The Tatars are the second largest national group in Russia. They are very hospitable: they like to visit each other on weekends, cook various dishes to delight their guests and they often bake zur belish, which is a pie that simply translates as "big pie". This is an ancient national dish, a large pie made of unleavened or yeast dough stuffed with pieces of fatty meat (lamb, beef, goose, duck) and with buckwheat or potatoes. If zur belish comes in a small size then it is called wak belish.
These days, mostly only beef, potatoes and onions are used for the filling. In the olden days there were several varieties. When it was time to slaughter some geese, usually all the relatives gathered and they baked zur belish with goose giblets and potatoes. The filling was generously doused with melted butter and goose fat. While it's a bit heavy for the stomach, the taste is extraordinary. In some regions of the Tatar republic housewives baked zur belish with buckwheat that’s placed in the dough along with the rest of the ingredients. It absorbs all the meat juice and fat.
Zur belish is more than just food; it’s also a reason to have a family gathering. These days, everyone cuts zur belish into servings that are then served on plates. In the olden days, everyone gathered around and ate with spoons, as if from a common pan, and engaged in casual and unhurried conversations.
On the occasion of a wedding, by judging how zur belish was prepared, grandmothers predicted what the family life of the young couple would be like. Therefore, the mothers of the newlyweds tried to use the finest and most fresh ingredients when making the pie.
1. Let’s begin by preparing the meat. Wash and put the pieces of meat in a saucepan filled with water and cook for a couple of hours. While cooking the meat, add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Now is the time to prepare the dough. Mix sour cream, kefir, 0.5 tsp of salt, add flour mixed with baking powder, and knead the dough. Don’t add all the flour at once, you may need more or less of it.
3. The dough should turn out to be soft and very pleasant to the touch. Leave it for 30 minutes under a film or towel.
4. For the pie filling, cut the boiled meat into small cubes.
5. Peel potatoes and onions, and finely chop into small cubes.
6. Combine the filling ingredients – meat, onions, potatoes, salt, pepper and mix thoroughly.
7. Separate a piece of 150-170 grams from the dough. It will be the "lid", covering a small hole in the pie. From the remaining dough roll out the round tortilla, put it in a greased mold so that the edges protrude slightly beyond the mold.
8. Place the filling evenly in the mold.
9. Take 100 g from the rest of the dough, roll it into a circle; it’s much smaller than the diameter of the shape of the mold. Put it in the middle of the filling and fasten the dough in a circle. Pinch it.
10. From the remaining pie dough, take about 15-20 g to make a ball-stopper. From the rest of the pie roll out a thin circle-decoration that’s about the diameter of our "lid". Make cuts in the circle dough with a roller or knife as shown in the photo.
11. Put the piece of dough in the center and connect the cut notches together so that you get a pattern as shown in the photo.
12. Make a hole about 1.5-2 cm in diameter in the center of the pie. Close it with a ball-stopper and bake at 180°C for about 2 hours. After 40-50 minutes, open the "cork" and pour in a little broth. Then reduce the temperature to 150-160°C and bake the pie.
13. Take your finished Tatar pie out of the oven and grease it with butter.
14. Cover with parchment (or foil) and a towel, leave for 15-20 minutes at room temperature. Zur belish can be a full-fledged hearty lunch or dinner.
15. You can supplement it with fresh vegetables and herbs. Enjoy!
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