Dumpling diplomacy

My knowledge of Afghani culture could easily be stuffed into a dumpling. But if civility convenes at the table, then my own peace plan may as well start in the kitchen.

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Sliced leeks and cayenne pepper for Afghani dumplings (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / April 14, 2010)

Make s'mores, not war. That's the counsel of the T-shirt. Reason enough to boil a batch of the Afghani dumplings called aushak.

Honestly, my knowledge of Afghani culture could easily be stuffed into a dumpling. Cultural Crossroad. Hot and Cold. Proxy War. War War. But if civility convenes at the table, then my own peace plan may as well start in the kitchen.

I read up on aushak, sometimes called Afghani ravioli. Surely clumsy shorthand, and yet to the point. Aushak may be folded in a distant mountainscape, but they cook up as delicious and comforting as ravioli.

Start with the leek — as common to the landlocked wilds there as to the kitchen garden here. Chop, spice and soften over low heat. Heap the pungent mixture onto a dumpling skin. You can make the wrapper from flour and water and waiting and rolling and slicing. Or, in an inspired moment of cross-cultural convenience, let the wonton wrapper serve as proxy. Fold, boil supple and sauce twice: once with a hot meat and tomato ragu. Once with a cold yogurt-and-garlic swirl. Dig in.

The familiar flavors pull together on plate and palate as refreshingly unexpected. Which might also describe the effort to cook up peace.



Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 6 minutes

Serves: 4 as a first course

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 clove garlic, pressed

2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint leaves

1 to 2 teaspoons lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

2 leeks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

20 wonton wrappers

Swirl: In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, garlic, mint, lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let sauce warm to room temperature.

Chop: Slice white and pale green portion of leeks into long strips. Rinse and dry. Chop finely.

Soften: Heat oil in a medium skillet. Add leeks; cook over medium heat, adding water as needed, until tender and melded, 20 minutes. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cayenne pepper. Let cool.

Fold: Spoon 1 teaspoon leek mixture onto a wonton wrapper. Run a wet finger around the edge. Fold into a filled half-moon, triangle or rectangle, pressing edges to seal. Repeat.

Boil: Drop aushak into boiling, lightly salted water; cook until tender and translucent, 6 minutes. Scoop up with a slotted spoon; settle on four plates. Spoon on a dollop of yogurt sauce.

Provenance: Hearsay. Aushak are traditionally served with tomato meat sauce and yogurt sauce. For spring, I like the bright simplicity of yogurt only. Green garlic or ramps would make inventive substitutes for leeks.
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