International Cooking: Food from Kazakhstan

This was a difficult week because no one from Kazakhstan responded to my Reddit post and I was struggling to find enough food from Kazakhstan to make. Many dishes that are popular there are better suited for other upcoming countries, and some I just couldn’t make, so I was left with a short list.

Kazakhstan is situated mostly in Central Asia, partly in Europe, with Russia to the north and west and China to the east. It’s the largest landlocked country in the world.

The region was inhabited in ancient times by the nomadic Scythian people, and by Turkic nomads from as early as the 6th century. The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan subjugated the territory in the 13th century. At the time, this section of the Mongol Empire was known as the Golden Horde.

When the Golden Horde fell apart in the 15th century, the Kazakh Khanate was established (‘khanate’ being a term for a chiefdom or feudal monarchy). However, by the 18th century, this khanate was divided and absorbed into the Russian Empire. By the mid-19th century, Russia ruled the whole region.

The territory was reorganized several times after the Russian Revolution in 1917, until it was established in 1936 as the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Kazakhstan declared independence during the dissolution of the Soviet Union from 1988 to 1991; it was the last Soviet republic to do so.

The Kazakh government is said to be authoritarian and the country has a poor human rights record. However, Kazakhstan dominates Central Asia both economically and politically, and has the highest Human Development Index in the region.

What Do People Eat in Kazakhstan?

Traditional Kazakh cuisine is based on horse meat and mutton, as well as a variety of milk products. This is due to the inhabitants’ history of raising sheep, camels, and horses, which they relied on for transportation and clothing as well as food. Many cooking techniques focus on preserving food for long periods of time, such as salting and drying meat. Sour milk is also preferred.

There are four main types of meat popular in Kazakhstan today: horse and camel meat are usually present at celebrations, while mutton/lamb and beef are more common for everyday meals.

Common milk products include fermented camel’s milk or fermented mare’s milk, sour cream made from boiled milk, and butter made from old milk.

These days, vegetables, fish, seafood, baked dishes, and sweets have begun to grow more common in Kazakhstan, though meat and dairy are still important. When flour was introduced, various kinds of bread, noodles, and dumplings emerged.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Kazakh dishes I didn’t make!

Plov (Rice with Beef, Onion, and Carrot)

Plov (Rice with Beef, Onion, and Carrot)

Plov is popular in a lot of countries; in fact, I’ve already made it during this challenge, for Azerbaijan. Of course, every country makes it a little differently. This Kazakh version is made mostly from rice, beef, carrot, and onion. Lamb would also be common.

First, I browned the beef in some oil. Then I reduced the heat, covered the pot, and let it slowly cook for another hour or so, until mostly tender.

Next, I added the onion, and after a few minutes more I added cumin seeds, garlic, pepper, salt, and a bay leaf. A minute later, I added the rice and water and began bringing the water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, I sautéd some carrots in oil until slightly softened. Once the main pot was boiling, I added the carrots on top of the rice and let the mixture cook until the rice was cooked through. This took only around 15-20 minutes on medium-low heat, but the recipe gave a much higher cook time.

I served my plov with a little parsley on top. Although rice dishes like this aren’t my favorite, this one was pretty good.

The recipe I used is from Emkay’s Kitchen.

Manti (Lamb and Pumpkin Dumplings)

Manti (Lamb and Pumpkin Dumplings)

Manti is another dish that is popular in many countries throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia, and I’ve previously come very close to making it during this challenge. I decided to make this for Kazakhstan mostly because I wasn’t sure what else to make; it’s thought that the dish may have actually originated in Turkey. Manti consists of steamed dumplings which can be filled with a range of things, but meat is typically featured. My manti were stuffed with a mixture of lamb, onion, and pumpkin.

First, I made the dough out of flour, oil, salt, egg, and water. After kneading, I let it rest for an hour while I moved on to the filling.

I chopped up some butternut squash and onion in my food processor so that I had small pieces but not mush. Then I mixed this with ground lamb, salt, pepper, oil, and water to make the filling.

I rolled out my rested dough and cut circles out of it to make the dumpling wrappers. I tried two different methods of shaping the manti; the picture you see is the way that ended up looking the best! There are actually quite a few ways to shape manti.

Once my manti were shaped, I steamed them in my bamboo steamer for around 30 minutes. I served them with sour cream, which was one of the suggestions from the recipe. I thought it was a great combination and the dumplings themselves were really good.

The recipe I used for this is from Peter’s Food Adventures.

Beshbarmak (Lamb with Onions and Noodles)

Beshbarmak (Lamb with Onions and Noodles)

This is a traditional meal from Kazakhstan and nearby Kyrgyzstan, and both countries consider it their national dish. It is traditionally made with horse meat, but I have used lamb as that’s a bit easier to obtain! The meat is served with onions and broth on top of large, flat noodles.

I started cooking the lamb first; I simmered it over medium-low heat in some water until it was tender. I added half an onion as well as a bay leaf; the latter was not in the recipe but I wanted to make sure the stock had enough flavor.

Some recipes I found suggested using lasagna sheets for the noodles, but I made them instead. It wasn’t too difficult; they are made from eggs, water, salt, and flour. Once the dough was kneaded, I let it sit for about 30 minutes before rolling it out. Then I rolled it as thinly as I could and cut it into squares. I made mine smaller than called for in the recipe since I thought they might be too difficult to manage otherwise!

Once the meat was cooked, I took the broth and cooked some sliced onion in it. After the onion was cooked, I added my noodles.

To assemble, I first placed a layer of noodles on the plate, followed by the beef, the onion, and a ladle or two of the broth. Then I garnished with parsley.

For such a simple dish, this tasted really good! I loved the flavor of the broth, but then I’ve always loved how flavorful lamb broth can be.

The recipe I used is from Kazakhstan Discovery.

  • Qazy – a sausage made from horse meat, often present at celebratory meals.
  • Nauryz kozhe – a drink made from milk, horse meat, salt, kashk (dried yogurt), and grains. It is usually consumed at the beginning of the new year to bring good luck.
  • Ak-nan – a flatbread baked with onions (I wanted to make this but couldn’t find enough information)

Final Thoughts

This was a great week despite not including as much food from Kazakhstan as I would have liked. The beshbarmak was probably my favorite.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Kenya.

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