Asia is arguably the continent with the largest diversity in cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities. Every time we travel with 196 flavors, I feel like the possibilities are endless with the 47 countries that make up the continent of the rising sun.
Middle eastern recipes like Vera’s Iraqi kubbahs offer flavors that Vera and I are most familiar with given our origins. South East Asia also has its specific cuisine with dishes like Cambodian amok trei. East Asia is marked by the strong influence of Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines that Westerners like us are generally quite familiar with. One of the first recipes I shared on our blog was in fact Korean bibimbap that I had just discovered at the time. The cuisine of South Asia features Indian cuisine flairs with dishes such as nelum ala (lotus curry) from Sri Lanka. There is a region of Asia whose cuisine is probably the least known in the West. This region is a region that until a few centuries ago was the trade hub between Europe and Asia, a region on the Silk Road which my buddy Fred just came back from with beautiful pictures of his stay. This region is Central Asia.
Central Asian cuisine is rather unique given its location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe and this is reflected in its cuisine, with influences from the Persians and Turks. This cuisine uses not only meat as in Vera’s djarkope from Kyrgyzstan but also cheese as in the recipe I propose today.
Tajikistan is a very poor country. Although its economic situation has improved slightly in recent years, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world. One of the two national dishes is osh plov akin to pilaf rice and is also the national dish of the neighboring country Uzbekistan. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan actually share many recipes.
“Steppe by steppe… Oh baby… Gonna get to you girl ” – New Kids on the Block (Tajik Extended Remix)
The recipe I chose to feature Tajikistan today is the other national dish. This dish is a communal meal. Indeed, it is usually served in a large wooden dish where everyone picks with food with their hands… Well, it’s not that I would not share a meal with my kids but we did not really try this at home… ok, let’s just say that I did try for the photo and before the kids touched the dish!
This recipe is actually carried out in two steps. First, the cheese. The traditional recipe for qurutob (qurutov or kurutob) is executed with cheese balls that are called qurut. Qurut is a ubiquitous snack that is eaten throughout Central Asia. It is made from fermented milk or yogurt that is heated for several hours and then dried. Qurut is very salty. You can probably imagine that making my own qurut cheese came to my mind. I had already made cheese for my sernik, Polish cheesecake. However, I tried to find a shortcut in the manufacturing process this time and I found one that used… Greek yogurt. Since qurut is only used in qurutob as an ingredient (diluted in water), I am convinced the result is very close to the traditional recipe.
The part of the recipe that gave the most trouble was not the cheese but the bread used in this salad. Yes, a salad with bread ! Nothing strange for connoisseurs, right? What about Tuscan panzanella or fattoush salad prevalent in Levantine cuisine?
The bread used for this recipe is called fatir (or patyr, patir). It is supposed to be a flaky flatbread and I would say it is akin to paratha in Indian cuisine.
Fred is offering us this wonderful picture of traditional Uzbek and Tajik fatir flatbread. This photo was taken last month in Kashgar, the westernmost Chinese city, at the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The rest of the recipe is very easy. Cut vegetables and fry onions.
I am writing this post as we just finished our Sunday brunch and this recipe was a hit with the whole family. What’s better than a rooftop Tajik brunch to enjoy this beautiful sunny Sunday?
- 4 cups flour
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ cup butter , softened
- 22 oz Greek yogurt
- ½ cup water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 tomatoes , diced
- 2 onions , chopped
- 2 spring onions , thinly sliced
- ½ bunch cilantro , chopped
- Vegetable oil
- Mix flour, water and salt. Stir with your fingers. Do not knead the dough more than necessary.
- Form a ball. Flatten the ball and cover with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for at least an hour (more if possible).
Preheat oven to 350F/160C.
- When out of the refrigerator, roll out the dough into a rectangle on a generously floured work plan.
- Brush the dough with butter. Sprinkle with flour.
- Make five regular rectangular strips.
- Roll the first strip to form a "snail". Squeeze while rolling.
- Once the first strip is rolled, put it on the second strip and roll the first in the second.
- Repeat step with the other strips of dough to obtain a large "snail" shape.
- Then, place the dough horizontally on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Flatten the dough into a ¾ inch (2cm) thick circle.
- Traditionally, marks are made on the dough with an instrument called a chakich. You can also use a meat tenderizer. It is also possible to make marks with a fork.
- Bake until fatir is golden. This can take up to 40 minutes.
- Heat the Greek yogurt and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add salt.
- Stir regularly for 30 minutes.
The result should yield about ⅔ of the initial weight of yogurt, e.g. 14 oz (400g) here.
- Sauté onion in a skillet in hot oil until translucent, about 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place small pieces of fatir bread in a large bowl (traditionally a large wooden dish).
- Top with yogurt.
- Pour the onion with the hot oil.
- Top with spring onions, tomatoes and cilantro.
- Serve immediately.