Making aushak, leek dumplings with a meaty sauce

Christian Vazquez

THE WASHINGTON POST – This recipe has its start with a gift card to an online food delivery website provided by my employer. I had the Helmand, a local restaurant specialising in Afghan cuisine.

Choosing what to order? I leaned on The Washington Post’s review of the restaurant from 2003 to help narrow down my options.

Luckily, I was nudged to try aushak, a dish the restaurant describes as “ravioli filled with leeks, served on yoghurt and topped with ground beef and mint.” It was simply sublime.

I am an absolute allium fanatic. Sauteing onion at the beginning of recipes is when I most often get the “wow that smells delicious” comments from anyone near my kitchen. Aushak might be your path to realising your affinity for alliums.

Experimenting with the dumpling wrappers proved to be the most challenging part of this dish. I recommend simply buying frozen dumpling wrappers.

The rest of the recipe comes together in relatively quick steps. A saute of scallions and leeks mellows out their bite and brings out their natural sweetness.

Top the boiled dumplings with a meat sauce spiked with coriander and paprika, plus a refreshing and zingy seasoned yoghurt, and you’re left with a deeply complex, unexpected crowd pleaser.

Now, you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of work. So here’s my advice: Read the recipe from start to finish and see what you can break up into smaller segments. The filling and meat sauce can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

I do, however, recommend clearing your calendar for the afternoon and diving in. You’ll be surprised at how meditative the process of hand-filling dozens of dumplings can be.

AUSHAK (AFGHAN LEEK DUMPLINGS WITH YOGHURT AND MEAT SAUCE)

Aushak has a simple clarity in its treatment of ingredients, but the preparation is probably best characterised as “project cooking” meant for a weekend or a holiday.

Take your time filling the dumplings and creating a hearty meat sauce and yoghurt topping, and be rewarded with a showstopper suitable for your most deserving (and discerning) guests.

Make Ahead: The yoghurt and meat sauces can be made up to three days ahead.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to three days. To freeze, transfer the uncooked dumplings to a baking sheet, making sure they are not touching, and freeze them. Then, place them into airtight containers and freeze for up to three months.

INGREDIENTS

For the dumplings

– Two tablespoons olive oil

– Four large leeks (about two pounds total) trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced

– One bunch scallions (about eight), thinly sliced

– Half teaspoon fine salt, or more as needed

– Half teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

– Flour, for dusting

– 36 dumpling wrappers, thawed

For the meat sauce

– Two tablespoons olive oil

– One medium yellow onion (about eight ounces), chopped

– Three to four cloves garlic, grated or minced

– One pound ground beef (80 per cent)

– Two teaspoons paprika

– One-and-a-half teaspoons ground coriander

– Half teaspoon fine salt

– Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

– One cup tomato sauce

For the yoghurt sauce

-One cup plain full-fat yoghurt

-One garlic clove, minced or finely grated

-One tablespoon dried mint

-Fine salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Make the dumplings: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the leeks and scallions and cook, stirring, until softened, about five minutes.

Season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until most of the moisture has evaporated, another five minutes.

Taste and add more salt, if needed. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Fill a small bowl with water. Generously dust a large, rimmed baking sheet with flour.

Place a dumpling wrapper on the countertop and add about one tablespoon of the leek mixture into the centre of the wrapper. Dab your index finger in the water and dampen the edges of the wrapper.

Fold in half diagonally to form a half triangle (or half circle for round wrappers), pressing the edges together to seal and being careful to squeeze out any pockets of air.

Set the formed dumplings on the prepared baking sheet; cover with a kitchen towel until ready to use. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling until you run out of one or the other.

Make the meat sauce: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering.

Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant but not browned, about one minute. Add the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as much as possible. Season with the paprika, coriander, salt and black pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about one minute or so.

Add the tomato sauce, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the meat is cooked through and the flavours meld, about 20 minutes. Makes about three cups.

Make the yoghurt sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the yoghurt, garlic, dried mint and salt. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, if desired. Makes about one cup.

When ready to serve, fill a three-quart pot three-quarters of the way with salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Carefully drop in six dumplings and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking, until the dumplings float to the top and appear translucent, about five minutes.

Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer the dumplings to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

Top with meat sauce and garnish with yoghurt sauce and serve family-style.