Blue skies, horses, Genghis Khan: Mongolia is known for a lot of things, but food generally isn't high on the list. Meat and dairy dominate to such an extreme that Lonely Planet optimistically suggests vegetarians might still have a good time in Mongolia on the condition that they're willing to cook for themselves. Vegans are flat-out advised to reconsider their travel plans. That's still a significant step up from the first edition of Lonely Planet's Mongolia guide, which I'm told began with the sentence, "Do not go to Mongolia."
That book was written in '91, however, and the advice no longer holds. I had a wonderful time. I'm not a vegetarian and certainly not vegan, so everything was pretty idyllic to my tastes (including the time the host family slaughtered a goat immediately outside my door. It turned out to be a gift for the shaman staying two ger down).
Most things you'll read on Mongolian cuisine describe it as "practical." That's true, but it's not necessarily a bad thing, as simple food can have a lot of flavor, and it makes for an easier blog post when a person is only including meat, salt, and fire. I found that people in general were eager to talk about their food and tell me about the different ways of eating meat, dairy, and certain incarnations of flour. Near the end of the trip, we stopped in at a ger near the side of the road and our guide, Minde, asked the proprietress, a woman named Bolor, to make us some khuushuur, meat-filled fried pancakes. (You can also get them stuffed with other things. Cabbage is delicious.)
She started by mixing up a dough of about 250g of flour and 150g of water and kneading it until it formed a large, tacky lump.
Then she put the lump in a large bowl and covered it with a damp cheesecloth while she took care of the filling.
I saw a lot of this particular cut of mutton during the Mongolia trip. She stripped the meat from the bones with a knife and diced it.
She took the resulting 350g of minced meat and put it in a bowl. She then added three teaspoons each of salt and pepper.
She chopped one small yellow onion and smashed two cloves of garlic and added them to the meat. With her hands, she kneaded the meat, onions and garlic until it was well mixed, then she sat the filling aside.
Back to the dough! She kneaded the dough with flour until it was smooth and uniform.
She rolled out half the dough into a long tube about two inches in diameter.
Then she cut them into little chunks, about 1.5" tall. She pushed a little divot into the top of each and set them aside.
Each of the dough chunks was rolled out into a wide, very thin round pancake.
She'd roll out four or five pancakes, then fill them with meat, fold them over and pinch the edge closed.
While she filled the Khuushuur, her husband would take them in batches of four or five and slip them into a pot of very hot cooking oil.
For good luck, eat the khuushuur by holding onto the two ends. One end at a time is bad luck. It's served with suutei tsai, Mongolian salted milk tea. (There's no actual tea in this one, it's just hot milk, water, salt and some butter. The best version I had in Mongolia was at a tourist camp on the second day where it was made with fresh yak milk).
The recipe is the same for many Mongolian dishes. If you stuff the pancake into a round dumpling shape instead of a half-circle, then it is a buuz if steamed, like so:
Buuz is pronounced like "booze," which resulted in one or two mildly disappointing lunches. "Hey Liz, want some lunch?" "Yes." "Want to get some buuz?" "Hell yes!"
Then I realize my friends wanted dumplings, not beer.
It's called a bansh if boiled.