Tajikistan has two national dishes: plov (or osh), and qurutob. While plov is better known and is also the national dish of Uzbekistan, qurutob, a mix of onions and bread in a yogurt sauce (with a bit of optional extra meat and vegetables), is specifically Tajik.
Photo by wikipedia
Doesn’t sound at all hard to make.
It requires omelette-level kitchen craft. The only reason I can think of why it’s not more ubiquitous is that Tajik culinary literature in general is pretty scarce. I guess the Tajik people have been busy with far weightier matters to bother with this.
So what does it involve?
Well, you buy your fatir bread and qurut cheese at the market…Then sauté some onions, put it all together, maybe with some fresh scallions and tomatoes, or with some other vegetables, and you’re done.
Oh, right. What could be easier?
Yeah, it just happens to be harder to make for us because, well, the Tescos and Walmarts of the world haven’t started selling qurut and fatir for some inexplicable reason.
But fear not! It’s not all that hard to make the entire thing from scratch. It’s just somewhat more involved — and the result may even taste better than in Tajikistan. Fatir is a flatbread made of a rustic puff-pastry-like dough. Don’t be surprised if it turns out a bit dry and stodgy: that’s what it’s supposed to be like! It’ll taste much better when it soaks up the yogurt sauce.
The latter is prepared with the qurut. These are small balls of dried salted yogurt. By baking yogurt in the oven, you can make a version that’s pretty close to the original, even if your balls aren’t smooth and pretty enough to make a living selling them at a Tajik market. Finally, the roast lamb is optional: I’ve seen restaurants serving both vegetarian and carnivore versions. I’ll leave out the roast lamb bit here because you can look that up anytime.
How to make fatir?
For one flatbread, you’ll need:
7 oz flour, sifted
2.4 oz water
1/2 tsp salt
1.2 oz butter, room temperature
1 small egg (1.5 oz)
1.2 oz rendered lamb fat (or just more butter), room temperature
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
Put the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fit with a paddle attachment. While you mix them at medium speed, add the water, then the egg, and keep mixing for one minute. Take the mix out and shape the dough into a ball. Cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for half an hour.
- Put a baking dish full of water in the oven set to 450 F.
- On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle. Cut it lengthwise into two oblong strips.
- Mix the lamb fat and butter in a bowl, and spread on the dough. Roll the first oblong into a cylinder, then place it on the second one and roll the whole thing into a thicker cylinder. Cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Stand the unwrapped cylinder of dough on its end on a floured surface. With the palm of your hand, flatten the dough gradually to a 1/2″-thick, 7″-diameter disc. While you do this, keep sprinkling the top generously with flour, and flip the dough over frequently — else your dough will end up stuck to the counter in a puddle of grease!
- Poke the flatbread with a fork to create a nice pattern, then sprinkle the sesame seeds on top, then gently press with the palm of your hand to encrust the seeds in the pastry.
- Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, til the top is golden brown. Then transfer to a cooling rack, and reserve.
Okay. What comes next?
Qurut balls. I usually make four of these, they’re about 1 oz each.
18 oz plain wholemilk yogurt
2.5 g salt
- Pour the yogurt into a baking dish, and cook in a 300 F oven for 90 minutes without disturbing it.
- Remove the yogurt from the oven and pass it through a chinois strainer, gently pressing with a spatula to extract more whey. Discard the liquid, and mix the solids with the salt, return to the baking dish, and bake for another half an hour.
- Remove the yogurt solids from the baking dish. If you’re a purist, divide the solids into four parts, and roll each one in your hands to make balls — this is the shape of the qurut sold in Central Asian markets. Otherwise, just reserve the solids in a container, without shaping them.
Now the qurutob.
Yup. For four servings, you’ll need:
7 oz onions, very finely sliced
1 oz olive oil
2 oz water
sliced tomatoes, to taste
2 tsp parsley chiffonade
2 tsp basil chiffonade
- Over medium heat, sauté the onions with the olive oil in a pan. Season with salt, and cook until golden brown, stirring regularly.
- Now crumble the qurut balls into the pan, add the water, then simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. The amount of water you need to add would depend on the texture of your sauce. You want to aim for a sauce that’s pretty thick and lumpy, but still liquid.
- Tear the fatir into small pieces, and toss into the pan. Leave for a minute.
- Transfer to a ceramic dish, and arrange the tomatoes on top. If necessary, reheat in a 300 F oven for five minutes.
- Top with the parsley and basil. Serve the dish in the middle of the table and eat with your fingers.
Let me know how you liked it. If it goes down well, and you’d like a chance to savour more where this came from, you’re very welcome to join some of us on or next Central Asia Rally.