Mongol Chow: Цуйван with Оргил

Welcome to the first installment of Mongol Chow. As those of you who know me know, I love food. However, I’m not the best cook. I have my strengths – ask my family about my crepes – but overall I could use some improvement and there’s a particularly large gap in my knowledge when it comes to Mongolian food. I thought it would be a good idea to start a cooking series here on my blog, both for my own education and the education of the reader. Enjoy!

First, an introduction to Mongolian food. The main food groups in Mongolia are meat, flour, and dairy. Mongolians have traditionally been nomadic herders so animal products are incorporated into every meal. You’d be hard pressed to find a vegetarian dish here. The five Mongolian animals are sheep, goats, cows, horses, and camels and they are raised both for their meat and their milk. Potatoes and rice are also very common. While vegetables are available they are not always very diverse. This does depend on where you live. Aimag centers, such as where I live, receive a wider variety than soums. Generally speaking you can find onions, cabbage, and carrots easily and some other vegetables depending on what’s in season.

video coming soon-

I got the idea for this series when Оргил (Orgil), who is an English teacher at School Number 4, invited us to her home on Sunday to teach us how to make цуйван (tsuivan). Цуйван is a noodle dish with meat and vegetables and one of my favorite Mongolian foods.  When Оргил was a girl she would help her sisters make цуйван. Her main responsibility was to roll the dough for the noodles. While you can buy цуйваны гоймон (tsuivan noodles) at grocery stores, the majority of Mongolians make them from scratch. They only require three ingredients – flour, salt, and water – so they are very easy and inexpensive to make.  Оргил was in the fourth grade the first time she made цуйван by herself. When she makes цуйван now she mostly sticks to her mother’s recipe, but occasionally changes up the vegetables she uses.

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Unfortunately  I cannot offer you exact measurements here because Mongolians eyeball their ingredients so I’m sorry for those of you who are sticklers for following the recipe exactly. You’ll just have to feel this one out. Оргил started with the flour in a mixing bowl and dissolved the salt (to taste) in warm water. She slowly added the water to the dough, mixing and kneading as she went.

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Once the texture was deemed satisfactory, Оргил set the dough aside and we began preparing the vegetables. We peeled some potatoes, turnips, and carrots before they were julienned. Meanwhile, her niece chopped the mutton into small strips. The vegetables were put in the pot with a bit of oil to start cooking and the meat was set aside.

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Оргил’s father made this knife out of what looks like a broom handle. It’s the first shiv I think I’ve ever seen.

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The dough had sat long enough. Оргил separated it into four pieces and then kneaded each one again. One by one she rolled the dough very thin.

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Once the dough was rolled out Оргил drizzled oil on it and spread it around with the back of a spoon.

Ignore the photogenic frog at the end of the table

Ignore the photogenic frog at the end of the table

With the surface of the dough evenly coated, she folded it every two inches. After rolling and folding all four pieces of dough Оргил sliced them into thin strips and placed them in the pot to be steamed for 10 to 15 minutes above the vegetables and meat.

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Once the noodles were properly steamed, Оргил separated them with a fork and then mixed in the vegetables and meat.

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Voila! The цуйван was ready.

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The noodles would have been cut thinner had certain Americans not been involved.

My goal is to do a different Mongolian dish every month, so check back soon for more! And let me know how this turned out if you tried it at home!

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