Great Turkmen bake off: Turkmen ichlekli

It’s a very exciting time in the UK at the moment and fans of watching nail-biting competition are all fired up. No, we’re not talking about Team GB’s phenomenal success at the Rio Olympics – it’s the return of the Great British Bake Off!

It therefore seems appropriate (yet entirely coincidental, admittedly) that the dish we chose from Turkmenistan was a pie. The native ichlekli, or ‘shepherd’s pie’, is a simple dish that doesn’t resemble the English shepherd’s pie, yet is no less enjoyable. It was traditionally baked by Turkmen shepherds by burying it in hot sand and embers. We assume that it was a source of protein and carbs for the nomads of Turkmenistan’s desert landscape. Our recipe came from Turkmen Kitchen.

Ichlekli

Ingredients
For the filling:
500g beef mince (the original recipe actually sad to cut up one piece of beef into tiny pieces, which would change the texture somewhat, but mince worked fine)
1 tomato, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 capsicum, diced
1 tsp salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
8 tbsp water (in typing this up we’ve realised we didn’t add this! It still worked though)

For the dough:
50g butter, melted
1 tsp salt
300ml lukewarm water
500g plain flour

Method
1. Mix all the dough ingredients together and work to a soft dough. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a ball. Cover the dough balls with a tea towel and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
2. In another bowl, mix all the filling ingredients well.
3. When the dough is ready, take one of the balls, sprinkle some flour on it and roll it out to a circle of approximately 30cm diameter on a floured surface. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. (Like us, you may need to adjust the shape of your pie if you don’t have a baking sheet that will hold a 30cm circle!)
4. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1cm border.
5. Roll out the remaining ball of dough to the same size as the first and place it over the filling. Fold the edge over itself and press down firmly to seal.
6. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pie to allow steam to escape, and prick the rest of the surface with a fork. Brush the top of the pie with water.
7. Bake at 250C on the middle rack of the oven until the top is golden – about 25 minutes.
Serves 4

704a Ichlekli filling compressed

705a Ichlekli dough compressed

706a Half made ichlekli compressed

708a Hole cut in centre compressed

709a Pricked with fork compressed

710a Baked ichlekli compressed

711a Cut ichlekli compressed

712a Ichlekli dinner compressed

We served our ichlekli with some basic boiled vegetables the night we made it, and had salad with the leftovers the following night. In the ‘heat wave’ we’re currently having, salad seemed to work better, but this could easily become a comforting wintry dish with hot vegetables instead. Our cultural differences also became apparent when Miranda, born and raised in Australia, added some tomato sauce to hers, whereas English Ash went straight for the HP.

And the verdict? Well, it stuck to the greaseproof paper a bit, and the bottom was a bit soggy – so it wouldn’t score top marks from Paul and Mary. But we liked it, especially Ash, who is the bigger pie lover of the two of us. The simplicity of the pastry is a major point in its favour, and, in fact, the whole meal was easy – less than an hour from start to finish. The other bonus point for us is that it is made entirely of ingredients that we typically have in stock, which means it could easily be a mid-week meal.

Thus concludes our tour of the ‘stans… and now we move on to a ‘jan! Azerbaijan, to be precise. Stay tuned!

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