Olia Hercules' Khingal
Updated: Jul 29
This Azerbaijani crispy aromatic lamb pasta dish from Olia Hercules' Kaukasis is the ultimate comfort food, yet still packs a flavour punch.
"This dish has every single component that makes me feel safe and yet also titillates my senses, what I imagine a perfect marriage may be like" - Olia Hercules
Great comfort food makes you feel warm and safe and well looked after. Yet it needn't be bland. In fact, if you're going to indulge, you might as well do it right! Khingal is an Azerbaijani pasta dish. The word means "made out of pasta, or dough" and there are many variations: chicken khingal, pumpkin khingal, khingal soup. Olia's recipe is for Guru Khingal, a dish popular in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. It's a wicked combination of thin sheets of fresh egg pasta, cut into traditional diamond shapes, and layered up with crispy, spiced minced lamb, caramelised onions, garlic yoghurt and herbs.
I'd struggle to find someone who wouldn't love this dish. The homely, filling pasta diamonds are the perfect vehicle for the spiced lamb and creamy yoghurt sauce. The key, I think, is getting the lamb really crispy. Olia recommends not overcrowding the pan (cook it in batches) and frying it without disturbing it too much. If you've got a non-stick pan, be brave, leave it alone, and only turn it when it really starts to crisp and brown. The texture of the lamb really elevates this dish.
I took Olia's advice and added dil and coriander to the yoghurt sauce. The dil in particular was a great addition, don't miss it out. The recipe also suggests stirring a little brown butter into the yoghurt sauce. I didn't, and frankly, it's already pretty overwhelmingly calorific. But if you're going there, maybe it's worth going all the way...
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup (2 fl oz / 60ml) water
1 2/3 cup (7oz / 200g) plain flour, plus extra if needed
and for dusting
6 tablespoons (3½oz / 100g) Clarified Butter or 60g (2¼oz) unsalted butter and
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for cooking the onions
10 oz (300g) coarsely minced lamb
1 teaspoon coriander seeds lightly toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds lightly toasted and ground
½ teaspoon turmeric
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, thinly sliced
¾ cup (7oz / 200g) natural yogurt
1 garlic clove, finely grated
a little milk or water
1 tablespoon chopped coriander (cilantro)
1 tablespoon chopped dill weed
½ teaspoon ground sumac
To make the dough, mix the egg and water together in a bowl, then gradually add the flour (stop if the mixture seems to be getting dry) and knead the mixture in the bowl into a dough. You should end up with a firm, elastic pasta dough, so knead in more flour if it feels too wet. Cover it in plastic wrap and leave to rest in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C), ready for keeping the lamb and onions warm. Heat half the Clarified Butter or half the ordinary butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a pan. When really hot, add half the minced lamb - you want the meat to be crispy, so overcrowding the pan is not an option here. Fry it without disturbing it too much until it starts crisping up. Add half the spices and some seasoning and cook for 1 minute, then pop into a heatproof bowl and keep warm in the oven.
Repeat with the second batch of meat.
Don't wipe out the frying pan but add some more butter or oil and cook the onions gently until they become deep golden and luscious. Be patient - it will be worth it. Season them, too, and add them to the lamb keeping warm in the oven.
Roll out the pasta, either by hand or using a pasta machine, but not too thin - about 1/16 inch (2mm) thick - as you want a little bit of a bite here. Then cut the pasta into 1 ¼ inch (3-cm) diamonds. You can let them dry out slightly while you rustle up the yogurt sauce.
You can leave this sauce simple - just mix the yogurt with the garlic and a tiny bit of salt, adding a little milk or water to loosen it up. I also like adding the chopped coriander and dill to it, as well as dusting the whole dish with sumac at the end.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and drop in your pasta diamonds. They will be ready within 2 minutes. Check they are cooked by tasting one when they float to the top. Drain them quickly and layer with the meat and onions, drizzling over the yogurt sauce as you go.
Olia is a Ukrainian born chef. She trained at Leiths and went on to work as a chef de partie in many restaurants including with Ottolenghi. Her first book, Mamushka - Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond, was published in 2015 and went on to win the Fortnum and Mason prize for debut cookbook. Kaukasis - A Culinary Journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan and beyond, is her second book, bringing together a collection of vibrant and irresistible recipes from Eastern Europe.