The last time I was in Armenia, I ate Manti with Maribeth. We were dining at The Club, a lovely subterranean restaurant with delicious food, located in the center of Yerevan, Armenia’s capitol.
Maribeth and I were there to celebrate. We’d each just registered our adoption (formally accepted our referral). We were in the same room at the same time (Big Papa didn’t make this trip – a story for another post) and a bond was formed between us after sharing this life-changing, emotional experience.
Amazingly, Maribeth is also originally from Seattle (though she now resides on the east coast). The irony isn’t lost on me: Beth and Maribeth, both from Seattle.
Here we were, breaking bread together – and toasting with a shot of Armenian brandy - to honor this momentous occasion, in a restaurant half-way around the world from the place we call home. How crazy is that?
The meal was stupendous. We ordered a sampler platter filled with dolma, hummus, baba-ganoush, and a host of amazing Armenian dishes.
Then the Manti was served. Honestly, for the next few minutes, the only sound you could hear was Maribeth and I swooning over our Manti.
“Mmmm,” she murmured.
“Wow,” I concurred.
If there is a mantra for Manti, Maribeth and I have been meditating on it ever since. We both dream about Manti.
Manti are dumplings. Divine dumplings. Slightly crisped on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth incredible on the inside, and bathed in a savory yogurt sauce. It was so good. I wanted to dive right into that bowl. Of course, first I would have had to arm-wrestle Maribeth.
When it comes to Manti, there are actually two kinds: baked manti and also a version cooked in broth as a soup. They are each prepared the same general way, but are shaped differently. Baked Manti are baked in the oven whereas soup manti are cooked in broth. Although Manti is not exclusive to Armenia, and I’ve seen a few variations on a theme, they are typically served topped with a yogurt-garlic sauce and sumac, that interesting, sour, Middle-Eastern spice.
Aside from its heavenly flavor, Manti is notable for being a time consuming dish to prepare. I have seen a few recipes that call themselves “short-cuts” and use wonton wrappers for the dough, but come on people, that’s cheating. Yes, it takes a long time to make them, but as Maribeth and I will tell you: when it comes to Manti (and adoption) the wait and the effort is worth it!
This weekend, Manti is on the menu (and it’s a safe bet that our bottle of Armenian brandy won’t be far away). Another celebration is in order. In three weeks, Maribeth is going to Armenia to become a mom! And hopefully, it won’t be long before I’m once again following in her footsteps.
Congratulations, dear friend: this one’s for you!
Makes About 100: Serves 4 to 5
Each of these tiny dumplings is about the size of your fingertip, so you can easily serve 20 to 25 to each person. It’s traditional to invite friends to help fill and seal the Manti; after all, many hands make light work. They can be frozen for up to 1 month.
For the Dough:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon course salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
- 8 ounces ground lamb
- 1 medium yellow onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon course salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
For Cooking and Serving:
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- Course salt
- 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt or labneh
- 2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
- 3/4 teaspoon red pepper (or papikra)
- a sprinkle of Sumac (found in grocery stores or spice shops that specialize in Middle Eastern foods)
- Make the dough: Sift together flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add egg. Using your hands, gently draw flour mixture into egg. Gradually add the cold water, and continue to work dough with your hands or a spoon until it forms a smooth paste.
- Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Kneed until dough is smooth and springs back when pressed, 5 to 8 minutes. Divide dough into 2 balls, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Make the filling: Gently combine lamb, onion, parsley, salt and pepper. (Filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll out 1 portion of dough into a 16-by-10 inch oblong about 1/16 inch think. Using a ruler, cut dough into 1 1/4 inch squares with a pizza wheel or a paring knife. Keep remaining dough covered with a damp kitchen towel while you work.
- Spoon 1/4 teaspoon filing in center of 1 dough square. Gently pull 2 opposite corners outward to stretch dough slightly, then pull up to meet in center, and pinch to seal. Repeat with remaining 2 corners, making sure all air has been pressed out. Pinch together all 4 corners to form a point, then pinch along all 4 seams to seal. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, and cover with a damp kitchen towel. repeat. Remove towel, and cover with a piece of parchment. (Dumplings can be refrigerated on baking sheets, wrapped in plastic, for up to 1 day. Alternatively, freeze on baking sheets, uncovered, for 2 hours, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 1 month.)
- For cooking and serving: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Arrange Manti in a single snug layer in the dish. Bake until fragrant and tops and corners are golden brown, about 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring stock, cinnamon, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a saucepan. Remove baking dish from oven, and add enough stock to dish so that all but the tops of the Manti are submerged. Cover tightly with parchment and then foil, and bake until soft, about 2 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, stir together yogurt or labneh and garlic paste in a medium bowl. When Manti have finished cooking, tile baking dish, collect about 1/4 cup liquid with a ladle, and stir into yogurt sauce (sauce should be spoonable).
- Melt remaining 7 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until amber, about 7 minutes.
- Divide Manti among shallow serving bowls. Spoon yogurt sauce over top, drizzle with browned butter, and sprinkle with mint, red pepper and sumac.