Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aushak Attack

Don’t let my beautiful photography fool you: I wasn’t nearly as impressed with this dish as I hoped to be.

It’s called Aushak, and it’s the last recipe I tried from Ruth Reichl’s Garlic And Sapphires before the book had to go back to the library. Reichl says it was given to her from an Afghan exchange student who had a reputation as a good cook.

Aushak consists of scallion dumplings, a Middle Eastern-inspired meat sauce, all topped with a garlicky yogurt. Tell me you aren’t intrigued by such exotic and delicious combinations! I was, and figured it would be the perfect meal to accompany Sunday night’s Academy Awards.

I went shopping Sunday afternoon, not reading the recipe too closely, just jotting down ingredients. Part of me thought the meat was ultimately supposed to go in the dumpling, so I only bought one bunch of scallions. Reichl clearly calls for two. No matter.

Initially, the recipe was easy street. I cooked a finely chopped onion in some oil for about 5 minutes, and then added ½ pound of lean, ground beef, a minced clove of garlic, a teaspoon of coriander, and ½ teaspoon of grated ginger. I stirred the meat until it lost its redness.

Next, I added a half cup of water and stirred some more until it was reduced by half. Then I added 2 tablespoons tomato paste, stirred again, and seasoned with some salt and pepper.

“Wow, that meat sauce smells awesome,” Otto called from the comfort of the living room, where he was sprawled comfortably watching Mickey Rourke tell Barbara Walters about his beloved chihuahua, Loki.

That’s basically the meat sauce. Here it is, set aside in a bowl, which is what you’re supposed to do with it once the meat is seasoned:
You’re probably wondering why I’m taking all this time to explain a recipe that wasn’t that impressive. Well, the meat sauce was pretty darn tasty. It’s the next step—or “steps”—or neverending steps—that I deem questionable.

I’ve never made dumplings before. I bought a pack of round Gyoza wrappers (which is what the recipe calls for) from Kam Sen Asian market in the White Plains Mall, and into each wrapper— edges brushed with water—I spooned the following mixture:

2 cups of scallions, finely chopped (Reichl says lose the white parts, I kept them in, since I was short on scallions)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Here’s a snapshot:
Once you’ve spooned the mixture onto the center of the wrapper, fold the wrapper in half and press firmly. Repeat. Over and over. And over.

“What happened to the meat smell?” Otto said curiously, his voice now right behind me. He was sniffing the air. In the living room, I heard Hugh Jackman clarify to Barbara Walters that he was Australian, not gay.

I handed Otto a spoon. Next thing he knew, he was carefully spooning scallion mixture into Gyoza wrappers. I began to drop folded wrappers into boiling water.

This is where the results got disappointing. Even though we firmly pressed the wrapper edges together and the dumplings never broke inside the water, when we took them out, they seemed soggy, even after draining them.

We assembled our components: we brushed the bottom of a bowl with garlic yogurt (a cup of yogurt with one tablespoon minced garlic and a dash of salt), added in a few dumplings, and topped everything with meat sauce, another dollop of yogurt, and fresh mint. On the television, Tim Gunn was making a half-hearted attempt to land an interview with Brangelina, who quickly rushed by.

I say there’s room for improvement with Aushak. Number one, I don’t think raw garlic should be added to yogurt. It’s just too potent. Secondly, the dumplings just aren’t worth it, at least not the way they turned out for us. I say put the dumpling elements in the meat sauce instead, and sprinkle some of the fresh scallions as a garnish. Otto made some white rice that night, and you know that rice at the bottom of your pot? The stuff that’s almost crispy and all stuck together if you leave it over heat too long? Well, we used that under the meat sauce and then added the yogurt, and the dish improved ten-fold! We liked the crispiness in there, as opposed to the slimy texture of the boiled Gyoza wrapper.

And that's Aushak.

(Think about omitting the fresh garlic from the yogurt: by the time Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture, I had brushed my teeth three times, and still couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth.)


  1. Sorry the dumplings didn't turn out for you. I'm planning to give this recipe a try soon (my book has to go back to the library too!). I've made a lot of dumplings and gyoza. I always mix a little cornstarch with the water to go around the edges, it makes a slurry to hold it together. I also usually freeze them before boiling, not as necessary for frying but they work better that way when boiling.

  2. i can see where you would be disappointed with the results of your dumplings, but hang in there. you might want to try to saute the scallion mixture in the oil of your choice, using a cooked egg roll wrapper, laying in the scallions and topping with another wrapper. sort of an open faced ravioli then meat sauce and yogurt. also make the yogurt and garlic at least a day ahead. it will mellow and you will love it.

  3. Yes I agree. What a pity this recipe was such a flop for you after all your hard effort. It sounds very promising to me though. Thanks!

  4. I think because you are not used to raw garlic, (most americans are not)..is not a good reason to bash a great recipe..blame the cook not the recipe