Laghman is the most amazing Central Asian dish, and most people haven't even heard of it! Not really a soup, kind of a stir fry, with hand pulled noodles to die for.
This Laghman recipe is a traditional hand pulled, stretched noodle and stir fry served by the cultures in Central Asia. An Asian noodle stir fry that sounds a bit complicated, but there are shortcuts how to make it.
The noodles are hand pulled, stretched and squeezed until they resemble the right shape. Looking at a bowl of Laghman noodles, it's hard to believe they weren't cut into strips. The vegetable beef stir fry is has a delicious tomato-y broth with Chinese Black Vinegar. It's not a soup, so resist adding too much broth. It's also not a dry stir fry, you gotta get the balance right.
Laghman is a traditional dish from the Uyghur people, which spread across the Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the surrounding regions. Uyghurs live in the Xinjiang region of Northwest China. Situated en route the Silk Road, this recipe went far and wide.
How Do I Know About Laghman?
How does a white, Russian guy, who lives in Australia know about Laghman? This recipe is from the region where my parents were born and lived. We grew up calling the recipe Leghmen, which is how it was pronounced in the Uyghur region of China where they lived.
The Kazakh and Kyrgyz pronounce it as Lagman (Лагман), which is how it's pronounced in Russian. Laghman is also known as lamian, similar to lo mein, and is thought to be of Chinese origin. This is not a Chinese recipe, although it's eaten in China and across Central Asia.
My grandparents (from both sides) fled from the Soviet Union to China for safety from religious persecution. China didn't turn communist until 1949, so they had to flee again to the west. We grew up eating so many of the flavors of the food of Central Asia and the Uyghur people. This is food my parents and grandparents ate. The other Uyghur recipe I have made is called Funchoza with Beef, but I made an Australian variation Funchoza with Chicken and Prawns.
Laghman is commonly eaten in many former Soviet countries, and across Russia. It's readily available in food courts in shopping malls from Moscow to Sochi. Many people view Russia as European (and it is) but there's also Asian Russia with many tasty food influences that aren't easily found out west.
Hand Pulled Noodles
I'm not going to lie, it's a lot of work to make any hand pulled noodles recipe. Honestly, this has been the hardest and most intimidating recipe to write. I can stir fry anything with no problems, but the making of the hand pulled noodles is daunting. As a kid, I've been lucky enough to observe how my mom makes it, and now we make it together. Carefully taking notes and photos, my son even helped pull and twist the Lagman noodles.
One of the main differences from Chinese hand pulled noodles compared to the Uyghur Hand Pulled noodles is the use of oil. Chinese noodles use flour to keep the noodles from sticking to each other, the Uyghur use vegetable oil. A totally different way of making noodles. It sounds fattening, but it all boils out in the water.
How to Make Laghman Noodles
The person pulling the noodles makes it look so easy, they twist and pull the dough into noodles. A really good cook knows how to keep the noodles even and have a consistent thickness. It's very hard to master this technique, but having irregular noodles shows that it's handmade, not machine made. There are more detailed instructions in the recipe.
The unique process in making Laghman noodles is allowing the dough to rest. Initially prep the dough into a rolled spiral of dough, about the thickness of your finger. This is oiled while you are forming the dough coil, so it doesn't stick to itself. Your hands will be oily! Then you cover with cling wrap and allow to rest for a minimum of 4 hours.
I asked mom to show how she did the coil, but she said she now uses smaller cut pieces of dough (not a coil). She said she preferred to use dough pieces that are about 8" long, as they are easier to handle than the super long pieces. She laid them side by side, all fully oiled, while they rested.
The last unique part of this process, is pulling the noodles. Holding the rope noodle strands, you gently hit them on the table, while you simultaneously stretching them. I'm trying to do justice to explain the process of a how to make something that looked so easy growing up. But as an adult, it's completely different when you want to make it for your own family.
The finished noodles are hung over the edge of the table until you're ready to cook them. Finally the noodles are cooked in boiling water, just like pasta. It takes about 2 minutes to cook the noodles, al dente and firm. The cooked noodles are immediately placed into cold water to stop the cooking. Serve immediately with the stir fry.
Laghman Noodle Substitution
This is important! Not everyone want to fuss with making the noodles from scratch. You can prepare the Laghman Stir Fry vegetables to serve over thick Asian noodles. They sell round, thicker Korean noodles in frozen blocks in my supermarket. They are already cooked, and just need to be dropped into boiling water to defrost.
Alternatively, Japanese Udon noodles can also be substituted instead. Really you can use any Asian Noodle if want, but please, don't use Italian spaghetti noodles!
Laghman Stir Fry Vegetables
Lagman noodles are boiled and then served with lamb, beef or chicken, but never pork, as the Uyghur are a muslim people and pork is not halal. This Laghman meat stir fry is made with a variety of vegetables. My recipe uses green beans, red peppers, tomato paste, and whatever stir fry type of vegetables are on hand.
- Chinese Cabbage
- Green Peppers
- Garlic Chives (джусай)
How to Use Chinese Black Vinegar
Chinese Black Vinegar is the dominant flavor in this meal, not soy sauce. This creates a whole new dimension and category of an Asian stir fry. You can buy it at any Chinese grocer. If you look hard enough, you might be lucky to find an Uyghur restaurant. Definitely worth the effort! Most people use Black Vinegar to dip Chinese dumplings into, but I love it in a stir fry.
Laghman Recipe Tips
I took a lot of pictures, mostly for my own memory, but hopefully it can show the process a bit more clearly. Mum has no written Lagman recipe, it's all made from memory, and there's different ways to prepare.
- Dough must be soft. Add extra water or flour if needed to get a soft feeling dough
- Use a mug! Mom didn't use measuring cups, but a regular coffee mug when measuring dough for this recipe.
- If using potato, julienne the potatoes and place in water for 20 minutes before frying. This helps keep its shape in the stir fry
- Prepare the Stir Fry first, so when your noodles are done, you can serve right away
- Use 2 frying pans or woks when frying vegetables, it speeds up the cooking time
- Add Chinese Chili Garlic Sauce or Sriracha for a extra spice
- Always serve with Chinese Black Vinegar
Thanks for coming on this journey with me, my kids can't get enough of this food. I'm grateful to keep and share a part of our unique history, and to pass this Laghman recipe down to the next generation. Bon Appetit! Приятного аппетита!
Laghman Stir Fry
- 1 lb green beans chopped in small pieces 500 grams
- 2 red peppers capsicum
- Asparagus bunch chopped in pieces
- 2 large onions or 3 medium onions sliced in thin strips
- 8 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lb beef sliced thin for stir fry 500 grams
- 2 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
- Oil for frying
- Chinese black vinegar
- 2 cup of boiling water
- 5 mugs flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of salt added into 1 ½ mugs of water
- vegetable oil
- water for boiling
How to Make Laghman Stir Fry
- The goal is to fry all the ingredients separately and add them together in the end. The garlic is to be divided equally in all the ingredients, added towards the end of the frying time. Garlic is a finishing flavor, add it too soon, and the flavour will loose it's impact. Mum used 2 frying pans to fry things at the same time, this really sped up the process.
- Add oil to a hot frying pan and fry the beef until it's cooked. When the beef is cooked, add the tomato paste and fry for a few more minutes until its fully coated the beef and the tomato paste has cooked a bit. Add 1 tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar. Finish by adding some garlic in the last few minutes of cooking. Turn off the heat from this frying pan and set aside.
- Heat oil and fry the onions until golden brown. Finish by adding some garlic in the last few minutes of cooking. Add the onions to the frying pan of beef.
- Add oil and fry the aspargus, flash fry it very quickly, for only 2 minutes, add about 1 teaspoon of garlic, mix for 1 minute, and add the asparagus to the frying pan of beef.
- Heat oil and fry green beans. Fry them for about 7 minutes, add garlic, mix and fry for a minute and add the green beans to the frying pan of beef.
- Turn the frying pan with the meat and vegetable mix back on high heat. Add the red peppers and fry them quickly together. Finish off the remaining garlic to the mixture. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add a cup of boiling hot water. Bring mixture to a boil and cook for a few minutes. The colour of the water should have some red in it, from the tomato paste. If it doesn't then you didn't add enough tomato paste and the flavour won't have depth.
- Serve as soon as the Lagman noodles are ready. Remember to have the Chinese black vinegar available on the table. Enjoy!
How to Make Laghman Pulled Noodles
- Mix together the flour, egg, salty water, making a ball of dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. To prevent the dough from sticking to the surface of the counter, mum put a tiny bit of oil on the counter and continued to knead the dough, instead of lightly dusting the counter with flour.
- Cut the dough into wide strips. Using your hands, roll into 8" strips that are about the thickness of your finger. Length doesn't really matter at this point, longer lengths are common, but shorter lengths are easier to handle. Lightly brush in oil, even as you are rolling and forming them into the strips. Keep them covered in oil to ensure they don't stick together. Place on an oiled plate or dish. If on a plate, coil into a circle, and continue each piece, until you have one large continuous coil. Alternatively, place them side by side in a dish and brush with oil. Cover with cling wrap so they don't dry out. Allow them to rest for a minimum of 4 hours. It's best to allow the dough to rest overnight. By allowing they to rest, they will stretch and pull into shape without tearing. Don't skip this step.
- Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile start preparing the dough.
- This is the first part of this dough preparation. Take one strip of dough and using your hands, stretch and pull it. Holding the dough with your left hand, and pulling a few inches with your right hand, continuing until the piece of dough is stretched. It will start to look like a thick oily shoe lace. Keep each stretched shoe lace dough in an individual piles, not touching each other. While you are pulling, also twist at the same time. The technique is hard to master, so just pull, twist and pray for the best! Repeat this process twice, further stretching and twisting each individual dough lace. Cover them with cling wrap during this process, as they will start to dry out.
- The final time of stretching, you need to stretch the rope, while coiling it up like a rope, between your hands, maybe 2 feet apart. Another way to describe it would be to hold it with one hand, and loop it around the other, and continue until your noodle is looped. Then you hit the table gently but firmly with your noodle loop, aiming to hit the middle of the loop on the table. While you are hitting, you are also widening the gap between your hands. The end result is longer stretched noodles. Hang the noodles on the edge of the table until you are ready to cook them. It will take a few tries to get this to looks like noodles, and the shape will be irregular, and pieces might rip, but thats ok. It will all cook together in the same pot!
- The pot of water should be truly boiling by now. Drop the noodles in batches into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes. Using a fork or chop sticks, break apart the noodles so they don't clump together while they cook. The oil on the noodles will help, and the oil washes off the noodles into the water, just like making pasta. After 2 minutes of boiling noodles, pull one out and taste. It should be al dente and firm.
- Prepare a bowl of cold water. When the noodles are cooked, remove from the pot using a mesh/wire noodle strainer, and place into the cold water bowl. This will stop the cooking process. Remove the noodles out of the cold water almost immediately, and serve with lagman stir fry.