As the weather gets seriously chilly, the one thing I always crave is the lamby cooking of the Uighurs, the Asian Muslims who hail from the part of the world where Asia reaches toward Russia.
Back in 2006, I was enchanted by an article in the Times by Julia Moskin called The Silk Road Leads to Queens, about the food of those from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Afghanistan and western China.
In many cases that means skewers of lamb belly, rib and meatballs; french fries dusted with garlic and herbs; lamb noodle soups with rustic, wobbly hand-made noodles and hunks of root vegetables floating in a lamby clear broth that cures what ails you; lamb pies with scallions; steamed lamb or pumpkin dumplings called manti, fat rounds of fresh bread; and platters of pickled eggplant, cabbage, green tomatoes or slender slivers of carrot, all topped with flavored vinegars or a ruddy red homemade chili paste.
One of the few Brooklyn places Moskin namechecked was Cafe Kashkar, at 1141 Brighton Beach Avenue near Brighton 14th Street. Back in 2006 I headed there immediately with a few friends, and have been going back ever since, often jumping on the train just after work on Fridays.
(The owners are Muslim, but they’ll let you BYOB–in fact the Brighton Beach locals often opt to pack a tiny little bottle of vodka, which they chase with coke or seltzer or fruit juice. Plus they’re open until 2 a.m. on weekends!)
No matter the time I arrive one of my favorites from the place are the samsa, essentially crispy-thin dough pockets stuffed with ground lamb and onions, simple and straightforward, maybe not much more in there than some salt and pepper. If luck is with you you’ll walk in just as they come out of the oven, when they’re set up on the little ledge on the window into the tiny kitchen–where you can get a peek at the chef making samsa and manti from a giant stainless steel bowl of ground lamb. Passers-by come in off the street to get a few to go: at $2.50 a pop they’re a steal of a supper. And eaten steaming straight from their brown paper bag as you ride home on the Q train, with it’s Brighton views of the rooftops and the beach, just one is nearly worth the ride.