Hi, I am back. And I am going to challenge you today as I did myself yesterday, cooking dushbere, Azerbaijani dumpling soup. It is my four-year-old daughter’s favorite, who loves this soup so much that she will trade her favorite macaroni and cheese for a bowl of dushvere without any hesitation. When she asked me to make it again yesterday I knew it was going to be a huge challenge since she stayed home from school with a little cold and my 6-month old was around too, wanting attention. Since I was going to cook it anyway, I thought why not take pictures and share them with you? It was a big challenge with the kids around, but luckily (mostly due to the baby’s longer nap this time) it worked out just fine.
So what is dushbere after all? It is a classic soup, indigenous to Baku, the capital, but popular all over the country. Traditionally the broth is prepared by boiling chunks of lamb in water and then straining it. But nowadays home cooks prefer a quicker versions of the broth – all water based (see variations in the recipe). Whatever version you may want to choose, one thing is for sure – you will love this soup at first spoon. Pour some vinegar-garlic sauce in your soup and you will say yes, please, another serving!
A tip before we start. You rolled the dough thinly – work fast from that point on, since it tends to dry out quickly. When dry it is difficult to seal the squares into dumplings. Now, if you want to claim you are a good cook, here’s a challenge for you – if you want to be crowned the next best dushbere maker, try to fit 10 cooked dumplings on a spoon, as this is the norm in Azerbaijan.
Preparing the dumplings requires some patience, true. But over time you will get a hang of it. Believe me, to be able to fit 5 dumplings on a spoon I started with a jumbo size dushbere 5 years ago, slowly progressing towards a smaller size and finally achieving the goal of 10 on a spoon! So, it is possible. And I hope I will make the process easier for you with the pictures I took the day I challenged myself. Enjoy!
For the Dough:
2 cups all-purpose, plus extra for kneading and thinning the dough
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup tepid water
For the Filling:
7 oz (200g) ground lamb or beef, or a combination, not lean
1 small onion, peeled and grated (1/2 cup)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Broth:
Version 1 – the most authentic version
a few saffron threads, powdered using a mortar and pestle (optional)
salt, to taste
Version 2 – yields a lighter, simpler broth
9 cups water
1 medium ripe tomato, peeled and finely grated
salt, to taste
Version 3 – yields a more substantial broth (my personal favorite)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, peeled and very finely chopped (1 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt, to taste
9 cups water
chopped fresh cilantro (coriander), to garnish (substitute with dried mint in winter)
garlicky-vinegar sauce (crush 3-4 peeled garlics and mix with about 1 cup red wine vinegar or apple cider)
If making broth version 1, prepare it before anything else as the lamb bones have to simmer for quite some time to release the flavors. Place the bones in a medium saucepan. Fill with enough water to cover the lamb by at least 1 inch (2.5 cm). Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the bones. Pour the broth back into the saucepan. Add the saffron, if using, (add only a little – this will add the broth a pleasant color and flavor). Season with salt to taste.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt, and stir with your hand to mix. Make a well in the middle, and break the egg into there. Gradually adding the water, stir with your fingers, until a rough ball forms. Dust a clean surface (wooden table or marble countertop) lightly with flour.
Scrape the dough onto that surface. Press any loose dough pieces into the ball and knead the dough, punching it down with your fists, folding it over and turning. If the dough sticks to your hands, add a little more flour. Knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Do not be tempted to add more flour. You do not want the dough to be very tight. You will add more flour to it while rolling it. Shape the dough into a ball, put it aside, cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes before rolling.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a mixing bowl combine the ground meat, onion, salt and pepper. With your hand, knead thoroughly until well blended. Set aside.
Dust the surface with some flour. Transfer the dough onto that surface. Pat the dough ball slightly and sprinkle some flour on top. Now, using a rolling pin begin rolling, sprinkling the dough with flour and spreading it with your hands with every other rolling. Flip the dough over from time to time and sprinking the surface with flour to prevent sticking. Once the dough has somewhat flattened, wrap the near edge of the dough around the rolling pin, and begin rolling the dough away from you, pressing down with the rolling pin to ensure thinning.
Once you reach the other end, unroll the dough. As you roll back and forth, gently slide your hands away from the center towards the edges of the rolling pin, thinning out the dough. With each roll, rotate the dough one-quarter turn to keep it in an even circle. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and spread with your hands, before each rolling. This will prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and make it roll easier. Continue rolling until you obtain a 1/16 inch (1.6 mm) thick circle, about 22 inches (55 cm) in diameter.
Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into small 3/4-inch (1.9 cm) squares, by first cutting it into parallel strips, then cutting the strips across. Work as fast as you can from this point onto prevent the dough from drying out. Using your fingers, place a pinch of filling into the middle of each square.
Now, seal the edges using either of the following methods: 1) Bring two opposite corners of a square together and seal the edges to make a triangle. Bring the two ends of the longest side of the triangle together and press them together to seal. 2) Fold the square into a rectangle and seal the edges. Bring the two ends of the longer sealed side of the rectangle together and seal. Arrange the dumplings on the floured tray, apart from each other to prevent them from sticking together. Leave aside while you prepare the broth (versions 2 or 3).
If making broth version 2: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the grated tomato and salt to taste. Cook for about a minutes, then maintain a gentle simmer before adding the dumplings.
If making broth version 3: Heat the butter in a medium saucepan, add the onions and sauté for about 7 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring for another half a minute. Add the salt, pour in the water and bring to a boil. Maintain a gentle simmer before adding the dumplings.
If you made broth version 1, bring it to a boil and maintain a gentle simmer.
Gently drop the dumplings into the simmering broth in small batches. Gently stir once to separate them and cook, uncovered, for about 7-10 minutes or until the dumplings surface to the top. Take one out and taste. The dough must be tender. Cook longer if needed, taking care not to overcook or the dumplings will be sticky mushy. Adjust seasoning to taste. Remove from the heat.
Ladle the dumplings and the broth into individual serving bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro or dried mint. Serve immediately, with garlicky vinegar sauce on the side, to be added to dushbere to taste.