Kuurdak is a traditional and popular dish in Kyrgyzstan

Kuurdak: How The Kyrgyz Do Meat and Potatoes

Published: June 11, 2022

Kuurdak (куурдак) is a traditional Kyrgyz dish and one of the oldest recipes found in Central Asia. It is eaten throughout Central Asia and particularly beloved as a national dish in Kyrgyzstan.

This stewed meat dish is one of the easiest and simplest recipes to make. Traditionally, the meat used is mutton (lamb), horse, and/or organ meat cooked in plenty of fat from the animal. Nowadays, you can use whatever meat you like or have on hand, such as beef or chicken, however, fatty meat works best in this dish as the animal fat coats the meat and gives the dish it’s most traditional, lovely flavor.

How Kuurdak Got Its Name

(Почему так называется?)

Kuurdak gets its name from the Kyrgyz word куурулган, which refers to something “roasted” or “fried.” This is exactly what the dish is.

How and When Kuurdak is Eaten

(Как правильно есть куурдак?)

Ancient nomads of Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia prepared this dish with a freshly slaughtered sheep, using the meat while it was fresh and could be cooked quickly. Today, Kuurdak is often cooked as a quick, simple, everyday meal as it comes together quickly. It is also common at celebrations and anytime that a family is expecting many guests, as it can easily be made in bulk. For celebrations, it’s often served as an appetizer before the main dish beshbarmak, along with a side salad of cucumbers and tomatoes.

Preparing Traditional Kuurdak

(Как правильно готовить куурдак?)

The recipe has changed over time and also differs between regions and individual chefs.

Kuurdak history culture recipe
A plate of Kuurdak served with salads a prepared by author Maria Holderbaum’s homestay mother in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

In its most basic form, it is just meat and/or offal fried in its own fat. The most common additions beyond this are just onions and possibly garlic. Thus, with a bit of chopping and sautéing, this dish comes together in no time!

The modern Kyrgyz recipe has made two major changes. First, vegetable oil has taken the place of some animal fat. Ancient nomads would have used vegetable oil sparingly, if it all, preferring animal fat as the much more readily available ingredient. Without oil, fat is needed to ensure that the meat can evenly and deeply cook in the pan or pot.

Fat also allowed the kuurdak to be better preserved. With the addition of an extra layer of fat, the dish is preserved well enough to take for travel or even preserved for winter, so long as the meat itself is not at all exposed to air. Today, however, preserving meat is not as much of a necessity and vegetable oil is relatively cheap, readily available, and allows for faster cooking times.

The second major change is what makes Kyrgyz kuurdak really stand out among other Central Asian variants. While both garlic and onions likely originated in Central Asia and were thus available to ancient nomads, the potato, which originated in the Americas, was only introduced in the 19th century.

Krygyzstan’s soil and climate are not unlike those found in Idaho, America’s main potato-producing state. As potatoes flourished in Kyrgyzstan, they became a staple in many Kyrgyz and Central Asian dishes, including kuurdak. Potatoes are today so popular in this region, that Central Asians sometimes call them “second bread,” as bread is a staple found on nearly every Central Asian dinner table. Tiny Kyrgyzstan is today the world’s 10th largest producer of the tubers.

Thus, the traditional recipe of Kuurdak has evolved, particularly in Kyrgyzstan, to include the addition of potatoes which has enriched the dish’s texture and enhanced the flavor of the meat.

Also, the star of the show in this recipe, in our opinion, are the onions, sautéing the onions and having the flavor melt with the meat and potatoes really gives this dish flavor and balance. This recipe calls for one large onion, however, feel free to add more (or less) onion as you see fit for your personal tastes.

Other regional variations include the use of sheep offal (often without meat) in Kazakhstan. Potatoes are less common in Uzbek and Turkmen variations.

Let’s Cook Kuurdak!

(Давай приготовим!)

Куурдак по кыргызски Kyrgyz Kuurdak
Ингредиенты:

 

  • 15 мл масла (растительного или подсолнечного)
  • 500 г говядины или баранины (нарезать небольшими кусочками)
  • 1 большая луковица
  • 4 картофелины среднего размера
  • 15 г чеснока (2-4 зубчика)
  • 100 мл воды
  • 1 пучок зеленого лука
  • Соль и перец

 

Приготовление Куурдак

1. Нарежьте одну большую луковицу соломкой или кольцами (отделите ¾ луковицы для приготовления и ¼ луковицы для начинки).

2. Зубчики чеснока нарезать небольшими кусочками.

3. Нарежьте 500 г говядины или баранины на мелкие кусочки (лучше всего подойдут кубики размером 3 см).

4. Добавляем к мясу соль и перец (примерно по ¼ ч.л.)

5. Очистите и нарежьте кубиками по 3 см 4 картофелины среднего размера.

6. Обжарьте мясо в 15 мл масла в большой кастрюле, пока оно не обжарится со всех сторон.

7. Добавьте в кастрюлю ¾ луковицы и чеснок и обжаривайте, пока лук не станет золотисто-коричневым.

8. Добавьте в кастрюлю кусочки картофеля, затем налейте в кастрюлю 1 стакан воды.

9. Накройте крышкой и дайте постоять 30 минут. Время от времени проверяйте воду в горшке, при необходимости добавляйте больше воды. Когда кусочки картофеля и мясо станут мягкими, блюдо готово!

10. Выложите на тарелку оставшиеся ¼ ломтика лука.

11. При необходимости добавьте соль и перец.

Ingredients:

 

  • 15 ml oil (vegetable or sunflower)
  • 500 g beef or lamb w/fat (cut into bite sized pieces)
  • 1 large onion (separate ¾ and ¼)
  • 4 medium sized potatoes
  • 15 g garlic (2-4 cloves)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • Salt & Pepper

 

Preparing Kuurdak

1.     Slice one large onion into strings or rings (separate ¾ of the onion for cooking and ¼ of the onion for topping)

2.     Chop cloves of garlic into small pieces

3.     Slice 500 gr of beef or lamb into bite sized pieces (3 cm cubes work perfectly)

4.     Add salt and pepper to the meat (about ¼ tsp each)

5.     Peel and chop 4 medium-sized potatoes into 3 cm cubes.

6.     Sauté meat in 15 ml oil, in a large pot until seared on all sides.

7.     Add ¾ onion and garlic to the pot and sauté until onions are golden brown.

8.     Add potato pieces to the pot, then pour 1 cup of water into the pot.

9.     Cover and let cook for 30 minutes. Check the water of the pot occasionally, add more water if needed. When the potato pieces and meat are soft, the dish is ready!

10.  Plate dish and top with remaining ¼ onion slices

11.  Add additional salt and pepper if needed.

 

Our Favorite Kuurdak Videos

The video below was made for Kyrgyz tourism and is set in a local Kyrgyz village where a local teaches travelers how to make kuurdak. Note that they use the term “kara-kuurdak,” which litterally translates to “black-fried.” In most sources, kara-kuurdak refers to kuurdak that contains only meat and fat (without onions). Here, this specific use of the term, by a Kyrygz native, seems to refer to kuurdak without potatoes, which probably shows how integral the potato has become for the Kyrgyz.

Below is a recipe for Kazakh kuurdak, using offal. The woman speaks in Russian, but there are English subtitles available.

Below is a very simple video with a Kyrgyz-speaking cook and Russian-language supporting text. Everything is clear, however, from the very simple movements of the video.

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About the author

Maria Holderbaum

Maria Holderbaum

Maria Holderbaum, at the time she wrote for this site, was an International Relations major at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She was also studying Russian Language and Central Asian Studies in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her future career ambitions included working for Non-Governmental Organizations and working with refugees. Maria enjoys traveling, finding the best street food in every country she visits and hunting for street art and mosaics. She was looking forward to diving into Kyrgyz culture and exploring Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan) during her semester abroad.

Program attended: Challenge Grants

View all posts by: Maria Holderbaum

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson

Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

View all posts by: Josh Wilson