The historic Turkish-Armenian talks last week probably had more to do with lucre than with justice, but I will take the opportunity nonetheless to pay tribute to an essential element of shared Turkish and Armenian cuisine: the manti. Manti is comfort food, home food, a steaming bowl on a cold night in kitchens throughout Central Asia, the Caucasus and Anatolia. Where was it born? The debate rages, loaded with political charge as such debates about origin often are.
Rather than search for the ur-manti, let's just say manti is a perfect regional expression of that apparently universal desire for a bit of ground meat wrapped and cooked in a layer of cereal. Ravioli, wontons, and pierogis probably form part of the manti's immediate Eurasian genealogy, but we could perhaps claim that the tamale, the empanada, and the pot-pie respond to the same primordial impulse.
What is manti? Basically, it's a tiny ball of spiced ground lamb (or beef) enfolded in a small square (or triangle) of fresh pasta. This is cooked in one way or another: the Armenians usually fry them lightly in butter first, then boil; Turkish recipes say boil them directly; I'm told in Central Asia they're usually steamed; some renegades bake them. Cook them how you will; the key thing is that the steaming hot, slippery manti then be spooned into a bowl and smothered in yogurt with crushed garlic, and topped with abundant dry mint. Additional toppings may include melted butter, dry sumac, or red pepper.