’ve cut into small balls, and lightly dust them with flour.
- Lightly dust your work surface with flour, take a rolling pin and roll each of the rough balls into a flat circle, around 4 inches in diameter. You should only do this a few at a time. If you attempt to do more, you may find the dumpling dough will dry out, making it harder to work with.
- Take a circle of dough in the center of your hand, and place 1–2 teaspoons of the meat mixture into the center of the dough.
- Lifting the dough up on one side, begin pinching an edge to create a fold, begin rotating the dumpling, creating additional folds following this. Once you are done, you should be left with a small pocket on top-center of the dumpling, that allows you to see some of the meat in the center. Don’t be afraid to use your fingers on the meat either, to help keep it inside while you make your folds. (As I don’t have good pictures of this part, this is where I ask you to look to those tutorials I mentioned earlier).
- Repeat with the rest of the meat and dough until done.
Cooking the buuz:
- Lightly oil the bottom of each buuz before you place it in the steamer basket. This prevent the dumplings from sticking to the bottom of the steamer basket. Alternatively, you can use plain lettuce leaves for this as well. Feel free to place as many buuz in the basket as you can, but bear in mind that they do expand slightly when cooking.
- Place 1 to 2 inches of water at the bottom of a medium pot.
- Place your dumplings in the steamer basket. Place basket in the pot. Ensure that the dumplings are not touching the water! For this section, I used a rice cooker, which, if you don’t have and cook a lot, I encourage you to buy. The often come with small steamer baskets included. A bamboo steamer also works well for this.
- Bring the water to a simmer, and place your lid on top. Steaming the buuz for a full 15 minutes.
- Repeat with remaining buuz.
Serve with ketchup, soy sauce, or the jiao zi dipping sauce. Enjoy!