Every April Tristan reminds me that Easter has always been his least favorite holiday, and through kids’ eyes, I can kind of see why: boring lamb dinner, mandatory dress clothes and no school holiday. I was determined to change at least two of those things.
Last Sunday was actually a big day for us. Not only were we hosting dinner, we were (finally!) planting our garden. First order of business was buying plant starts from the Sunseed Farm booth at the Ballard Farmers’ Market. They’re known to have an extraordinary variety of healthy, vigorous, organic starts – plus Beryl and Talley get all their stuff from them and have had wonderful luck.
The plan was to convene in the late afternoon, get all of that beautiful kale, chard, kohlrabi, leeks, green onions, lettuce, strawberries and sorrel planted and then head inside for an Easter-like meal. I didn’t want to bore everyone (especially Tristan, god forbid) with the expected lamb roast but still wanted a lamb element present. So I decided to make something that has been on my to-do list for over 3 years: Aushak (Afghan leek ravioli with lamb ragout and yogurt sauce).
My only experience with Aushak was years ago at Kabul, an Afghan restaurant in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. They served the delicate leek-filled dumplings in the traditional fashion with a coriander-spiced ground beef sauce but were more than accommodating to substitute it with their lamb ragout upon request. In my opinion, this made a memorable dish unforgettable.
One word of caution: give yourself plenty of time to make Aushak. Even better, make them a day in advance. About an hour before everyone arrived, I found myself in a tizzy -- Noni bread still rising, sauce ingredients impatiently waiting to be chopped and dumplings yet to be made, which led to a serious moment of panic (thank you Tristan for pulling me back to earth) -- all of which could have been avoided with a bit more planning. It’s really quite fun, but not if it turns into a race against the clock.
Was this a quick, easy meal? Definitely not. Was it worth the time and effort? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, before dinner was even finished, I received requests for a return appearance next Easter.
In the end, Tristan didn’t get a day off from work, but he was able to come to the table in gardening jeans and said that this was possibly the best meal I ever made.
Two out of three ain’t bad.
This dish is most often served with a ground beef sauce (simply substitute 2 pounds ground beef for the lamb) but I really like the the mingling flavors of lamb, mint, coriander and yogurt.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced, fresh ginger
2 pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons ground coriander
Freshly ground nutmeg, about 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cups lamb or beef stock
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and just starting to color, about 8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger; cook for 30 seconds more. Add the ground lamb and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink. *At this point I carefully drained most of the fat from the pan.* Sprinkle in the coriander, nutmeg, salt and pepper; mix well. Add the tomato sauce and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes. Sauce should be thick and flavorful – taste and adjust salt to taste.
3 large leeks, whites and light green parts only, washed well and sliced
1 bunch green onions (5-6 onions), sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 package wonton wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten with a teaspoon of water
In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté leeks and green onions in oil until just softened (you don't want any color), about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and add cilantro, salt and red pepper flakes. Toss well and set aside to cool.
When you’re ready to assemble the dumplings, squeeze the excess liquid from the filling. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each wonton wrapper, brush all edges lightly with egg mixture, then fold in half to form either a rectangle or triangle. Press edges firmly to seal, being sure to expel any air bubbles as you go. Place finished dumplings on a flour dusted baking sheet and repeat until all filling has been used.
For a thicker sauce, feel free to either strain the yogurt through cheesecloth for an hour or two or simply use Greek yogurt. I like regular yogurt since it drizzles nicely.
2 cups natural, plain, whole milk yogurt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried mint or 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste.
To assemble the dish:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add Aushak and simmer for 5-7 minutes (test one for doneness). Using a slotted spoon, transfer ravioli to plates. Top each serving with lamb ragout and a generous drizzle of yogurt sauce. Garnish with freshly chopped mint.