Tajikistan claims mainly two national dishes: plov (aka osh), and qurutob. While plov is more famous and is also the national dish of neighboring Uzbekistan, qurutob, a mix of bread and onions in a yogurt sauce (with the occasional extra meat and vegetables), is specifically Tajik.
Tajik culinary literature is pretty scarce. Pan-Soviet cookbooks typically included a short section about Tajikistan, a handful of booklets must have been published with very small circulations in Dushanbe in the early 1990’s, and a few bloggers have posted recipes here and there. But overall, with Tajikistan being one of the poorest countries in the world — and with its independence immediately followed by many years of civil war — circumstances haven’t encouraged such recreational endeavors as cookbooks.
Qurutob recipes seem even rarer. The dish obviously exists — I ate it in Dushanbe. The only version I could find comes from someone who obviously fantasized about Tajik food for a short while before trying it in its natural environment, and subsequently quitting blogging altogether (Tajik reality can be tough like that). Her post was later adapted by another blog that aims to cook a dish from every existing country. The latter post has a lot more background information about Qurutob than the former, but I think the explanation in any case is that this is meant to be a trivial, quotidian dish. Like an omelette. That is, you buy your fatir bread and qurut cheese at the market, sauté some onions, put everything together, maybe with some fresh tomatoes and scallions, or maybe with some other vegetables, and you’re done. It just happens to be harder to make for us Westerners because, well, the Walmarts, Tescos, and Carrefours of the world haven’t started selling fatir and qurut for some strange reason.
But fear not! It’s not all that hard to make the whole entire thing from scratch. It’s just a little bit more involved — and the result may taste even better than in Tajikistan. Fatir (which is actually different from Uzbek patir) is a flatbread made of a very rustic puff-pastry-like dough. Don’t be surprised if it turns out stodgy and a bit dry: that’s what it’s supposed to be like! It will taste much better when it soaks up the yogurt sauce. The latter is prepared with the qurut. Accept no substitute; these are small balls of dried salted yogurt. By baking yogurt in the oven, you can make a quick version that’s pretty close to the real deal, even if your balls aren’t quite smooth and pretty enough to make a living selling them at the Dushanbe market. (I hope you choose higher goals in your life, anyway :-)) Finally, the roasted lamb is optional: I’ve seen restaurants serving both vegetarian and meat versions.
Yields 1 flatbread
7 oz flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
2.4 oz water
1 small egg (1.5 oz)
1.2 oz butter, room temperature
1.2 oz rendered lamb fat (or just more butter), room temperature
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
- Place the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment. While mixing on medium speed, add the water, then the egg, and keep beating for 1 minute. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 30 minutes.
- Place a baking dish full of water in an oven set to 450 F.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough to a 6″x12″ rectangle. Cut it lengthwise into two long strips.
- Mix the butter and lamb fat in a bowl, and spread on the dough. Roll the first strip into a cylinder, then place it on the second strip and roll the whole into a thicker cylinder. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Place the unwrapped cylinder of dough vertically on a floured surface. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough progressively to a 1/2″-thick, 7″-diameter disc. While doing this, sprinkle the top generously with flour, and flip the dough frequently — otherwise your dough will be stuck to the counter in a puddle of grease!
- Prick the flatbread with a fork to create a decorative pattern, then sprinkle the sesame seeds on top, and gently press with the palm of your hand to encrust the seeds in the dough.
- Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack, and reserve.
Yields 4 qurut balls of about 1 oz each
18 oz plain whole milk yogurt
3/8 tsp (2.5 g) salt
- Pour the yogurt into a baking dish, and cook in a 300 F oven for 1 1/2 hours, without disturbing it.
- Pass the yogurt through a chinois, gently pressing with a spatula to extract more whey. Discard the liquid. Mix the solids with the salt, return to the baking dish, and cook for another 30 minutes.
- Remove the yogurt solids from the dish. If you’re a purist, divide the solids into 4 parts, and squeeze each one in your fist to make balls — this is the shape of the qurut sold in Central Asian markets. However, since we’re going to break down the balls to make the sauce in a minute, you can just reserve the solids in a container instead, without shaping them.
Roasted lamb shank
Yields 4 servings
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp chili pepper
1 lamb shank (about 22 oz)
0.5 oz olive oil
16 oz tomatoes, quartered
- Mix the salt, cumin, coriander, and chili pepper in a container. Season the lamb shank with the spice mixture on all sides.
- In an oven-proof pan over high heat, sauté the meat in the oil until brown on all sides.
- Add the tomatoes, cover with a lid, and cook in a 300 F oven for 2 ½ hours.
- Remove the lid, and cook for another 30 minutes, flipping the shank halfway through. Take out of the oven, and let rest 10 minutes.
- Pick the meat from the bones, trying to keep it in large chunks. Remove the skin from the tomatoes. Transfer the cooking liquid to a plastic container. Reserve.
Yields 4 servings
7 oz onions, very finely sliced
1 oz olive oil
roasted lamb shank (meat, tomatoes, and cooking liquid)
2 oz water
2 tsp parsley chiffonade
2 tsp basil chiffonade
- In a pan over medium heat, sauté the onions with the olive oil. Season with salt, and cook until golden brown, stirring regularly.
- Crumble the qurut balls into the pan, add the lamb cooking liquid and the water, then simmer for a couple minutes, stirring constantly. The amount of water you need to add may depend on the texture of your sauce. You want a sauce that’s pretty thick and lumpy, but still liquid.
- Tear the fatir into small pieces (1″ to 1.5″ squares), and toss into the pan.
- Transfer to a ceramic dish, and arrange the meat and tomatoes on top. If necessary, reheat in a 300 F oven for 5 minutes.
- Top with the parsley and basil. Serve the dish in the middle of the table and eat with your fingers.