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A Culinary Tour Around the World: Mongolia

Kudos to Mongolia’s Betsy Ross. Isn’t this an attractive looking flag? Wikipedia notes the current flag dates back to only 1992 when they removed the socialist star. The right-side red band with yellow figures is ‘soyombo“, the national emblem, which depicts fire, sun, moon, earth, water and Tajitu or the Yin-Yang symbol. Interestingly, for a country that not too many people know anything about, Mongolia is the world’s largest landlocked nation and the 18th largest country. In 2006 the population count was 2.8 million and more than 50% were under age 30. They have a literacy rate of 98%.

Food and Culture Facts
• Mongolian people are big meat eaters…beef, lamb, mutton, marmot, boodog and, yes, gazelles.
• The marmot is cooked whole but from the inside out because they stuff the animal (whatever a marmot may be) with hot rocks.
• Historically nomadic herders, Mongolians have relied on a meat diet as fuel to stave off their cold climate.
• They also have a diet heavy in dairy and use the milk of all domestic animals: sheep, camels, goats, cattle and horses.
• Dairy is the base for Mongolia’s 2 alcoholic drinks: Nermalike, a vodka-like drink made from yogurt, and Airag made from fermented horse’s milk.
• For the tea-toters among you, try Suutei Tsai, said to be a salty tea made from water and mare or yak’s milk, butter, rice, salt and tea.
• And, while I could not find the Mongolian equivalent of “cheers”, I did find this proverb which kind of says it all (in any culture). He who drinks, dies; he who does not drink, dies as well.”

Recipe Development
Research into traditional Mongolian recipes rendered instructions like quarter the goat or an ingredient list that included 1-half medium sheep. I think not. Anyway, I wanted to do Mongolian Beef and found this PF Chang* recipe (not a cop out, well, maybe a little) but it is purported to be as good as the original. 

While the Himalayas are a bit south of Mongolia, they are close enough to imagine some mixed marriages. And as with every mixed marriage, a little of the culture from both sides goes into the melting pot. 

So maybe a male descendant of Chinggis Kahn met a sweet young gal from the Himalayas…and their ‘offspring’ was Mongolian Beef & Himalayan Red Rice.
The Himalayan Red Rice comes from Marx Foods, a fine online purveyor of interesting and exotic foods and spices. I chose to try it as an accompaniment to the Mongolian Beef. It was a perfect blending of counterpoints…the nuttiness of the rice balanced the sweet layer in the beef sauce.

Recipe Critique/Tweaks
Mongolian Beef: For my palate, I would have preferred some ‘heat’ to balance the ‘sweet’ in this sauce. The recipe did not call for salt and I thought perhaps the soy sauce would give it what it needed. It didn’t and I had to add salt at the table.

Red Rice: Very nutty, great texture and bite, and pretty on the plate. I did, however, find that it needed a little more than the recommended 35 minutes cooking time.

And I LOVED, LOVED what I did with the Leftovers!

Himalayan Red Rice with Black Beans and Pumpkin Puree
Pumpkin Puree: Sauteed a garlic clove in some olive oil, added a little bacon bits, a can of pure pumpkin, some chipolte powder, smoked paprika and  drizzle of cream.

Rice & Beans: Mixed leftover rice with black beans, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder and sauteed. Once again, I was very pleased with the rice which held up well to a second cooking.

This meal was delicious! If Mongolian Beef and Himalayan Red Rice was a good pairing, this was a marriage made in Heaven!

Mongolian Steak Salad

Just what I needed! Some ‘heat’ and fresh greens to counteract the ‘sweet’. I topped my current favorite greens – curly endive – with quickly pan-heated leftover steak, a drizzle of Hot Pepper Sesame Oil and Red Pepper Seasoned Rice Vinegar and a sprinkle of toasted almonds.

*For international readers, PF Chang is an upscale Asian bistro popular in some areas of the U.S.A.

Round-Up: March 18. 
Next Stop: The Philippines on or about March 23.