This recipe has its start with a gift card to an online food delivery website graciously provided by my employer. Deciding on a restaurant to order from was a no-brainer. I had the Helmand, a local restaurant specializing in Afghan cuisine, on my list since moving to Baltimore about a year ago.

Choosing what to order? For that I leaned on The Washington Post’s review of the restaurant from 2003 to help narrow down my options. I figured anything still existing on their menu after nearly 20 years has stood the test of time and was worth trying.

Luckily, I was nudged to try aushak, a dish the restaurant describes as “ravioli filled with leeks, served on yogurt and topped with ground beef and mint.” It was simply sublime.

I am an absolute allium fanatic. I believe you are too and might not know it yet. Sauteing onion at the beginning of countless recipes is when I most often get the “wow that smells delicious” comments from anyone near my kitchen.

Aushak might be your path to realizing your affinity for alliums.

Restraint – a quality with which I am not intimately familiar – is key to this recipe.

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My instinct was to unleash the entire arsenal of spices when tackling this classic dish. My partner wisely advised me to steady my hand. This is typical of our relationship, as I am most often the one with questions and his palate supplies most of the answers. I often overcomplicate what I am tasting, while he is somehow able to distill a flavor to its core elements. “I think the filling is seasoned with salt and just lets the leeks shine,” he said. I concede, less is more here.

Experimenting with the dumpling wrappers proved to be the most challenging part of re-creating this dish. After a couple of false starts, I reverted to a dough-making technique that lets a food processor do most of the work. But I recommend making it even easier on yourself: Simply buy frozen dumpling wrappers.

The rest of the recipe comes together in relatively quick steps. A saute of scallions and leeks mellows out their bite and brings out their natural sweetness, resulting in a filling perfectly suitable for those delicate little wrappers.

Top the boiled dumplings with a meat sauce spiked with coriander and paprika, plus a refreshing and zingy seasoned yogurt, and you’re left with a deeply complex, unexpected crowd pleaser.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – that sounds like a lot of work. So here’s my advice: Read the recipe from start to finish and see what you can break up into smaller segments. Both the filling and the meat sauce here can be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.

I do, however, recommend trying to clear your calendar for the afternoon and diving in. You’ll be surprised at how meditative the process of hand-filling dozens of dumplings can be.

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Aushak (Afghan Leek Dumplings with Yogurt and Meat Sauce)

Active time: 1 hour | Total time: 2 hours

6 servings

Aushak has a simple clarity in its treatment of ingredients, but the preparation is probably best characterized as “project cooking” meant for a weekend or a holiday. Take your time filling the dumplings and creating a hearty meat sauce and yogurt topping, and be rewarded with a showstopper suitable for your most deserving (and discerning) guests.

Make Ahead: The yogurt and meat sauces can be made up to 3 days ahead.

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Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to 3 days. To freeze, transfer the uncooked dumplings to a baking sheet, making sure they are not touching, and freeze them. Then, place them airtight containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Where to Buy: Frozen dumpling wrappers are available at well-stocked grocery stores and Asian markets. The dumplings can be made with either round or square wrappers.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE DUMPLINGS

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 large leeks (about 2 pounds total) trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced

1 bunch scallions (about 8), thinly sliced

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1/2 teaspoon fine salt, or more as needed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Flour, for dusting

36 dumpling wrappers, thawed

FOR THE MEAT SAUCE

2 tablespoons olive oil

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1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces), chopped

3 to 4 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1 pound ground beef (80 percent)

2 teaspoons paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

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1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup tomato sauce

FOR THE YOGURT SAUCE

1 cup plain full-fat yogurt

1 garlic clove, minced or finely grated

1 tablespoon dried mint

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Fine salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Make the dumplings: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the leeks and scallions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until most of the moisture has evaporated, another 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Fill a small bowl with water. Generously dust a large, rimmed baking sheet with flour.

Place a dumpling wrapper on the countertop and add about 1 tablespoon of the leek mixture into the center of the wrapper. Dab your index finger in the water and dampen the edges of the wrapper. Fold in half diagonally to form a half triangle (or half circle if the wrappers are round), pressing the edges together to seal and being careful to squeeze out any pockets of air in the dumpling.

Set the formed dumplings on the prepared baking sheet; cover with a kitchen towel until ready to use. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling until you run out of one or the other.

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Make the meat sauce: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as much as possible. Season with the paprika, coriander, salt and black pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute or so.

Add the tomato sauce, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the meat is cooked through and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes. Makes about 3 cups.

Make the yogurt sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, garlic, dried mint and salt. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, if desired. Makes about 1 cup.

When ready to serve, fill a 3-quart pot three-quarters of the way with salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Carefully drop in 6 dumplings and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking, until the dumplings float to the top and appear translucent, about 5 minutes. Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer the dumplings to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

Top with meat sauce and garnish with yogurt sauce and serve family-style.

Nutrition information per serving (6 dumplings, with 1/2 cup meat sauce and 2 tablespoons yogurt sauce) | Calories: 557; Total Fat: 27 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 57 mg; Sodium: 535 mg; Carbohydrates: 60 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 12 g; Protein: 22 g


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