Shish barak is a favorite dish of the Middle Eastern food lover looking for something delicious.
Dating back to the 14th century this particular dish is no doubt a mishmash of several different cuisines.
Most likely with its origins in Ancient Persia in pre-Islamic times, it is consumed widely throughout the Levant.
The dumpling itself was invented in China during the Han Dynasty.
Lasting 400 years, the Han Dynasty was known for much trade along the Silk Road.
This is the most likely explanation for the introduction of the filled dumpling to Asia Minor.
What is Shish Barak?
Simply put, shish barak consists of meat dumplings cooked in a yogurt stew.
A comfort food for many in the Middle East, it is very similar to tortellini in shape and size.
I like to use ground lamb which is a typical meat eaten in this part of the world, although some will use beef.
The meat stuffed filling is placed on the prepared dumpling dough, folded, and pinched into a moon shape.
Then the ends are brought together and pinched again making a tortellini shape.
The dumplings can be easily frozen at this stage for later use, similar to any other stuffed pasta.
Spicing and fillings of course have been influenced by local cultures and cuisines.
Whereas a lot of pork is used in Chinese dumplings, this practice would have changed as Islam took hold.
Pork being forbidden food to Muslims, lamb took its place as a substitute since that was and is an animal raised locally.
It seems every family has its own way of spicing this recipe, often depending on what region they are from.
I like to delicately flavor mine with a bit of cumin, cilantro and shatta (chili paste).
In my experience it works best when the subtlety of the spices do not overpower the yogurt sauce.
How to Make Shish Barak
Preparing this dish does take a bit of time, but it is less than you’d think, and definitely worth it.
The filling is prepared using ground beef or lamb, gently spiced and mixed for this shish barak recipe.
Once the dough is made and rolled out flat, it is time to cut the dough.
This is usually done using a cookie or biscuit cutter to get the round pieces of dough.
The dumplings are filled and shaped before bringing a pot of water to a boil.
Add the dumplings to the boiling water, and cook for about 20 minutes over medium heat.
The process is like that of cooking any filled pasta.
In a small pan roast pine nuts with a little olive oil until lightly browned.
Mix a little of the boiled water with the yogurt and butter to make the sauce.
Add the cooked and drained shish barak to the sauce and add pepper flakes and the pine nuts.
Sometimes chopped onions are sautèd and added to the sauce along with dried mint.
(There is an alternative method where the little dumplings are brushed with vegetable oil, baked in the oven until golden brown, then put in the sauce.)
Origins of Pasta
Many people default to Italy as the home of pasta, but the origins of this food are further east.
It has been hypothesized that the Italian explorer Marco Polo brought pasta making methods from his travels to China.
However the kind of noodles that were made in China were different to those made in Europe.
Another theory is that pasta was actually a Greek invention that was adopted in Italy.
My theory about this type of question is that foods were shared widely by merchants and explorers.
Borrowing from each other, different cultures built on all the different influences that surrounded them.
At the end of the day it seems to be more about national pride than it does about where food really came from.
Does who was first really matter when a dish being eaten is delicious enough to share with others?
Regardless of where they are from or what their food is like.
Tips for Making
- The most important thing is to make sure that your dumplings don’t open up while cooking.
- You can achieve this by not overfilling the bits of dough, and moistening the outer edge of the dough.
- Squeezing the dough edges together well enough to bind them to one another.
- Don’t overcook the dumplings by leaving them in the water too long.
- Also let the dough rest for about 15 minutes after making for best results.
Shish Barak Recipe
- 1 lb Lamb ground
- ½ tsp Cumin
- ¾ tsp Salt
- 1 tbsp Chili Paste (shatta)
- 2 tbsp Cilantro
- 1 cup Flour
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- ¾ cup Water
- Pinch of Salt
- ½ cup Water from cooking the dumplings
- 4 tbsp Butter melted
- 1 cup Yogurt thick, room temperature
- ½ tsp Crushed Red Pepper optional
- ¼ cup Pine Nuts for the topping
- For the filling, mix all ingredients together and set aside in the refrigerator.
For the Dough
- Mix the flour and salt together.
- Add the olive oil and water and make into a dough.
- On a floured surface roll out the dough to about a quarter of an inch thick.
- Using a 3-3.5 inch cookie cutter cut several pieces of dough.
- Fill each circle with about a teaspoon of filling.
- Fold over, moistening the edge of the dough, making half moon shapes. Pinch the two ends together making a tortellini shape.
- Bring three quarts of water to a boil, add the dumplings and cook gently for about 20 minutes until dumplings begin to float.
For the Sauce
- Add half a cup of the cooking water to a warmed bowl.
- Add the butter to the water, then add the yogurt. Stir in the dumplings.
- If you want more spice, you can add crushed red pepper.
- Toast the pine nuts until golden brown in a pan using a drop of olive oil. Sprinkle with the pine nuts. Serve immediately.