Silk Route: Wait for it….The Mongols


One major scholar of Chinese history even wrote: “The Mongols brought violence and destruction to all aspects of China’s civilization. [They were] insensitive to Chinese cultural values, distrustful of Chinese influences, and inept heads of Chinese government.” This assessment fits in with the traditional evaluation of the Mongols as barbarians interested primarily in maiming, plundering, destroying, and killing.

As a 13th-century Persian historian wrote of the Mongol campaigns: “With one stroke a world which billowed with fertility was laid desolate, and the regions thereof became a desert, and the greater part of the living, dead, and their skin and bones crumbling dust, and the mighty were humbled and immersed in the calamities of perdition.” – http://afe.easia.columbia.edu

We love to think of the Mongols as destructive barbarians who wrought havoc over much of the Old World, but they did a few cool things too. For one, the vastly improved the status of merchants and made trade a safe and more equitable endeavor. They even created merchant associations known as Ortogh and provided low interest loans.

Artists benefited greatly under the Mongols. In China they were great patrons of the theater, of painters and of Artisans.  The benefits artisans gained from Mongol rule include freedom from corvée (unpaid) labor, tax remissions, and higher social status. Spectacular textiles and porcelains were produced, and blue and white porcelains, a style generally associated with the Ming dynasty, were actually first developed during the Mongol era.

At it’s height, their empire extended from Korea to Poland. Two of the main influences cited for their raging success was their skills with horses and bows, but there is something else that is sometimes over looked. Their diet. The Mongols ate a lot of meat, milk and yogurt. Not only was their food conveniently stored in their animals, the high protein diet was slower to digest and gave them the advantage of being able to go for a day without eating. Handy when you’re on the war path, and it gave them an advantage over soldiers who were vegetarian.

The Mongols entered China for many reasons, but one of them was for the silk. Silk undergarments were not only good for warmth, they were used as a kind of armor. When a spinning arrow pierced someone, it would twist the silk undergarment and draw it into the wound. The arrow could be removed by untwisting the silk, pushing the arrow back out with minimal damage.

However fascinating and impressive the Mongols were, what wasn’t really impressive was their cuisine. Sure it gave them an advantage and it did inspire lots of strip-mall “Mongolian Grill” restaurants which pander to the American meat culture, but it just wasn’t all that exciting. And, since most of us aren’t going to go out and milk a horse I decided to shy away from the recipe for fermented mare’s milk.

One contribution by the Mongols to modern cuisine I did find is the filled pocket, dumpling or pot sticker, known in Mongolia as Buzz, Bansh, or Khuushuur depending on how they are cooked.

Khuushuur

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250 g Flour
1.5 dl Water

Filling
300 g Minced meat (Traditionally, mutton is used, other types of meat such as beef work just as well.
Mongolians consider fat meat to be of higher quality, but there’s no problem in using western style lean meat)
1 p Onion Minced
2 p Garlic cloves Minced
3-5 Ts Water
Salt
Pepper
Caraway
Oil for frying (although they can also be steamed or boiled)Prepare the Filling

Mix minced meat, onion and garlic. Add water until the mass is smooth to work with.Add enough salt and spices (the dough has no salt).
Prepare the dough
Mix flour and water to create a pliable dough. Let it rest for 15 min.
Cut the dough into 3 cm (1.2 in) thick slices, roll the slices.
Cut the rolls into pieces of 4 cm (1.6 in), flatten the pieces with a finger.The pieces of dough are rolled into circles of about 10 cm (4 in) diameter, making the center slightly thicker than the edge. It is best only to roll as many circles you can process further within a few minutes. Forming the pockets will be more difficult when the dough is already starting to get dry. Hold one circle the open hand (the left one for righties) and place about one and a half tea spoon of the meat mass on one half, so that some space along the edge is left free. Fold the circle in half with fingers and palm, so that the edges meet over the meat. Seal up the edges before cooking.

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