These store bought Turkish dumplings are nostalgic (for my boyfriend) and easy (for me)
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I’ve been told more than once that the quality of a bowl of mant is determined by how many it can fit in a tablespoon. That is, if you cook these traditional Turkish dumplings for a Turk, they must be small, ideally about the size of a hazelnut, otherwise you will lose their respect at first glance. When I got down to making them for my Turkish buddy Can, I had the naive assurance of a food professional who tests recipes for work and regularly bakes sourdough bread, so I figured I had a pretty good chance of success.
It had been well over a year since Can had been able to visit his family in Adana, and I dreamed that making him her favorite childhood dish would ease his homesickness. I knew the basics of making mant: the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible and cut into perfect squares. A spoonful of onion and spicy meat is placed on each square, and each individual piece is folded into incredibly small pyramids. I knew mantı is notoriously tedious to do and rightfully reserved for the holidays, where the whole family gathers around the table to help. In other words, Turkish grannies are a must, but I was determined.
Without a Turkish grandmother I watched YouTube videos, Lily blogs, consulted my Turkish culinary encyclopedia (Musa Dağdeviren’s Turkish cookbook), and ignored Can because he told me more than once that my “fun nighttime activity” was a terrible idea. He was right. Our dumplings were too big but not stuffed enough, mostly unbalanced, and took what can only be described as always. As we sat down to eat a well-meaning but mediocre meal at 9 p.m., I bowed my head in defeat.
Not wanting to throw in the towel, I turned to the internet for help. I found everything from grandmothers selling their cookware on Etsy to the dried, prepackaged mant on Amazon to entire markets dedicated to bringing Turkish food to nostalgic expats in the US I’ve tried a lot, and while most were better than mine, there were two that found the right combination of nostalgic (for my boyfriend) and easy (for me): frozen mantı stuffed with Moda beef and Irem’s dried vegetarian mantı, no lamination, cutting, padding and folding required.
I have since stocked up, and the pre-made mantı has quickly replaced frozen pizza as our go-to meal when we don’t feel like cooking – and way beyond that. I simply throw a packet in boiling salted water, brush the cooked meatballs with salted, garlic and frothy yogurt, melted butter seasoned with Aleppo pepper, and finish it off with a pinch of dried mint and sumac. (You can also consult Refika’nın Mutfağı– “Refikas Kitchen” —for a slightly more sophisticated version. I could spend the whole day watching his Turkish cooking instruction videos.)
Although Can won’t admit it, I know the Turkish food I cook for him is never quite right. I can rarely find the ingredients of his childhood home, a lush plain about an hour inland from the Mediterranean Sea, and I’m just not his mother or grandmother. As delicious as a recipe can turn out – and as happy as it makes us both – there’s always that nagging feeling that it’s not the same thing. But, when we first tried Moda’s frozen mantle, he had the happy, closed-eyed moment that I had spent so many hours trying to achieve, except this time it got me. took 20 minutes. What started as an attempted dinner for a special occasion has turned into something much better: a simple weekday meal that brings a little piece of home to the person I love.