Dungan Spice Blend and Summer Salad : From Bishkek Via Brussels

Last weekend I had a cooking class with Zulfiya Ma Tian Yu of Dungan Food. Zulfiya lives in Bishkek, Kyrgystan, but we managed to overcome the Bishkek-Brussels distance by a combination of video and WhatsApp. Thanks to  modern technology, I’ve learned the basics of this ancient cuisine. The Dungans are a community of Muslims of Arab-Chinese descent living in Central Asia, mostly in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Originating from Western China, where the Dungans are known as Hui, this community has a distinctive identity, amalgamating various cultural influences. Its cuisine is likewise diverse, vibrant–and different from the cuisines of their immediate neighbors.

Imagine the sophisticated seasonings of Persian cuisine, intricate Chinese techniques and the robust Central Asian palette–and you get an idea of what Dungan food is like. There are noodle dishes served with an array of dozens of salads and sauces, dumplings filled with lamb and pumpkin, and paper-thin crepes for wrapping stir-fries of garlic chives and pepper. Each meal is served with plenty of vegetables, and everything is cooked just enough to enhance the natural flavors.

My cooking teacher Zulfiya records and preserves old recipes she had learned from her family, and she’s a gifted instructor. She explains the fine details of each preparation so well that after watching her Youtube channel, I decided to try a class. If you speak Russian, I recommend that you take a look as well–and to follow her on Instagram, where she posts stories about the Dungans, their food and culture.

Since resources on Dungan food are few in Russian, to say nothing of English, I’d like to give you a taste by sharing Zulfiya’s recipe for a Dungan spice mixture and a summer vegetable salad. No Dungan meal is complete without this brightly colored, refreshing dish. You can use vegetables in any proportion you like and season to your taste. If you prefer more heat, add a hot chili instead of bell pepper. You can also make the salad in advance, but do the final sizzling oil flourish and seasoning just before serving.

In today’s world that likes clear-cut boundaries and neat labels, the Dungan community is another example of how diversity and exchange create rich cultures. Their delicious cuisine is one such manifestation.

Dungan Spice Blend

Zulfiya says that the Dungans have many variations on this blend, but the basic one includes coriander, Sichuan pepper, fennel and star anise. The only requirement is to have coriander as 40% of the spice blend and the rest is up to you. Below I’m sharing a version that I liked the most, balancing the burnt orange accent of coriander against the floral sweetness of star anise and the numbing spice of Sichuan pepper.

4 teaspoons coriander seed
1 star anise
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Put coriander seeds into a dry pan and saute on medium heat till fragrant, 4-5 minutes. This is similar to my CC powder recipe. Coriander will change color slightly. Remove from the heat, transfer into a bowl and let cool. Grind with the rest of the spices. Store in an air-tight jar. This amount makes less than 1/4 cup, but it’s a richly scented blend, and a little goes a long way.

How to Use

Season fresh salads (see the recipe below)
Marinated meat before grilling
On roasted vegetables. It’s excellent on cauliflower and zucchini.
Sprinkle it on roasted potatoes and add a handful of herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Try it on grilled tomatoes and onions.

Dungan Layered Vegetable Salad

This is a simple combination of cucumbers and tomatoes, but what makes all the difference is the style of cutting, layering and seasoning.  Even if you don’t speak Russian, you can see Zulfiya’s video lesson on Youtube, in which she shows how she slices vegetables. Each technique is designed to retain freshness and crunch. Even if you make this salad in advance, it will not turn soggy (but I do recommend waiting to sizzle it with oil until the last minute.)

The quantities of the ingredients are entirely up to you, the list below is only a template.

1 cucumber
1 tomato
2 scallions
cilantro
1/4 red bell pepper or medium-hot chili pepper
2 garlic cloves’
1-2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
Seasonings: Dungan spice blend or black pepper, salt, vinegar (Chinese black vinegar is especially good here).

Cut cucumber into quarters lengthwise and then cut each quarter at an angle into thin, 1-1.5″slices. Cut tomatoes into quarters and then slice each quarter at an angle, likewise thinly. The scallions should also be cut at an angle into 1″ strips. The bell pepper is minced or finely julienned. Cilantro is chopped and the garlic is minced. Layer the vegetables in the following order: cucumber, tomato, scallions, cilantro, red pepper, garlic. Sprinkle Dungan spices or black pepper on top of the garlic. When ready to serve, heat the oil until smoking and immediately pour it over the garlic and dry spices. The oil should sizzle. Add salt and vinegar to taste and mix.

How to do the sizzling oil flourish:

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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33 Comments

  • Karen A: What fun! Thanks for sharing recipes and inspiration. June 15, 2020 at 9:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you like it! June 16, 2020 at 4:12am Reply

  • carole: omg-thank you for this! The weather here is dreary, and some added spice to cooking is just what I need 🙂 June 15, 2020 at 9:47am Reply

    • Victoria: This salad is so refreshing, no wonder the Dungans serve it with all of the meals. June 16, 2020 at 4:13am Reply

  • John Biebel: This looks insanely good, thanks for sharing. June 15, 2020 at 10:18am Reply

  • Trudy: Yum. This looks delicious and I will be trying both the spice blend and the salad very soon. Thank you for sharing. June 15, 2020 at 10:49am Reply

    • Victoria: You can also use this spice blend with some soy sauce and honey on grilled chicken. It’s so versatile. June 16, 2020 at 4:14am Reply

  • Christine Funt: Always love your recipes. I’ll be making this one. June 15, 2020 at 12:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! Hope that you like it. June 16, 2020 at 4:14am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: This is cool! Must & will try!! June 15, 2020 at 3:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Please let me know what you think. I’m sure you can do your own riffs on that idea. June 16, 2020 at 4:16am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria for this vibrant post. It’s wonderful that technology can be used to share culture. Your photographs are dazzling. June 15, 2020 at 4:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you!

      Amazing, isn’t it? I’m a big fan of learning cooking via video, especially now since traveling is impossible. June 16, 2020 at 4:16am Reply

  • Kathy: This looks wonderful – I will try it very soon. I should mention because I never replied how good it was, and though it is early in the season, that your readers should look at your “Chakhokhbili, a Georgian chicken stew” from September of 2017. Oh, and I see those little apricots in the background of the dugan picture….I hope they get ripe! 🙂 June 15, 2020 at 7:08pm Reply

    • Kathy: P.S. Oh, I see I did comment. But the main point is that your recipes are very well written and people should try them. June 15, 2020 at 7:54pm Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you again! So happy to hear this. June 16, 2020 at 4:21am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so glad that you’re also a fan of this dish:
      https://boisdejasmin.com/2017/09/georgian-chicken-stew-with-tomatoes-and-herbs-chakhokhbili-recipe.html
      I have to make it several times during the tomato season. June 16, 2020 at 4:19am Reply

    • Victoria: I doubt that the apricots will get ripe, since they must have been picked stone-hard. I usually cook them, and it brings out whatever flavor they have. Apricot jam with orange peel and cardamom is another effective way to use these less-than-perfect apricots. June 16, 2020 at 4:20am Reply

  • Bettina Douglas: Thank you. I love that there is another take on the timeless tomato, cucumber and onion salad! One of my favourites and I will watch the video and make the spice blend too.
    Agree with your comments about boundaries and labels – it is our diversity that makes the world so interesting. June 15, 2020 at 7:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m a big fan of tomato-cucumber salads, and this one has definitely become one of my top favorites. June 16, 2020 at 4:21am Reply

  • Qwendy: Wow this is a cuisine I have never heard of! It looks like It bears a bit of similarity to Afghan cuisine, which I adore, and our fave restaurant in Los Angeles’ Monterey Park was an Islamic Chinese one, so this is right up my alley! I Only wish I spoke Russian! Thanks so much for the fantastic tip, I love the idea of the sizzling oil bringing it all together at the end! June 16, 2020 at 2:14am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s quite different from Afghan cuisine, I’d say. Less spice, shorter cooking times, grilled meats don’t feature that heavily. The flavors are much more subtle. Chinese cooking techniques and spicing form its basis, mostly from Western China. Lots of dumplings, steamed buns and breads, and of course, lumian (lagman, lamian, lo mein)–noodles. Noodles are the star dishes of Dungan cuisine. Some dishes feature several different types of noodles at once. June 16, 2020 at 4:26am Reply

      • Qwendy: Sounds a lot like the food at the Islamic Chinese place we loved! There is a Dungan resto in Brooklyn! Hope it survives! I am making your salad tonight! Thanks again 💕
        https://youtu.be/ud4mfiPChL8 June 16, 2020 at 6:32am Reply

        • Victoria: Ah, interesting! Dungan, by the way, is a Soviet-era term for the Hui ethnic group, so when you see it mentioned, you can be sure that these people come from the parts of Central Asia that were once in the USSR.
          Uyghur food is also wonderful. June 16, 2020 at 8:18am Reply

  • Alice: I made it last night and I report back that it’s delicious and that it’s now going into my summer rotation. Doing the sizzling oil thing was fun. Thank you very much! June 16, 2020 at 2:22am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy that you’ve tried and especially that you’ve liked it! It’s not a complicated dish, but it has its interesting twists.
      Enjoy! June 16, 2020 at 4:27am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: These dishes look and taste nice. Sizzling oil dressings also feature in Cantonese cuisine, and can be used as a dipping sauce for meat . I would usually steam Sea Bass (whole or fillet) with strips of ginger until the fish is cooked through. Remove fish from heat, add julienned spring onions and add soy sauce. Vegetable oil is heated in a pan until smoking, then poured over the fish.

    As a dipping sauce, spring onion and ginger are finely chopped, salt and soy sauce are added and mixed throughly. Then sizzling oil is added to the mixture. This sauce is usually served with steamed chicken. June 16, 2020 at 7:20am Reply

    • Victoria: I find the range of techniques used in Chinese cuisine impressive and inspiring. To say nothing of the knife techniques.
      Thank you, I’ll have to make fish or chicken this way. One of my close friends here is from Guangzhou, and we like to cook together. June 16, 2020 at 8:14am Reply

  • Aurora: I am learning through this post, the Dungan community sounds as if they are at the crossroads of great culinary traditions, and I bet that would impress guests.
    I never tire of tomatoes and cucumbers, as a vegetarian, this is so welcome, thank you for sharing what you’ve learned. June 16, 2020 at 3:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! It’s an easy salad, and it’s so versatile. June 25, 2020 at 2:05am Reply

  • Kathy: I watched the video (though I don’t understand Russian) and the chopping technique was fun to learn. I strayed from the recipe only in reducing the garlic amount, due to personal preference. I only recently learned what Sichuan peppers are and their taste, or sensation, is fun and fits in well with this dish. All around an easy dish with a “wow” factor. Thanks again for sharing. June 19, 2020 at 6:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Kathy, thank you so much for letting me know! I’m so glad to hear that you liked it and that you’ve picked up something useful from the post and the video. Her knife skills are impressive, and the way she cuts all of the vegetables ensures that they stay fresh. Enjoy! June 25, 2020 at 2:05am Reply

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