I first discovered Khuushuur in a typical Ulanbataar restaurant. I sat and devoured while the snow fell outside and the rest of the world felt like it was tucked off a million miles away. Enough research had warned me of the local cuisine and prepared me to lower my expectations significantly.
You see, Mongolia is not a country famed for its enticing cuisine. All the inhabited corners of the country are remote and with a climate that swings wildly between inhospitably cold and scorching hot. It makes sense that it’s difficult to grow fresh produce and that most of the diet is focused around the meat of hardy animals.
Before arriving, I’d spent a long while sitting on a very long train journey thinking about what the food might be upon my arrival. I’d expected something more akin to neighbouring China. Yet Ulaanbaatar appears to take much more influence from nearby Russia, not only in the look and feel, but also the food. Borscht and sour cream complement the mostly stodgy, fried, meaty diet of dumplings and beef noodles.
All kinds of Dumplings feature predominantly in Mongolian cuisine (thanks to China and Russia right on the doorstep) and everywhere I ate offered some variation on a dumpling.
Yet, if you cast your mind away from the more unique of offal and fermented horse milk, Mongolia offers some superb comfort food suitable for even the picky eaters. Being such a frigidly cold country for a large part of the year, means that the food is generally high fat and meat content, often fried or preserved.
Take, for example, khuushuur. Meaty, lightly spiced filling, wrapped in a golden fried pastry. A fried version of the more famous steamed Buuz dumpling. Sometimes with some potato inside, sometimes with a dollop of sour cream on the side. Each maker has their own special way of pleating and folding them, like a signature. A universally tasty, crispy, and comforting. Perfect for cold winter days. Of all the Mongolian foods I tried, this simple fried dumpling (which reminded me more of a crispy pie) was one of my favourites.
Making Khuushuur at home
When I was a child, my mother used to make us pies that although not fried in the same way, reminded me so much of khuushuur that I instantly wanted to make these for myself and have them again and again. As it turns out, it’s not at all difficult to make at home, and I have a recipe you can try yourself.
- 500 grams beef mutton, or potatoes (or a combination) (either minced or finely diced for the meat. Finely diced or mashed for the potato.)
- 1/2 onion finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon either dried marjoram or cumin the choice is yours!
- 2.5 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water enough to mix the dough
- vegetable oil enough to fill a frying pan to around 2cm
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 wedge cabbage Shredded
- 1 beetroot Shredded
Making the pastry
- Mix together the flour, salt, and enough of the water to create a kneadable dough.
- Knead dough until it’s elastic and smooth, then set it aside to rest for 15 mins
Preparing the filling
- In a large bowl, mix together the meat (and/or potato) along with the onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs/spices. If the mix is too dry, add a little water.
Putting it all together
- Once the dough is rested, split the dough into four pieces, then cut each piece in half again. Roll each piece of dough into circles, leaving the edges a little thinner than the middle.
- Working quickly to prevent the dough from drying out and becoming difficult to work with, hold the pastry circle in the palm of your hand and spoon a dollop of the filling into one side of the circle, leaving plenty of room around the edges to seal everything together.
- Fold the circle in half in your hand, using fingers and palm, so that the edges come together creating a half moon shape. Squeeze out the air and flatten the filling as you work around, pinching the edges closed and tucking them under as you go.
- Repeat the process for each khuushuur
- Add around 2cm oil in a frying pan and heat until hot.
- Fry two to three of the pastries at a time, cooking until they are a golden brown. This usually takes around 2 minutes per side.
- Mix together shredded cabbage and beetroot, along with a small dollop of sour cream to create a salad.
- Serve the pastries alongside the cabbage and beetroot salad, along with the remainder of the sour cream on the side.