Mongolia is a landlocked country in east-central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. Ulaanbaatar, the capital and also the largest city, is home to about 45% of the population. Approximately 30% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic.
At 1,564,116 square kilometres (603,909 sq mi), Mongolia is the 19th largest and one of the most sparsely populated independent countries in the world, with a population of only 3 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by grassy steppe, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south.
The area of what is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic empires, including the Xiongnu, the Xianbei, the Rouran, the Turkic Khaganate, and others. In 1206, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, and his grandson Kublai Khan conquered China to establish the Yuan dynasty.
In the 16th century, Tibetan Buddhism began to spread in Mongolia and it was accelerated by the unwavering support of the Qing government after Mongolia was absorbed by the Manchu Qing dynasty. In the 1900s almost half of the adult male population were Buddhist monks.
By the mid-18th century, all of Mongolia had been incorporated into the area ruled by the Qing dynasty. During the collapse of the Qing dynasty Mongols established the Temporary Government of Khalkha on 30 November 1911, before the abdication of the last Qing emperor and the establishment of the Republic of China.
Shortly thereafter, the country came under Soviet control, resulting in the proclamation of the Mongolian People’s Republic as a Soviet satellite state in 1924. After the anti-Communist revolutions of 1989, Mongolia saw its own peaceful democratic revolution in early 1990; it led to a multi-party system, a new constitution of 1992, and transition to a market economy.
Khuushuur is Mongolia’s version of a handheld meat pastry. It’s a circle of wheat flour dough folded in half around a filling of minced or ground mutton, sometimes beef, and pan- or deep-fried. The meat is seasoned with onion and salt; some cooks add garlic and pepper as well. It’s possible to get versions with a mix of potatoes, carrots and/or cabbage as well, but these are far less popular. (Vegetarians beware: the veg versions can taste strongly of mutton from the cooking oil.)
Mongolians traditionally were nomads, not farmers, and did not grow wheat. Khuushuur and its dumpling siblings, buuz and bansh, are localized versions of Chinese dumplings.
European and Mediterranean influences can be seen in the use of coriander, cilantro, paprika, caraway and typically European spices such as fennel and marjoram. Persian and Arab influences can be seen in the pomegranates, almonds, saffron and sumac. Central Asia lends Mongolia its delicious onions and Africa gives its sesame seeds to be pressed into oil or enjoyed as a sauce for wheat or buckwheat noodles and vegetables.
Influences from the northern and western Indian subcontinental include the use of turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and asafetida. Chinese influences can be found in the use of ginger, star anise, Sichuan pepper, soy sauce, and in the adaptations of such standards as rich, savory and sweet, hoisin sauce, five spice powder and great splashes of rice vinegar used by cooks and diners to add flavor to prepare dishes.
The Mongolians share the love of meal-soups with many cultures in northern Asia. They also share yogurt and fermented yogurt drinks and cheeses and the love of salty milk-tea and meat dumpling meals with the Central Asians and Tibetans.
At its most basic, khuushuur comes on a plate with paper napkins or tissues to pick it up. In a restaurant it comes four to an order with a lettuce leaf and gherkins on the side, carrot salad if the place is a bit more posh.
Some people eat khuushuur with ketchup or Maggi sauce, less often with mayonnaise.
Citizens, this is a recipe worth trying – feel the bracing wind of the Mongolian steppes as you enjoy this hearty meal! My version of the recipe includes traditional Mongolian spicing and has more flavor impact then the usual khuushuur you’d find on the street in Ulaanbaatar! 🙂
Note that I’ve used metric measurements in this recipe as it includes making dough (precision is everything in baking).
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