Turkish Manti with Lamb, Garlic Yoghurt and Spiced Butter

My first dish of manti was a crushing disappointment. I’d developed an interest in Turkish food and was determined, on a visit to Istanbul, to tick off as many experiences as possible – always a guaranteed route to spoiling the fun. I’ve learned over the years that while planning is all well and good, you need to allow for a certain amount of spontaneity when travelling, otherwise it just turns into an exercise in box-ticking. You may as well walk around with your eyes closed.

The manti happened because we were hopelessly lost in some back street – a really steep, cobbled lane which we trudged along in the early afternoon sun, moaning and bickering because we wanted nothing more than an ice cold beer and a plate of something really, authentically Turkish. Once the flip-flops on my newly exposed feet had rubbed the skin raw and our t-shirts clung to our backs we’d had enough and ducked into the next pleasant-enough looking restaurant.

The walls were covered in colourful mosaic tiles and the staff were young and spoke English – not exactly the ‘little old lady rolling yufka’ experience I’d been hankering after but hey, when did jumping to conclusions ever get me anywhere? Also: cold beer. We saw manti on the menu and I was thrilled at the opportunity to tick something off the list. My first, real manti experience was incoming.

They were multicoloured, these dumplings (a warning sign if ever I’ve seen one), and were as bland as flour and water can be. A bowl of flabby pouches in plain yoghurt, underseasoned and sorry for themselves. I’d never tasted manti before, but I knew they had to be more than this, because as a cook, I’m able to read a list of ingredients and have a pretty good idea what the final dish is going to taste like. That was the first thing we ate in Istanbul.

Thankfully, there were many better meals that holiday but actually, no better manti. I’ve had fantastic mantu (Afghani cousins) in Adelaide, glorious khinkali in Georgia and many other dumplings around the world, but no good manti. Even those I’ve eaten in the UK have been a different style entirely, such as the marvellous beetroot and feta version at Queen’s, almost a sort of hybrid dumpling, with various whispers of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus muddling in.

I wanted to start then, by making the very traditional Turkish lamb manti, little folded parcels containing minced meat, topped with garlic yoghurt and spiced butter. I was absolutely convinced I’d mess this up but actually they were fairly easy and I did a little dance around the kitchen when they came out exactly as I wanted them, the first time around. These are the dumplings I’d expected that day in Istanbul. The dumplings of my dreams.

Manti with Lamb, Garlic Yoghurt and Spiced Butter

This will serve 4 people in portions a little larger than the one in the photos. They’re pretty filling, to be honest.

For the dough

225 plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 egg
2 teaspoons olive oil
100ml cold water
Pinch salt

For the filling

150g minced lamb
½ medium onion, grated
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground cinnamon

For the garlic yoghurt

3 cloves garlic, peeled
250g natural yoghurt (full fat, obviously)
Small handful parsley leaves

For the spiced butter

50g butter
¼ teaspoon paprika (make sure your paprika is fresh – in my experience, it’s the spice that most easily loses pungency)
1 teaspoon pul biber flakes (Turkish chilli/Aleppo pepper)

To serve

To make the dough, sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then make a well in the middle. Add the egg and olive oil and mix briefly. Add the water a bit at a time until it comes together into a dough. It shouldn’t be sticky. You might not need all the water, and I’d be surprised if you need more but flour is funny stuff – don’t worry too much. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes or so until smooth and elastic. Divide into 4 pieces. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave for 20 minutes.
While this is happening, mix the lamb, onion, spices and some salt and pepper in a bowl, using your hands.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece at a time to a width of around 2mm. This is easiest with one of those skinny rolling pins, like this (available online or in Turkish shops). Cut the dough into squares. It’s up to you but about 4cm square worked for me.

Place a blob of filling in the centre of each square, approximately the size of a chickpea. Fold opposite ends inwards and pinch together, then set the manti down, push the filling inside (it will have popped up a little) and fold the other sides to form a cross shape. This sounds complicated but is obvious once you have a go (otherwise: Youtube). Set aside on a flour-dusted tray.

Make the yoghurt by simmering the garlic cloves in boiling water for 1 minute, then draining, crushing and mixing with the yoghurt, parsley and a pinch of salt.

Make the butter by melting it and adding the spices. Heat gently, taking care not to burn it.

Cook the manti in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Arrange on the plate with yoghurt and spiced butter. Add some dill fronds if you like. Serve immediately.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Bronwyn January 6, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    These look and sound fabulous, love this kind of food. I love the tip to blanch the garlic before mixing with the yoghurt – had never occurred to me…

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves January 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Thank you! Yeah it just takes off that bitter edge that sticks with you for 6 hours afterwards.

  • Avatar
    Reply Jess January 6, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    mate, that dish looks fucking beautiful, well done

  • Avatar
    Reply Ed January 7, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    [that’s all I wanted to say, but your comment widget claims a 4 letter word is too short to include]

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves January 7, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      I know, it’s really bothering me because I can’t work out how to change it. So, sorry ’bout that! And, thanks 🙂

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    Reply Irfan Yilmaz January 7, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    As a Turkish guy, it looks very delicious 🙂

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    Reply Deborah January 7, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Blanching garlic–what a great idea, and quicker than my usual method of sticking an entire head of garlic in the toaster oven for an hour once a week to get a milder flavor for that weeks’ meals–blanching is a cleaner taste too–although I do love roasted garlic. I admire anyone who can make any kind of dumpling–good for you! It looks beautiful.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves January 7, 2017 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks, Deborah. I love roasted garlic too, although it does have a sweetness which I don’t think would sit quite right in this dish. I love roasted garlic just spread onto bread to be honest.. perhaps not if I have to interact with anyone in person for the following 24 hours. That reminds me of a party I had once where a guy just started eating all my garlic, raw – whole cloves of it. It was really weird. No one could talk to him for the rest of the party. Anyway, sorry! Random anecdote, there.

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    Reply Eliza Bennet January 10, 2017 at 7:39 am

    This looks great!

    Blanching garlic is a great idea (as a person who loves garlic, I always think it has an unnecessary bite in the manti yoghurt)

    Here is another tip (from a Turk) boil the manti in beef stock -and then later use the stock to make some sort of soup (the starch is already included in it so it makes a good lentl soup)-.

    Manti cooked in beef stock is elevated to another level.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves January 10, 2017 at 10:56 am

      That’s a fantastic idea! I’ll definitely try cooking them in stock next time. Thanks for the tip.

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    Reply Kathryn January 14, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    I just made these and they were bloody delicious. I used beef mince and boiled in beef stock as suggested above. Tracked down the pul biber in the organic village market on lordship lane which seems to specialise in Turkish food., I hadn’t been there before so it was a great find and will be back to pick up other goodies.

    Thanks for the recipe !!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves January 18, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      Excellent! Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed them Kathryn. I know the shop you mean, too. The one towards the Goose Green end?

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    Reply Hratche January 15, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    So mante is also an armenian dish, but the dumplings are open and baked hard in the oven before serving in a tomato and yogurt broth. The crunchiness of the dumplings alongside the warming broth is a taste sensation. Traditionally served with with a sprinkling of sumac. If you have any armenian friends deffinetly worth inviting yourself over to dinner for 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves January 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      That sounds fabulous! So many dumplings, so little time…

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    Reply Niamh March 15, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Well these look a little lovely! Something I have wanted to make for a while. When I lived in Green Lanes I always used to see them (tiny ones!) in the Turkish cafes there.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves March 15, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Thanks Niamh! Yeah I wouldn’t fancy making those teeny tiny ones.. they’re all factory made I assume. These were actually quite simple to make (I seriously thought they’d be impossible to shape).

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    Reply Adnan Ur-Rub June 18, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    Just made this for friends – everyone loved it

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    Reply Susu December 24, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    I just made these and it brought back memories of making these from scratch with a Turkish neighbor. Delicious! I cheated, and used wonton wrappers for my dumpling and substituted sumac seasoning for the paprika but it was spot on! I also sprinkled fresh mint on top. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves January 3, 2019 at 10:08 am

      FAB! So so happy you made them and enjoyed them! Great improv work on the wonton wrappers too 🙂

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    Reply Spencer April 1, 2020 at 4:46 am

    Our first experience of manti came like a bolt out of the blue which was totally unexpected in Göreme, Cappadocia. We had watched the old lady sitting out the front of the restaurant making gözleme and manti, and decided we had to try it. The sauce was out of this world. We tried to guess the ingredients of the sauce and went quite well with the waiter. Could not nail the lemony taste. Got everything else right. Of course it was sumac, and this lent the dark red colour to the sauce. I think my favourite dish in all the countries I’ve visited. I think I will adapt the sauce to many other dishes.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves April 2, 2020 at 11:10 am

      Wonderful story! Food is always better in its original context, of course, but I hope you get to experience a little of the magic at home.

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