Perushki may not be on everyone’s Chanukah menu, but Lillian Cordell would like it if they were.
The meat-filled doughnuts are an interesting variation on the sweet but, more importantly, the recipe required to make them is in Lilian’s book, Miriam’s Table, which is being sold entirely for charity.
The Miriam of the title was Lillian’s mother and it is her history as a member of the Bukharian Jewish community (now known as Uzbekistan) that flavours this tasty collection of anecdotes and colourfully-illustrated recipes.
“It’s a little about the community and a lot about the food, that at times is as rich as the history,” says Lilian (pictured). “Tradition, journeys, poverty, pogroms, prosperity and persecution – that is the food of life. Food that, generations later, found its way onto Miriam’s family table.”
Bukharian Jewry is an ancient community of Central Asian Jews descended from 5th century exiles from Persia.
The city of Bukhara was a hub of Jewish life with a long history that counted merchants and craftsmen who travelled the Silk Road as part of their number.
Pogroms in the late 19th century and annexation by the Russian empire lead to a mass exodus by the Bukharian Jews, with those who remained falling victim to Stalin’s clampdown on emigration.
Today no more than a few thousand Jews remain in Uzbekistan and fewer than 100 in Bukhara itself, which made Lilian all the more determined to tell her family history as deliciously as possible.
“I was in the kitchen with my mother making techoomi osovoh (Brown eggs) and bichak (pumpkin pastries) from the age of 10, and with each dish there was a story,” says Lilian.
“Pilav (rice) was a very important staple and she would buy huge sacks of it. My sister Gloria remembers us having to pick out all the black, dead grains and we’d compete to see who could do it the quickest.”
The preparation of pilav was of particular interest to none other than dining doyen Yotam Ottolenghi, as he had featured Bukharian cooking in his book, Jerusalem.
After meeting Lilian – “a remarkable Londoner with a passion for the food of her ancestors” – he was even more fascinated and encouraged her to write Miriam’s Table, although at the time her mother was still alive.
Ottolenghi described the result as “an invaluable record of dishes that until now relied on word of mouth” in his food column.
Lilian is simply content to share the dishes and divide the profits between Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, Teenage Cancer Trust and North London Hospice.
She even hopes perushki will be on the menu in many more homes this Chanukah.
Perushki (Doughnuts filled with meat)
- For the doughnuts:
- 450g plain flour
- 5g fresh yeast
- Pinch of caster sugar
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 medium egg, beaten
- Pinch of salt
- Sunflower oil, for frying
For the filling:
- 2 leeks, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 50g minced beef
- 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
- salt and black pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
Sieve the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast, sugar, oil, egg, salt and 150ml warm water. Combine, then knead for five minutes and shape into a ball. Cover with a tea towel and rest the dough for 45mins in a warm place. Meanwhile, make the filling. Fry the leeks and onion until soft. Add 2 tbsp cold water, followed by the meat, and cook until browned. Add the chopped egg and sugar, season well with salt and pepper, and mix. Leave to cool.
To make the doughnuts, split the dough in half. On a floured surface, roll out each half to 60cm x 60cm. Add a tbsp of filling approximately every 5cm. Then allow the same space above and below and keep repeating; you should manage around six rows of five. Place the remaining sheet of dough on top. Then, with a 6cm or 7cm circular cutter, cut out the individual doughnuts. Into a deep frying pan, pour enough oil to cover doughnuts and heat until hot. Fry in batches, cooking until a light golden brown. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen roll. Serve warm.
Miriam’s Table is priced £20 and available at thebukhariancookbook.com