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Homeland Security

(by Victoria Bubel)

Airport. As I stood in the waiting room with my husband and baby daughter, I was completely confused. In 18 hours, a new life would await us. But we could not imagine what it would be, whom we would meet, or where it would lead.

During the flight from Kyrgyzstan to Turkey and then on to New York, a terrible yearning filled my heart. My daughter Eleanor was just one year old. In our homeland, she was surrounded by the love and attention of grandparents, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, who all love her so much. We left in search of new opportunities and a better life. But how would she stay connected to family and our Russian heritage when there were thousands of miles between us?

We arrived in Staten Island, and it became our home; its quiet and cozy streets, its calm and measured rhythm of life are quite suitable for our family. Eleanor took her first steps in the local park and learned how to talk with our new friends and neighbors. But what continued to grieve me was maintaining the thread between Eli and my parents. Then it dawned on me. Eureka: eating!

Food helps to preserve our cultural values. It has a unique property, mentally returning us to the place where we first tried it. Perhaps that's why in big cities, the cuisines of the world's many peoples are collected. Through food, they create the illusion that they can feel at home in a strange place.

I began to ask my mother for the recipes of Eli's favorite dishes that she prepared when we visited back home. Eli was delighted to help me make manti, savory dumplings filled with meat and lots of onion in thinly rolled dough. In our kitchen, she dips small pieces of dough into flour and rolls them herself, a process that’s sometimes funny to watch. Now that she’s almost five, she is a kind and charming girl, and starting to share her "expertise" with her middle sister Laura. Isabella, who is only two months old, awaits future instruction.

My mom controls the entire process over Skype.


Victoria Bubel lives in Staten Island, New York, with her husband and three daughters. She can be found @victoria.zelenko.


1 lb. flour

1/2 c. water, boiled and cooled slightly

1 t. salt

4 large onions, peeled and chopped

1 lb. lamb or beef, chopped into small cubes, best if slightly frozen, plus 3 oz. fat

salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and water, kneading until a soft dough forms.

Cover and let rest for 2 hours.

Meantime, combine onions, meat, fat, salt and pepper.

Cut off pieces of dough, and on a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a thin circle, at least 4 inches wide.

Put 2 T. of the filling in the middle of each circle, and bring up the opposite edges, pinching together to form a bundle.

Bring water to boil in a large pot that can be fitted with a steamer.

Put some vegetable oil on the steamer to prevent sticking, lower heat, and steam the manti, covered, for 40 - 45 minutes, replacing the water if necessary.


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