This is an Uyghur dish. Uyghurs come from what is now northwest China but their language and culture are more akin to those of people from Central Asian countries such as Kyrghyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan. Like the people of those countries, Uyghurs are predominantly muslims. Due to the close historical links between Uyghurs and their Central Asian neighbours and, more recently, to oppression by the Chinese authorities, Uyghurs and, consequently, Uyghur cuisine can be found all over Central Asia.
As laghman is traditionally made with mutton, I had never tried it until a couple of years ago when I travelled through Xinjian provence, the heart of the Uyghur homeland, and had big problems finding vegetarian food. Most of the time I ate bread, pickles and dried fruit. Sometimes I ate Chinese food – usually tofu. One time I was in a small roadside village which was a service centre for lorry drivers and bus passengers. I was really hungry and I walked into the only restaurant and sat down. There was no menu but the waitress came up and put a bowl of tea and a bowl of laghman in front of me, then brought a pair of chopsticks. She went away without a word. I picked the bits of mutton out and ate the laghman. What a pity, I thought, that this always contains meat. There were so many vegetables and spices in it that the meat didn’t seem necessary. I resolved to try a vegetarian version but it was only two years later, when my wife said she fancied laghman for dinner, that I got round to it.
I used soy protein for this recipe but you needn’t. We just happened to have a little left in the bottom of a packet in the cupboard, so I chucked it in. I don’t see soy protein as a ‘meat substitute’. I don’t think such things are necessary, it doesn’t taste anything like meat and I don’t see the point in trying to make it taste like meat. If you make laghman without soy protein, it won’t be any the worse for that.
The noodles traditionally used are thick, hand rolled wheat noodles. You can use any kind I suppose but ordinary Italian style spaghetti works fine. The thicker stuff with the hole running through it is even better if you can find it.
A handful of dried soy protein
1 large potato
1 large carrot
2 green peppers
1 large tomato
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 level tsp. whole coriander seeds
A few black peppercorns
A third of a tsp. crushed dried red chillies
1 star anise
Either a level tsp. of vegetable stock powder, half a vegetable stock cube or a half teaspoon of yeast extract
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
A lot of ingredients but the preparation is fairly simple. You’ll be eating it within an hour of washing the carrots and potatoes.
Start by soaking the soy protein in hot water then peel the carrots and potatoes and chop them up along with the tomato and peppers. Put everything to one side while you peel and chop the onion. Put some oil in a pan (go on, stick a load in) and while it is heating, crush the coriander seeds and peppercorns. Throw them into the hot oil and add the chopped onion a few seconds later. When the onion is starting to brown, crush the garlic and add it with the chilli and whole anise. Stir and fry for a few minutes more then add all the other vegetables. Drain the soy protein, give it a quick rinse in cold water and fire that in too. Stir and put a lid on the pan. Stew the mixture for 5 to 8 minutes then add water to cover everything and more. There should be a lot of liquid in the final sauce – almost like a soup. Add the soy sauce and stock and a little salt if you think it’s necessary, but remember there’s salt in the soy sauce and stock.
Simmer the sauce for about half an hour then add chopped coriander at the end of the cooking time. If you’re planning to serve it straight away, start cooking the pasta about 10 minutes before the sauce is ready, then you can turn the heat off and leave the sauce to cool a little before the pasta finishes cooking. Serve the laghman in deep bowls, half filled with pasta then topped up with sauce.
تېخى باھا يېزىلمىدى.