Labels: Uyghur Food (English)
This is an Uyghur dish. Uyghurs come from what is now northwest
China but their language and culture are more akin to those of people from Central
Asian countries such as Kyrghyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan.
Like the people of those countries, Uyghurs are predominantly muslims. Due
to the close historical links between Uyghurs and their Central Asian neighbours
and, more recently, to oppression by the Chinese authorities, Uyghurs and, consequently,
Uyghur cuisine can be found all over Central Asia.
As laghman is traditionally made with mutton, I had never tried
it until a couple of years ago when I travelled through Xinjian provence, the
heart of the Uyghur homeland, and had big problems finding vegetarian food.
Most of the time I ate bread, pickles and dried fruit. Sometimes I ate Chinese
food - usually tofu. One time I was in a small roadside village which was a
service centre for lorry drivers and bus passengers. I was really hungry and
I walked into the only restaurant and sat down. There was no menu but the waitress
came up and put a bowl of tea and a bowl of laghman in front of me, then brought
a pair of chopsticks. She went away without a word. I picked the bits of mutton
out and ate the laghman. What a pity, I thought, that this always contains meat.
There were so many vegetables and spices in it that the meat didn't seem necessary.
I resolved to try a vegetarian version but it was only two years later, when
my wife said she fancied laghman for dinner, that I got round to it.
I used soy protein for this recipe but you needn't. We just
happened to have a little left in the bottom of a packet in the cupboard, so
I chucked it in. I don't see soy protein as a 'meat substitute'. I don't think
such things are necessary, it doesn't taste anything like meat and I don't see
the point in trying to make it taste like meat. If you make laghman without
soy protein, it won't be any the worse for that.
The noodles traditionally used are thick, hand rolled wheat
noodles. You can use any kind I suppose but ordinary Italian style spaghetti
works fine. The thicker stuff with the hole running through it is even better
if you can find it.
A handful of dried soy protein
1 large potato
1 large carrot
2 green peppers
1 large tomato
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 level tsp. whole coriander seeds
A few black peppercorns
A third of a tsp. crushed dried red chillies
1 star anise
Either a level tsp. of vegetable stock powder, half a vegetable stock cube or
a half teaspoon of yeast extract
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
A lot of ingredients but the preparation is fairly simple. You'll
be eating it within an hour of washing the carrots and potatoes.
Start by soaking the soy protein in hot water then peel the
carrots and potatoes and chop them up along with the tomato and peppers. Put
everything to one side while you peel and chop the onion. Put some oil in a
pan (go on, stick a load in) and while it is heating, crush the coriander seeds
and peppercorns. Throw them into the hot oil and add the chopped onion a few
seconds later. When the onion is starting to brown, crush the garlic and add
it with the chilli and whole anise. Stir and fry for a few minutes more then
add all the other vegetables. Drain the soy protein, give it a quick rinse in
cold water and fire that in too. Stir and put a lid on the pan. Stew the mixture
for 5 to 8 minutes then add water to cover everything and more. There should
be a lot of liquid in the final sauce - almost like a soup. Add the soy sauce
and stock and a little salt if you think it's necessary, but remember there's
salt in the soy sauce and stock.
Simmer the sauce for about half an hour then add chopped coriander
at the end of the cooking time. If you're planning to serve it straight away,
start cooking the pasta about 10 minutes before the sauce is ready, then you
can turn the heat off and leave the sauce to cool a little before the pasta
finishes cooking. Serve the laghman in deep bowls, half filled with pasta then
topped up with sauce.