Mongolian hodge-podge: Mongolian buuz

Regular readers of this blog will know that our kitchen has been under construction for some time now. What started off as some simple structural repairs followed by repainting the walls turned into the realisation that the cowboys who originally built this house had evidently decided that holes in the walls and ceiling should be hidden rather than fixed. We were of a different opinion, which meant that there was suddenly a lot more work to be done – a couple of months’ worth, in fact.

We could still use the kitchen during this time, fortunately, although it was a pain, because all the dust sheets etc had to be packed up each day in order for us to be able to cook dinner. Of course, this also meant that the work had to be completed more slowly. More annoying, though, was the fact that everything from the kitchen had to be moved into the dining room, which left us without a table – or a floor, for that matter – because it was turned into a storage space, so all of our had to be eaten off our laps. Oh yeah – and everything in the house was covered in a layer (lots of layers, actually) of building dust.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel! A couple of weekends ago, the following exciting things happened:
– We finished the work in the kitchen.
– We spent two days cleaning and dusting in order to get our house back.
– We ate a meal at the kitchen table.
– We made Mongolian dumplings, or buuz

Mongolian food is very basic, and rarely contains fruits or vegetables. A combination of climate and lifestyle means that traditional dishes are essentially based around dairy products, meat and animal fats. Many people are aware of ‘Mongolian beef’, which is available at Chinese restaurants, but it seems that this is entirely a Western invention and bears no resemblance to the diet of the nomadic herders in Mongolia. Instead, the Mongolian national dish is buuz: small steamed dumplings. Now, dumplings have never been our strong point, but in the absence of anything else appropriate, we were forced to give them a go! The recipe is from Mongol Food and is probably worth having a look at if you want to make these: it’ll show you what they’re actually supposed to look like.


250g flour
150ml water
300g minced lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3-5 tbsp water
Salt, pepper and caraway seeds

(A note on the seasoning: the original recipe didn’t give quantities for the salt, pepper and caraway seeds, so we had to guess a bit, and couldn’t say exactly how much we used. It would have been a standard amount of salt and pepper, and probably 2-3 tsp of caraway seeds. We fried a small amount of the seasoned meat in order to taste it before wrapping it in the dough, which we would recommend doing if you’re unsure. You want to be able to taste the caraway without it completely overpowering everything else.)

1. Mix the flour and water to create a pliable dough and let it rest for 15 minutes.
2. Mix together the lamb, onion and garlic, and add water until the mass is smooth to work with, then mix in the salt, pepper and caraway seeds.
3. Cut the dough into 2cm thick slices, and roll the slices into cylindrical shapes. Cut each roll into 3cm pieces and flatten slightly.
4. Roll out (if you want to be neat and precise) or press with the palm of your hand (like we did) the dough into circles of about 7cm diameter, making the centre slightly thicker than the edges. Place about 1 tsp of the meat mixture into the centre.
5. Fold the dough up as you with: you can make round buuz (sort of moneybag-shaped), folded buuz (shaped kind of like a four-pointed, flat-bottomed hat) or semicircular buuz (like a Cornish pasty). Or you can do what we did and fold them any which way, some of which will not resemble any of the three options mentioned above.
6. To cook, lightly oil a steamer basket and gently place the buuz on it so that they’re not touching. Steam, covered, for about 15 minutes. While waiting, make the leftover meat that didn’t fit in the dumplings into meatballs and enjoy with a G&T or beer.
7. When cooked, fan the dumplings gently (e.g. with a chopping board or the lid of the pan) to create a shiny, glossy look.
8. Enjoy with dipping sauce (recipe below from All That Cooking) if desired, although ketchup would also work and may be more traditional.
Serves 2

Dipping sauce

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp finely chopped spring onions
2 tsp finely chopped ginger

Mix everything together.

650a Buuz meat mixture compressed

651a Testing meat compressed
Testing the seasoning

653a Dough compressed

655a Two person job compressed

656a Uncooked buuz compressed
Why this blog post is called ‘hodge podge’…

658a Buuz ready to steam compressed

659a Meatball snack and drinks compressed
Chefs’ snack!

660a Steamed buuz compressed

661a Buuz dinner compressed

Our biggest fears with this recipe were that it would be too hard and that the buuz would be bland. We are happy to report that we were wrong on both counts! Folding the dumplings was fiddly (and therefore made easier by making it a two person job), and ours certainly wouldn’t win any prizes for presentation, but it wasn’t difficult. And blandness wasn’t a factor at all. There was a lot of pressure on the caraway seeds to add enough flavour, but they rose to the challenge and did just that, without being overpowering. We lashed together a mini vege stir fry to eat on the side to add some variety, but we didn’t need it (aside from the fact that the meal contained no vegetables otherwise), as the buuz on their own were sufficient. We weren’t huge fans of the dipping sauce, though – we found it too vinegary, and the hoisin also messed with the balance a bit. If we made them again, we’d probably just use ketchup.

And that begs the usual question: would we make them again? We weren’t sure with this one. We enjoyed them, but ‘Would we want to eat them again?’ is a very different question from ‘Would we want to fiddle around with all that rolling and folding again?’ On balance, the answer is probably that we’re unlikely to ever make them again, but also wouldn’t say no to it if there was good reason to.

Our next steps around the world take us to ‘The Stans’, beginning with Kazakhstan. This is a region of the world that we know very little about, so we’re looking forward to seeing what we find!

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