#43 Date selected: 22/10/16 Date completed: 9/1/17
Country selected: Turkmenistan
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu/recipe address:
- Yogurt Soup with Rice (Akýüwrük)
I had never heard of Turkmenistan prior to this challenge. The country was formally known as Turkmenia (which sounds like some kind of mental mind trick a batman villain might come up with, or perhaps some kind of boy band fan following). I had never heard of that either. In historical times apparently one of the great cities of the Islamic world was situated here. The city was called Merv, an important stop on the Silk Road, and incidentally the name of an Australian cricketer with an amazing handlebar moustache.
As it turns out, Turkmenistan is in Central Asia, wedged between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran, with a western coastline along the Caspian Sea.
Unfortunately the reason I have never heard of it seems to be because Turkmenistan is also one of the world’s most repressive countries according to Humans Rights Watch. Apparently the country is virtually closed to independent scrutiny with severe restrictions on foreign travel for its citizens. The country’s ethnic minorities are subject to discrimination with universities encouraged to reject applicants with non-Turkmen surnames (especially ethnic Russians). Media and religious freedoms are highly restricted and it is considered to be one of the 10 most censored countries in the world. The Turkmen government banned all satellite dishes in the country in 2015 in an attempt to block access to independent international media outlets. Human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal and many who have been arrested are believed to have been tortured and sentenced to imprisonment (many of them without a court decision).
The cuisine is generally representative of Central Asia and, as such, I decided to try out a very traditional dish and another that simply interested me.
First recipe was Akýüwrük which I will not even try to pronounce. It apparently translates to Yogurt Soup with Rice however and I was very interested to see what this dish would taste like. I thought that this could potentially be a nice refreshing dish for our Aussie summers.
It’s fairly simple to make. Boil some rice in salt water. Cool and slowly add yogurt, stirring consistently to stop it from curdling. You then add garlic, parsley and dill, sprinkling with red pepper flakes and dried mint.
The issue I had with this dish was the amount of salt in it. A full tablespoon of salt was called for and boy could you taste it! I’m unsure if it was simply a typo in the recipe or if it’s meant to be like this but I found the salt overpowered everything in the dish.
Were it not for the salt however, I think I would have really liked this soup. It’s thicker than I imagined it to be but could be quite delicate were it not for the saltiness. I think I will attempt this one again, but cut the salt content down dramatically (possibly completely) and see what the final result is then.
The second dish I decided to make however was delicious! It’s a traditional celebration dish called Dograma made up of boiled meat, onions and freshly baked bread that has been torn into small pieces. I wasn’t sure how much flavour you’d get out of a dish with so little in the way of herbs or spices, but I was happily completely wrong.
Mutton or beef is boiled with salt (a lot once again, but this time it didn’t overpower everything else!) and a little tomato until it’s falling off the bones. The idea is to get quite a fatty piece and skim off the scum when it boils. The fat and the bones heightens the flavour you get at the end and stops the meat from becoming too dry. I used lamb rather than mutton as it was the closest I could find that wasn’t too lean.
Whilst the meat is cooking you make two simple yeast-based breads, roll it out thinly and prick it densely with a fork so that it almost has a honeycomb look to it. Once golden brown, you tear all but ¼ of one of the breads into small pieces over a large kitchen cloth. Apparently this is a communal task with many members of the family taking part.
You finely chop the meat on top of the remaining bit of bread, using it like a chopping board. You then mix the meat, bread bits and onion slices all a jumble with your hands, drizzling a few tablespoons of the fatty broth over the lot. It’s best to leave it wrapped in the cloth for 20-30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the flavour of the meat and onion.
When you go to eat it, you add black pepper and can either eat it dry or ladle enough of the broth to barely cover the dograma mixture.
It’s heaven. The strong flavours of the onion and fat, together with the tenderness of the meat meld so brilliantly together to make a well rounded meal. I was surprised that I could just eat this meal after meal for several days and not get sick of it – cold or hot, it didn’t seem to matter. A perfect example of using basic ingredients to compliment and bring out the best of each.
I will definitely be making this again! But yes, you guessed it, first it’s onto the next challenge…..