SHEPHERD'S CULINARY PRESENT
During several-year sequence of business trips I was lucky to try dishes of many national cuisines and recipes. However, the meals made in natural conditions somehow leave the brightest impressions than exquisite tables laid with silver and crystal appointments.
I still distinctly remember the taste of a wonderful dish cooked by my hunting friends. That day’s hunt was unsuccessful: only one hare was shot. The friends promised to arrange a grandiose treatment according to the old hunting recipe. A pare of onions, several potatoes, salt and pepper were everything the guys had with themselves.
First, I thought that a usual soup from hare’s meat will be made, but, as it turned out, my hunters had forgotten to take a kettle this time for some reason.
I was perplexed guessing how the meal can be prepared from a scanty set of foodstuffs for four men without even a kettle. One won’t boil meat in a tuncha (a tin metal cylindrical vessel used for boiling water)... At this moment, from a field rucksack a simple pumpkin was taken out. The vegetable was to play a role of a kettle and to become an important ingredient of the dish.
While the first two of hunters cleaned the pumpkin from seeds and part of pulp and stuffed the improvised vessel with hare’s meat and chopped onion with potatoes, the third one made a fire from saxaul twigs. Then they shoveled the charcoal aside and buried the “wonder kettle” in the scorching sand. They covered the place with cinder left after the fire. Some time later, we appeased our hunger with the delicious mixture of meat and pumpkin pulp.
Generally speaking, pumpkin takes quite honorary place in the wide range of the most popular foodstuffs of the Turkmen cuisine. It is baked, stuffed in pasties, manty (dumplings) and pies, and added almost into all kinds of kasha. The pumpkin pulp can be a very good ingredient of any mincemeat giving it unusual juiciness and piquancy of taste. Widely used domestically to cook simple and delicious dishes, pumpkin has become one of the important elements of restaurant menus as well. One day, in one of Ashgabat’s restaurants I was offered a dish very similar to that hunter’s supper cooked in the pumpkin. I felt an urge to replicate this miracle in in-house conditions and asked a chef to demonstrate all stages of cooking the shepherd’s culinary present. Everything turned out simple enough, only instead of hare’s meat a tender piece of veal was used. However, in the restaurant version of the dish I missed the charm of late evening in the desert, the smoke of fire and the hunters’ stories.
Let’s revert to the recipe that can decorate your dining table and make your guests happy, though. In domestic conditions, it is better to use a small pumpkin, the one that can be easily put in the oven. In addition to the pumpkin, the other ingredients are: veal and mushrooms – 300 grams each, tomatoes – 200 grams, potatoes – 150 grams, carrots, onions, paprika and olive oil – 100 grams each, beef tea – 300 ml, spices – to one’s taste.
The upper part of the pumpkin is carefully cut; it will turn to a cover later on. The pumpkin is cleaned of seeds and pulp, after which it is stuffed with the layers of filling prepared beforehand. The veal pieces go first, which are then covered with chopped onion, mushrooms, carrot, potato, paprika and tomato. Afterwards, beef tea is poured in it and vegetable oil and spices are added over it. And we have a pumpkin cover for the wonder kettle. The vessel is covered and placed in the oven. Forty minutes later the dish is ready to be served.
I think if any hostess will try to change this classic restaurant recipe by replacing beef with mutton or chicken, removing or adding some ingredients, the final result will not be worse, because the pumpkin itself is the main element of the dish. One can’t do without it.
FROM THE TRAVELER’S VOCABULARY:
TUNCHE – a high cylinder-shaped 1 liter vessel made of sheet metal used in the desert to boil water
SAXAUL – a desert tree with dense wood, raises a fire’s temperature very high and keeps it as such for a long time, not worse than coal
MANTY – a popular dish in Central Asia; it is made of mincemeat stuffed in dough and cooked on steam.