COOKING ADVENTURE # 52: Buuz
Ah, flour: an incredibly important powder in a person’s life. No matter what type it is, it gives us the base material to make certain breads, cakes, and pies. If you are new to Cooking Adventures, the following may seem very strange to you: I have a problem with touching flour. Well, I should be specific. Not exactly “touching”. I don’t mind putting my hands into it. It’s just when skin makes contact with other skin covered in flour that I can’t stand. There’s something about that rough texture on me that makes my skin crawl and makes me think of chalk… which in turn makes me think of nails on a chalkboard. Don’t ask me where I made these mental associations because as far as I know, they’ve always been there. I’ve been working steadily to overcome my aversion to flour. Last year, I made several different recipes that required kneeding dough and rolling it out, all with copious amounts of flour. For the start of the new year, I wanted to try this traditional Mongolian wonton recipe, Buuz. The recipe has the person make the wontons by hand. I rolled up my sleeves, prepared to dive into what was likely to be a very messy Cooking Adventure. I wasn’t wrong.
Just like there are several different recipes for meatloaf and several different recipes for stuffing, you can find tons and tons of recipes on the internet for Buuz. Until I’d done a little research for it, I discovered that it is a traditional meal eaten for Mongolian New Year, Tsagaan Sar. The New Year for them, however, is usually celebrated toward the end of January or beginning of February (it’s on a different date every year). I made a very similar wonton recipe last year called Gyoza, which is essentially the same idea although it’s Japanese, and those were pan-fried.
The first step in making Buuz is to mix your ground meat and onion and garlic. I forgot to buy garlic for this recipe, which in my family would be considered a cardinal sin. We’ve always been a garlic crazy family. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with being Portuguese or not but I’ll attribute it to that for now. I do have garlic powder, but it’s not the same for me and I don’t like using that as much as I used to. So, instead, I went ahead and just mixed the meat and onion. For the recipe, they say you can use minced mutton or beef. Seeing as how I don’t get my hands on much mutton, I resorted to ground beef for this. I broke it up into smaller pieces and placed it in my glass mixing bowl. Then, on a cutting board, I took my yellow onion and cut it in half. The recipe says to use an entire onion. Had I done so, I’d have had onion breath for the whole year. That would have been WAY too much onion. I resorted to using a half… actually not even a half an onion, chopping it up into tiny pieces and adding it to the meat. Then, after adding about five tbsp. of water to it, I mashed everything together with my hands until everything was well blended.
Then, the recipe tells me to add salt, pepper, and caraway to the meat, enough so that there’s a good flavor. The dough, apparently, would have no spices (salt in particular) to flavor it. However, it didn’t tell me how much of each to add. So, I had to play with the amounts. I didn’t add nearly enough salt. I’m not a salt lover and wanted to use as little as possible to achieve a good flavor. I should have added at least a tablespoon. I ground what felt like a ton of pepper into the meat but it, too, didn’t seem like enough in the end. The only thing that I managed to get the right amount of was caraway. It has a very strong flavor on its own, so not much is necessary. There was a hint of flavor when I ate the wontons and that’s all there needed to be.
Now, we get into the dough craziness. The recipe that I picked for the Buuz, in my opinion, seemed to be the most traditional. However, their measurements for ingredients were a tad strange. I’m talking grams and deciliters. Who in their right mind uses that measurement system? And expects others to? Instead of converting these measurements (250 g. and 1.5 dl), I decided to wing it. I figured that it can be a good exercise in finding out ratios of flour to water. This actually turned out to be a good thing to do. But, it also increased the time that I had to have flour on my hands… which I didn’t enjoy. I dumped a pile of flour into a bowl, dribbled a few tablespoons into it and then hesitantly plowed my fingers into it.
The dough instantly stuck to them as I kneeded and rolled the dough over itself. My first attempt didn’t have enough water, so I added a bit more. The dough began to take shape but there was still a lot of excess flour after putting my hands through it again. I’m also going to note that because I couldn’t handle it, I kept washing the excess flour off of my hands each time I added water to the bowl. I know… pointless. But I just couldn’t do it. My third time adding water, I added too much and was left with a gloppy, sticky blob sitting in a puddle of opaque water. After washing my hands again and adding a little more flour, I was finally able to get a dough that was consistent with the recipe’s demands. I let it sit for 15 minutes.
The next step says to cut the dough into 2 cm thick slices and roll them. This, for some reason didn’t translate the same in my head, despite the fact that there were pictures clearly showing me what I was supposed to do. Instead, I cut the dough (which there wasn’t nearly enough of) into little squares. I then flattened the squares out. A couple of these pieces were more triangular shaped and didn’t accommodate the meat mixture very well at all. Had I followed the instructions, I would have at least had circular wontons to work with. Impatience was a key factor. I was hungry and damn it all if I had roll out fifteen million little wontons before I could eat!
I put my pot of water on the burner and turned up the heat to hi to the water boiling. Then, I took each ugly little wonton square and piled a little helping of meat into it. I didn’t use very much of it and as a result, have a TON of meat left over. I could make more but I’m not sure I want to go through that entire wonton-making disaster again. The website also goes into detail of how you can wrap your wontons (for the wonton connoisseur… of which I am not). I pretty much used any means necessary to get them to stay closed and then once I was assured they were, I put them in the steaming inset. When the water came to a boil on the stove, I dropped the steaming inset in the top, put the lid over it and set the timer for 15 minutes.
When the time was up, I took the pot off the heat and pulled off the lid. Apparently, if you open the lid and fan some air in, it will give the wontons a glossy look and turn them a little red, according to the directions. Folks, I wasn’t going for presentation, just for consumption. I served the wontons with a small dollop of ketchup. They were rather plain as I’d feared they would be, but the ketchup was a nice touch and I could taste the caraway in the meat. Perhaps when I have a bit more patience and a better relationship with flour, I can attempt this recipe again. Or… I could just be practical and buy wontons at the store like I did with the Gyoza. Oh well.
Next week on Cooking Adventures, I’ll be swinging toward a Southern dessert recipe that makes my tastebuds scream in anticipation. Coca-Cola Cake is this Friday on Cooking Adventures. Stay tuned!