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Imperial Mongolian Cooking

by: Marc Cramer

New York NY: Hippocrene Books 2001, $24.95, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-7818-0827-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(2) page(s): 23 and 24

Subtitled: Recipes from the Kingdoms of Ghengis Khan, this book surmises actual recipes used in the late 12th and 13th centuries. It offers more than a hundred of them, selecting foods from the twenty-four countries that encompassed the four khanates or kingdoms of the ancient Mongol Empire.

The fly-leaf advises that there are recipes from: Mongolia, Chinese-controlled Inner Mongolia, China, Bhutan, Tibet, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Burma, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey. Clearly the Mongol Empire spread far and wide and this first-ever set of recipes explore a culinary heritage not well known.

Written by a second generation Londoner of Russo-Mongolian heritage, this book is dedicated to His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. The book’s short introduction educates about the four khanates: the Great Khan: Chaghadai, Ilkhanate, and The Golden Horde. What follows is an introductory chapter about the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire and another about after the empire's fall. This is a demise Cramer considers due to a Nepalese prince turned monk called Siddartha Guatama, or Buddha, the Enlightened One. After the above eight pages, there are two with sample menus and then the recipes that educate about the polyglot heritage of Mongolian Imperial cuisine.

One can easily make any of the recipes as all of their ingredients are available in major supermarkets. A look at the recipe index shows many of them one many not associate with the Mongols, but slmost all do sound familiar. There are Sesame Rolls, Flat Onion Bread, Grilled Trout, Grilled Marinated Lamb, Russian Eggplant Caviar, and Spicy Potato Curry. Read them thoroughly, there are nuances special to this cuisine.

Then try them including the one from Samarkand called Melon Stuffed with Spicy Beef. It is made in a large cantaloupe and infused with cinnamon, filled with ground meat, walnuts, currents, and onions. Just reading it and it tastes heady. The Tibetan Fried Bread called kapse is easy to make and uses whole wheat and all-purpose flour, baking powder, non-fat dry milk, and some sugar. It is wonderful! The Uzbek Walnut Fritters have fillings of walnuts and butter; they fan hearts with delicious dreams.

Should anyone wonder how to make kvass, this book has the answer as modern Mongolians picked up the habit drinking this low-alcohol beverage from decades of Soviet control. The inclusion of the Russian Black Bread Beer recipe does not need a cork to try it even though its results are heady. All the recipes have few insightful sentences that provide background; all are easy to follow. This book's collection of recipes opens a window on a diverse and unknown culinary tradition worth exploring. Use it and the Soup of the Qan, reviewed in this issue, and open hearts to Mongolian-style food.
Melon Stuffed with Spicy Beef
1 teaspoon corn oil
1 large ripe firm cantaloupe, not overripe
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dried currants
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
dash of white pepper
1 cup beef stock
1. Brush oil on all sides and the bottom of a pie tin or small round casserole.
2. Cut the top off the melon about one inch down and reserve it. Scoop out the seeds and part of the pulp, about one cups worth, chop and set this aside.
3. Melt the butter is a frypan and stir in beef and onions and saute until brown, then add rice, walnuts, currants, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and beef broth. Cover and simmer for twenty minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5. Put rice mixture and the chopped melon into the whole melon and cover with the melon’s top holding it in place with three or four toothpicks. Then bake it for an hour and serve, preferably with nan or another flat bread cut in quarters, then each of these in cut again at the table when ready to serve.

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