Manti are meat-filled dumplings common to many Central and West Asian cuisines. At their most basic, they are parcels of spiced ground lamb or beef surrounded by a thin wheat dough wrapper, and they’re typically steamed or boiled. The word “manti” is etymologically linked to mandu in Korean, mantou in Chinese, and manju in Japanese, illustrating the far-flung history of the dish, which is thought to have been carried from East to West Asia by Mongols traveling the Silk Road.
Armenian manti, sometimes called “sini manti,” are a variation in which the dumplings—tiny, canoe-shaped, and open-faced, in this case—are baked until crisp and then served in a tomato-infused meat broth, finished with a dollop of yogurt, minced garlic, and a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper and sumac powder. To me, this the ultimate manti, since the combination of flavors and textures is unparalleled: crunchy-crisp dumplings, their corners softened gently by the hot, aromatic broth, paired with the cool, tart yogurt, all of it brightened by lightly spicy, fruity, and tart garnishes.
Up until a few years ago, eating manti was a Christmas Eve ritual for my extended Armenian family. For weeks before the holiday, the women in the family would gather together on weekends in my Aunt Esther’s kitchen to roll, fill, shape, and bake the tiny dumplings, which would then be frozen in advance of the Christmas Eve meal. Hours and hours (and hours) of work went into making enough manti to feed a few dozen people a meal they’d been looking forward to eating all year long. And then it would be over, and we’d all have to wait another year to enjoy the dish.
Sadly, as schedules grew busier and people grew older, we let this ritual fall by the wayside. I use “we” here, though in truth the decision was never up to me or any of the other men in my family, since we never participated in the work of making manti ourselves. When the women of our clan decided that they no longer had the time or energy to make manti for Christmas Eve, it was a sad, but entirely understandable moment, given the labor involved.
Which is why I wanted to create a manti recipe for you here, to bring our family tradition back, even if only in recipe form. I used my Aunt Esther’s manti recipe as the inspiration and starting point for my own. I’ve streamlined her process slightly by turning to labor- and time-saving tools like a pasta roller and pressure cooker, and I’ve taken liberties with the dough formula a little, but for the most part I’ve tried to remain true to the spirit of her recipe, and the result.
As with all filled dumplings, manti are best made in a group setting, where the jobs of rolling, cutting, filling, and shaping can be shared among many people. For the time being, that’s obviously not an option, but I can say that during many rounds of recipe testing my wife and I had no problem making many hundreds of manti all on our own, just the two of us. Nor did we have any problem eating them all ourselves.