Until a few years ago, eating manti was a Christmas Eve ritual for my extended Armenian family. In the weeks before the holiday, the women in the family gathered at the weekend at my Aunt Esther’s house to make the little buns, which they then freeze. Hours and hours (and hours) of work went into making enough mantis to feed a few dozen people for a meal they had been looking forward to eating all year round. And then it would be over, and we would all have to wait another year.
Manti is common to many Central and West Asian dishes, small packets of spicy minced lamb or beef surrounded by thin wheat dough wraps that are typically steamed or cooked. Armenian manti, sometimes called “sini manti”, however, is a little different. The diminutive, canoe-shaped and open face bun is baked until crispy instead and served in a tomato-infused meat broth, finished with a dollop of yogurt, chopped garlic and a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper and sumac powder. For me, this is the ultimate manti, as the combination of flavors and textures is unparalleled: crunchy-crispy dumplings, their corners gently softened by the warm, aromatic broth, paired with the cool, sour yogurt, all in the light of slightly spicy , fruity and sour garnish.
Unfortunately, as my family members got older and the schedules got busier, we let this annual ritual fall by the wayside. I use “we” here, even though the decision in truth was never up to me or any of the other men in my family, as we never even participated in the work of making manti. When the women in our clan decided that they no longer had the time or energy to make manti for Christmas Eve, it was a sad but completely understandable moment in light of the work involved.
That’s why I wanted to create a manti recipe for you here to bring our family tradition back, albeit only in recipe form. I used my aunt Esther’s manti recipe as inspiration and starting point for my own. I have streamlined her process a bit by resorting to labor and time-saving tools like a pasta roll and pressure cooker, and I have taken myself free with the dough formula a bit, but for the most part I have tried to remain true to the spirit of her recipe and result.
As with all stuffed dumplings, manties are best made in a group setting where the job of rolling, cutting, filling and shaping can be shared between many people. So far, of course, it is 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 manties alone, just the two of us. We also had no problem eating them all ourselves.