Before this challenge, I’ll be honest and say that I thought of Turkmenistan as ‘just another stan’, how wrong could I possibly have been! Until it’s independence from the USSR in 1990 it was isolated from the rest of the world and it is still pretty weird today. Turkmenistan became famous for the strange dictatorship of the eccentric late president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi’ (Leader of the Turkmen).

A few facts
Turkmenbashi re-named the days of the week after himself and his mother and banned opera, ballet and the circus.
Turkmenistan ranks 3rd worst for press freedom conditions in the world, just before North Korea and Eritrea.
The current leader, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has written several books, the latest one is called “Tea: Medicine and Inspiration”.
Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources and since 1993 citizens have received free of charge natural gas, electricity and water.
Ashgabat, the capital, meaning ‘the city of love’ has been rebuilt, after it was levelled by an earthquake in 1948, that killed more than 110,000 people (two-thirds of the then population). It now has the world’s highest concentration of white marble buildings and the largest indoor Ferris Wheel at 47.60 metres.

Many of the popular dishes in Turkmenistan today are from Soviet influence such as Pelmani (meat dumplings), Peroshki (rice, meat, or vegetables cooked in dough) and Borsch (beet soup). I also came across Borek (dumplings in soup), Plov (fried rice with lamb and carrots) , Gelin Budu – Bride’s Thighs (Rice Croquettes) and Palaw (Turkmen Pilaf). I decided to make Gutap (savoury filled dumplings) that are like a flattened pasty. They were somewhat fiddly to make and sadly, didn’t really hit the mark on flavour. The first couple I made were too big, so it’s easier the smaller you make them.

Rating: 5/10

Makes 6-8 gutaps (enough for a main meal for 2)
Prep time: 45 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
200ml hand hot water
1 tbsp olive oil

450g ground beef
1 onion
½ red pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Mix the dough ingredients together in a bowl until it forms a smooth texture but not too wet (add more flour if necessary). Cover it with clingfilm and set aside.
In a food processor, chop the onions and red pepper.
Mix the chopped vegetables in a bowl with the meat, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
Heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil in skillet over medium high heat.
Divide the dough and roll it out thinly in small rounds (10cm max). Fill half the rounds with the filling, and cover with the other half, pressing down with a fork to seal them. Brush the gutaps with oil on both sides.
Cook them in a pan one by one, turning them once until they brown on both sides, add more oil to the pan if needed.

Serve hot.

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