Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making manti with Lenura for Thanksgiving

It’s a Sunday afternoon. I returned home a couple of hours ago from a weekend in the village of Stary Krim, about a 2-hour bus ride from Simferopol. PCVs Jason and Aubree live there and they decided to invite all the Crimean PCV’s for a potluck Thanksgiving Feast. They managed to buy a turkey from a local person (turkeys are not a common food here), cut it into smaller chunks, and cooked it in a toaster oven, along with stuffing, glazed carrots (no sweet potatoes in Ukraine), and gravy. The rest of us contributed mashed potatoes, pumpkin bread, salad, cranberries, and lots of other goodies. And Aubree also managed to make a pumpkin pie and apple pie for the occasion! None of which sounds all that difficult, until you consider the fact that the town they live in has no consistent water supply, so they depend on filling up plastic bottles for water; the kitchen in Jason’s apartment (the better of the kitchens in their apartments) has no stove and only a small sink with no running water, and the only counter space was a small table mostly taken up with the toaster oven (which had to be carried from Aubree’s apartment a half hour walk away along with a couple of chairs).
Of course, despite the “hardships,” we managed to have a great meal and a great time—imbibing some beer and wine, eating our way through all the delicious foods, playing cards and then a charades game. Before dinner, Cheryl and Vicki, my older PCV pals, and I took an afternoon walk up into the hills to see the ancient Armenian monastery located there. Built in the 1300’s, the monastery has been somewhat restored and is an imposing structure, high on a hill top overlooking the valley below. A young Armenian man who could speak some English showed us around and told us that there is now a priest living there and that it is an active monastery. Curious about the relationship of the Armenians with the Crimean Tatars, I asked him if Tatars were here when the Armenians build the monastery, and he said, “Oh no, they are a much newer people.” I, of course, knew that not to be true, and indeed, when we visited the ruins of the old mosque in the center of town the next day, there was a plaque saying the mosque was built in 1311, which would have been before the Armenian monastery. I was not overly surprised by his answer, because I think it reflects some of the ethnic tensions here in Crimea, but it also wanted me to explore exactly what is the joint history of the Armenians and the Crimean Tatars.
Some of the PCV’s had to head home that night, including Cheryl and Vicki, but a number of us stayed, though not totally willingly, as my site mate Adrianne had planned to get back to Simferopol that night and went to the bus station 15 minutes before her bus was due to depart, only to be told that the bus had already come and gone, despite the fact that she had a ticket for the bus! Oh, the undecipherable workings of the Ukrainian transport system…
We had a good time that evening talking and playing games and it wasn’t too awfully late (midnight), as some of us made our way through the very dark streets to Aubree’s apartment, where we stretched out on the floor in our sleeping bags. Luckily, I also had a sleeping pad I had brought with me. I really am too old to sleep on hard floors.
For my contribution to the dinner, I asked Lenura to help me make pumpkin filled manti, a Crimean Tatar dish. Of course, it was really the other way around—she made them and I helped—mostly folding the manti into their intricate little shapes. Manti are a steamed dumpling or ravioli, traditionally filled with meat but sometimes with pumpkin and onions as we did this time, or other fillings. The real art to making manti is the crust. Composed of only flour and water and a small amount of salt, it is rolled out to a thin crust. I was amazed how quickly Lenura was able to take a ball of dough and turn it into a perfectly round, very large and thin crust, ready to be cut into squares for the filling. Folding the manti into the proper shape with the filling inside is a precise maneuver, but easy to master—even I was able to learn it! Then the manti are placed onto stacking trays in a stove top steamer (brought from Uzbekistan—it was Neshet’s mother’s) and 30 minutes later you have beautiful delicious steamed manti, usually served with a dollop of butter or sour cream.
I doubt I will ever be able to master making manti on my own, but I sure love helping Lenura make them, and of course, eating them! As did all my fellow PCV’s at our Thanksgiving feast.
Much love from Crimea on this post-Thanksgiving Sunday.

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