Kazakh national cuisine: the oldest recipes that reached till our day

Food & DrinkCultural heritageNomadic

Food always wore a special, sacral meaning for nomads.

The life and household of Kazakh people had never been easy and simple. More frequently, that was a struggle for survival: permanent roaming from one place to another, clashes with hostile tribes, diseases, and even hunger. But even at difficult times Kazakhs empowered the food with a particular sacred meaning. They aspired to prepare the food not only for feeding hunger but also for filling themselves with strong spirit and inspiration. These recipes were passing on by word of mouth, although, sometimes these were forgotten, but then popped up in people’s memory again. The time has changed, the life has become easier in many ways, traditions have been simplified, and now some ancient national dishes are almost on the brink of oblivion. It would be very hard for modern people to understand these dishes but, obviously, in that way it is possible to feel the soul of free nomads.   

Ulpershek: you are in our hearts!

With these words a dish is handed over to a girl after she gets married and leaves her Father’s House. It carries a deep and touching message with hints of light sorrow from her parents as if telling the girl: “We are always next to you, daughter, and you will always be in our hearts, as well as we will be in your heart too.” The dish is not so easy to cook because, prior to its preparation, it is necessary to slaughter cattle – either a cow or a horse, as the main ingredient of the dish is a fresh heart. The heart is cleared from the blood clots and cut alongside so as to be unfolded. Furthermore, the heart is covered with some salt and seasoning, stuffed with pieces of meat with fat prepared in advance and put into flour for one month. After a fixed period of time, the heart is baked film-coated or in foil (at ancient times – on the stones), and as a result you receive an incredibly tasty and tender dish, and it is hard to stop eating it. 

Ystalgan shek: an ancient starter

As we know, it was very difficult to preserve meat in severe steppe conditions for a long period of time, especially, taking into account constant roaming from place to place. But the nomads weren’t used to throw the food around; otherwise, they could not have survived at all because 80% of their food ration consisted of animal products. That’s why, they tried to use each part of the animal carcass at its maximum including internal organs. Thick dried stomachs were used as water bags; lamb casings were used as a tasty starter – these were washed, salted, dried out in the sun and “ystalgan shek” was ready. Its taste reminds of modern smoked cheese chechil (saltish-smoky flavour with light creamy hints).

Bylamyk: to the delight of a young mother

This dish, albeit it has been forgotten by most of modern housekeepers, is still cooked in some parts of the country as the main meal for speedy recovery of women weakened by childbirth. Bylamyk is extremely delicious millet porridge. The main secret of the porridge is in manual grain handling and organic ingredients in its composition. If all of these ingredients are ready to hand then you will have no difficulty in cooking this porridge; and its value for young mothers is huge! Fry small amount of white flour in butter until it is golden, then add whole cow milk, millet sap (in case you have some sap left after millet grain handling), and, after 5 minutes of simmering, add millet into this mixture. It is better to season the porridge with salt and sugar later, when it is slightly cool down, in this case you will add correct amount of both. The porridge is rich with lean fat, protein, calcium, and cellulose; it also increases level of hemoglobin in the blood and restores energy reserves of the body. Everyone, who tries this porridge, likes its tender creamy taste; as for young mothers, they say that owing to this meal their postpartum depression starts diminishing, breast milk becomes more nutrient, and baby does not suffer from colic after breast feeding. These are such wonderful recipes by ancient Kazakh cuisine!

Jaujurek: for bravery

Yes-yes, this dish from mutton’s liver is believed to contain special element that contributes to the creation of bravery hormone. Whether or not it is true, it is not certain, because Kazakh Batyrs (i.e. strong men and heroes) had always been famous for their bravery. But one thing we know for sure – liver contains heparin that is quite beneficial as a precaution to heart attack. Recipe of this delicious dish is rather simple, and modern housekeepers apply it with great pleasure in an attempt to amaze their guests and delight the family. Mutton’s liver is cut into small pieces and put in the milk – the milk takes away bitter taste and adds light creamy flavour. After two hours drain the milk off, season liver with salt, paper and favourite spices, and leave it to marinade for a while. Meanwhile, prepare fat: rinse with water, cut into equal big square slices – pieces of liver will be put into the centre of each fat slice (you may also add a garlic clove or some herbs). Anchor edges of fat squares with toothpicks (at previous times these were tied with a string) and fry them in hot oil until golden crust, afterwards, stew in own juice for 10 minutes until these are ready. The result exceeds any expectations – liver becomes incredibly soft, rich, without any off-flavour or bitter taste. 

Balkaimak: traditional dessert

This amazing dessert completely unfairly went out of Kazakh daily menu. Although, some pastry chefs use similar food ingredients when baking cakes and short cakes; but original balkaimak had always been a separate dessert. During “toi” (celebrations) people savoured balkaimak with tea, treat it to children so as they grew healthy and strong, and even cured gastritis and stomach ulcer! So what is it you would definitely want to know? Its recipe is very simple: put fresh fat cream in a deep bowl with heavy bottom and place on medium heat (don’t let it boil). While stirring it regularly, accurately pour in flower honey and stir in some close-grained flour. When all these ingredients turn into golden well-mixed blend, let it stew for 10-15 minutes until it is thick, then cool it down and dish up on the table. Try to cook balkaimak on your own and you will understand what a delicious sweetish-creamy treat it is, so it is hard to stop eating it!

Ormetos: for dear son-in-law

This dish is a kind of tribute from parents to their daughter’s beloved one. This is a front part (sternal) of lamb’s carcass that looks quite exotic – its shape reminds of a bird in flight with high lifted wings. The meat is rinsed in salt, pepper, fragrant herbs, decorated with cloves of garlic, sometimes even tomatoes, then folded into a roll and tied up with small intestine from both sides starting from the middle. Some skilled women can even make a kind of patterned net out of small intestine so the ready-to-eat meal looks very festive and beautiful. When the roll is properly fixed, it is put into a metal cooking pot with boiling water so all flavours and taste are reserved inside the roll. When the dish is ready, it becomes incredibly tasty, tender, and useful for health because collagen and elastin in its composition helps to support skin and joints tone.  

Bas-karyn: a dish in the stomach

Only a few people know that ancient Kazakh cuisine had an alternative to modern besbarmak. When flour products were not so popular in the steppe, and “kespe” (special type of noodles) didn’t exist yet, bas-karyn was served at all celebrations. It was cooked as follows: a mutton’s stomach was densely stuffed with meat and a blockhead was put on top of meat. Prior to placing the blockhead into the stomach, it was rinsed in water and cooked in boiling water. The stuffed stomach was stewing on hot coals for several hours until it was absolutely ready-to-eat. In the end the meat became incredibly soft, tender, rich and well prepared in own fragrant broth. 

Kombe: baked in the soil

A highly unusual dish that was … dug in the soil! To be more exact, it was dug in hot but not burning coals. Many centuries ago such unusual approach to meat preparation resulted from the simple need: while roaming from place to place following a herd, one part of aul (a nomad’s settlement), could go too far away from the other part of aul so that the other part couldn’t keep pace with the first part. Those first, who moved too far, had carefully dug a piece of mutton into live coals so that by arrival of those behind them the meat wouldn’t burn but would be soft and ready-to-eat.     

Karynburme: a steppe roast meat

This is one more amazing dish that was cooked in the soil. Incredibly fragrant, tasty and rich this dish was quite similar to these baked in the oven. Skinned and turned with its smooth side inside out tripe was stuffed with finely chopped mutton, various herbs and wild onion, sometimes with vegetables. That kind of a “bag” was densely clayed and put into shallow well puddled earth hole; then moderate fire was built above the hole. It took the dish around two hours to stew in its own juice soaking up with scent of herbs, harsh wooden smoke and soil. 

Kansokta: a blood dish

Undoubtedly, either you find this headline interesting or it has confused you. Despite that blood plays main role in this national dish, the dish itself is highly delicious and does not repel with its iron flavour, as you may have already thought. As it was mentioned earlier, Kazakhs had always treated the food very carefully and were very keen to use all of that an animal could give. After slaughtering of a spring lamb, its scarlet rich for oxygen blood was mixed with pieces of heart, kidneys and lungs; all these were seasoned with salt, herbs, onion and put into thoroughly cleaned large intestine, which was then tied up from both sides. After an hour in boiling water the blood sausage was ready-to-eat. It was very benefit to health, rich for iron, protein and vitamins; it very well satisfied hunger and enriched organism with variety of microelements. 

Asyp: for those who are on a diet

Final dish in our list is extra good for body immunity and, at the same time, is tasty and nutritious. It is a sausage stuffed with tripe, mutton’s liver, rice, onion, salt and pepper. Internal organs, enriched with useful substances from herbs to feed an animal, added those microelements and compounds into nomad’s ration that were not available at that time because of little variety of plant food. Owing to such waste avoidance approach nomads very rarely faced with lack of vitamins and didn’t experience weak immunity. 

It is for sure that many of you, who have read this article, did not even realize how varied and well-thought Kazakh cuisine was several thousand years ago! Of course, the cuisine has been constantly improving since that and new types of vegetables, bakery products and grain appeared in it. However, all abovementioned dishes, despite their considerable age, have reached our day. And this means that food for nomads has always had special sacred meaning and old recipes could not simply disappear.

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