If you’ve ever been to a Mongolian BBQ or a Mongolian Grill or a Mongolian Restaurant of any kind outside of actual Mongolia, then you have absolutely no idea what Mongolian food is. ;-) Not a clue!
At these fine eateries you find an array of colorful vegetables, a wide variety of meats from chicken to seafood to beef, and many spicy and fragrant sauces. Delicious. But, not Mongolian. First of all, Mongolia is landlocked. So, you can cross off seafood of all kinds. Secondly, Mongolia is one of the chilliest places in the world and has a long harsh winter. So, you can cross off most of those colorful vegetables unless they can be produced in a very short growing cycle (like cabbage) or can grow underground (like potatoes and carrots). And thirdly, because Mongolia has been long shut off from the rest of the world (being sandwiched between two large countries with whom trade has had a checkered past) there aren’t a lot of spices to be had. Garlic, onion, salt and pepper are about as adventurous as you can get.
Mongolia is known as the land of five meats: beef, mutton, goat, camel and horse. Yes, you read the correctly.
It is also known as a land of milk and meat. You see there are about 3 million people and about 27 million sheep. All of the animals (listed above) that are used for meat, are also used for milk. The milk is consumed straight, but also fermented, dried, curdled, and every manner of wonderful things your American mind cannot imagine. We have airag, which is fermented horse or camel milk. A good airag is sort of an essential at celebrations such as weddings. And then there are wonderful kinds of cheeses that are a bit bland, something akin to the Mexican cheese queso blanco. Then there are tarags (yogurts) and tsotsgee (which is sort of like sour cream, but better). And for the snack food of choice for every Mongolian child, you can have aruul, dried milk curds. I admit, that some of these things are an acquired taste. Some I have acquired, some I have yet to. My husband and children, however, like it all! I only wish I knew how to make all these things!
But, I do know how to cook up a pan of Mongolian vegetables. Unlike buuz, Mongolian dumplings, which required a tutorial and a dose of courage, Mongolian vegetables are very easy–almost too easy. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a recipe. Just something I whip up when my husband asks for Mongolian food, but I haven’t the time or energy to be pinching a bunch of dumplings!
What you’ll need:
- Some meat. If you are being really traditional, then chop up a steak or roast into very small…I mean, very small pieces. If you have a life, just used ground meat. Beef, lamb or mutton.
- Some vegetables. Onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, cabbage. Although they don’t really grow it in Mongolia, it’s common to find peas in food, which Mongolians purchase in cans that are imported. I use frozen usually.
- A bit of oil, ghee (clarified butter) or lard for frying.
First you’ll want to prepare everything by giving everything a good chop, trying to make everything about the same size so it cooks evenly.
Then, in a large frying pan or wok, brown your meat along with the onions and garlic adding a bit of fat because, let’s face it, the meat here is just TOO LEAN! No flavor! You need that extra fat for flavor and so this dish isn’t too dry. Add a generous amount of salt. Being that Mongolian food doesn’t use a lot of spices, the salt is essential to keep this from being too bland.
When your meat is cooked through, add all the vegetables at once (except the peas) and give it a good stir and some extra salt. Stir frequently, but not continually because it’s nice when bits of vegetable gets toasty and brown. Continue until your vegetables are ALMOST done. Then add the peas and give it a good stir. Cook a few extra minutes to let the vegetables finish off. Don’t cover this as you cook it. You don’t want the food to steam. You want it to brown up.
I serve this up with rice. Pictured is white rice, because sometimes I cave to my husband’s pleas. If your veggies and meat are oily enough you won’t need any butter or anything on your rice.