I’m a sandwich kinda girl. I love to put food inside other food; mostly between pieces of bread, or any other carb of choice. So naturally, murtabak, or malaysian stuffed bread, is now in my top ten stuffed foods list. My outrageous grilled macaroni and cheese is definitely in that top ten list.
What’s not to love about a thin, flaky bread, brushed with eggs, then filled with tender spiced ground lamb, gooey melted cheese, and fresh onions and finally pan griddled to a golden brown perfection? Sign me up, please and thank you! I don’t want to think about how I existed without knowledge of something so wonderful in my life for so long.
It’s perfect for those days when you don’t want to wear real pants, and want to luxuriate and eat (or in my case, cook) delicious food all day. So that’s exactly what I did; I skipped my workout, let the laundry pile up a little higher, and marched into the kitchen to make murtabak instead. I mean, c’mon I had to feed the kids, ya’ know? And sorry, I’m really not sorry that I chose murtabak over the treadmill. When you have your first bite, you will understand why you must abandon all tasks to make this murtabak happen.
Murtabak is a popular street food in Malaysia and other parts of Asia. The origin is contentious, with some tracing it back to the Middle East while others swear by its South Asian roots. My concern is with its journey into my stomach. First, you roll out dough to the point that it is almost see-through, then it is brushed with scrambled eggs, topped with mozzarella cheese, throw on some spiced ground lamb, a handful of chopped onions, fold it into a nice and neat square…
or a star…basically whatever shape you can successfully make happen, and grill it to a crispy, golden finish. See? I was so anxious to eat this bad boy, I forgot to take pictures of it before I cut it but use your imagination to reconstruct it, if you please.
In the land where the mighty murtabak is king, it can be stuffed with anything, from sweet to savory. I chose to stuff mine with ground lamb because um, lamb. I haven’t actually tried sweet murtabak because I fell so hard for the savory that I was compelled to just get as much of the lamb into the dough as humanly possible before I ate it all. You know, to make sure the lamb filling was fit for consumption. The foodie life is too hard sometimes!
my simple suggestions:
- knead the dough by hand. For some reason, using the stand mixer has always been an epic fail for me, when it comes to kneading dough for things like flatbreads. You’ll get a sense of accomplishment, be able to pound out some frustration, and somehow the gluten seems to develop better when you knead by hand.
- let the dough rest after kneading. Don’t skip this step or you’ll swear like a sailor as you attempt to roll out the murtabak shell. Dough that hasn’t had a chance to relax and let the gluten develop will retain its elasticity and snap back to its original form. I speak from experience. Just. Trust. Me.
- coat the dough in a brushing of oil as you prepare to roll it out. Over-dusting with loose flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface, as you roll it out, hardens the bread and make it really dry and crispy after it’s cooked. The oil will act as a softener and allow the dough to relax even more, makes it easier to roll out and prevent sticking. Alternatively, you can roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper to prevent sticking.
- get the griddle nice and hot and be prepared to work quickly. Stuffing the bread and then transferring it to the griddle was a difficult task for me. I was much more successful in rolling the dough out, heating oil on the griddle, adding the rolled out dough, brushing with the beaten eggs, topping with cheese, adding the lamb and the chopped onions, folding the sides down, long sides first, then the short sides over it to form a square (or rectangle), brushing it with some more oil, flipping, brushing the side facing me with more oil and flipping over to finish off the browning.
Murtabak is served with a sauce or liquid curry of some kind. I used a bottled tamarind chutney, which you can find at most Indian and Pakistani grocery stores. The sweet hit the savory and it was a perfect marriage. Next time, I might try and plan better so I can do a homemade sauce like a yogurt-mint sauce because yogurt and mint are the other half to lamb for me.
Murtabak is so versatile, it can be served as an appetizer or as the main course. In fact, now that the Superbowl is fast approaching, and I’m beginning to think about what I’ll be serving, mutabak is certainly going to be on my list. Talk about pleasantly surprising (and impressing) the guests with this flavorful dish!
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 4–6 tbsp vegetable oil for cooking murtabak (you may need more or less)
- for the dough:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- for the lamb filling:
- 1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tsp crushed garlic
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp chili powder, or to taste
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 4 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 2 tbsp chopped mint
- Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and oil. Slowly add in water, while stirring the flour with a wooden spoon. Continue mixing until the dough forms a ball. If using a stand mixer, do this with the hook attachment, on a low setting.
- knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, until the dough becomes soft and pliable. Roll into a large ball and set aside, covered with a cloth. Let the dough rest for at least an hour.
- Make the filling: Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Add onions, cook until translucent. Add garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant. Add in lamb, salt, garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, and coriander powder. Stir to combine spices with lamb and break up any large pieces that form. Add water, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove lid, increase to high heat and add chopped cilantro and mint. Cook until most of the water has evaporated, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Make the murtabak:
- Divide the dough into 6 equally-sized balls. Lightly coat each ball with oil and roll the dough as thin as you can possibly get. I was able to see the counter though my dough in the end.
- Heat a griddle or non-stick pan on medium heat and brush with 1/2 tbsp of oil. Drape the rolled out dough onto the griddle and working quickly, brush with 1/6 of the eggs, cheese, cooked lamb and chopped onions. Fold all sides, overlapping to create a seal and forming a neat square. Brush with 1/2 tbsp of oil. Using a spatula, carefully flip over and cook the over side until golden brown, usually 2-3 minutes. Brush the top with more oil, flip over and cook until golden brown.
- Cut into 4-6 pieces and serve with chutney or sauce of your choice.