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Archive for the ‘Central Asia’ Category

plov.jpgPlov, the Uzbek pilaf and unofficial national dish of Uzbekistan, comes in many versions, but it is usually rich with meat, sweet with a great deal of onion and shredded carrot, and spiced heavily with cumin. But many additions are possible, and everyone’s grandfather makes the best. Although not the traditional rice, basmati works well here because its grains stay distinct rather than gumming together, and most people have it in the cupboard. Like shurpa, the meat needs a good (and careful) searing to build flavour and then a good (and gentle) simmering to become tender. The saffron puts a unexpected floral note over it all, but the plov is still tasty without it. I suggest a garnish of cilantro rather than a fruit (eg. raisins, dates, pomegranate seeds) because I find it already sufficiently sweet with carrot, but you might like the acid of a little fruit on top of this rich dish. Plov may be garnished with many things, or left bare for that matter. This plov is simple but not light, so even a small serving feels like a large one, but it tastes even better the day after, which is quite remarkable for a rice dish.

Serve green tea, black tea, or with a red Rhone. Starters could be salads or soup.

Plov

1 hour 45 minutes, including 1 hour simmer plus 20 minutes steam plus 10 rest; serves 4

3 Tbsp canola or sunflower oil (ie. high smoking point)
1 lb lamb leg, cut in 1/2″ cubes
2 onions, diced
5 carrots, shredded
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
2 cups lamb or beef broth
salt
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed well in a strainer
pinch of saffron
cilantro

1. Blot the cubed lamb with paper towel and heat the oil over high heat to just smoking in a wide and very heavy pot. Add the meat in one layer and allow it to begin browning. As it browns, turn the pieces so they cannot burn. Remove the meat.
2. Sear the onions in the hot oil until they have begun to brown as well. Add the carrot shreds and fry these for a few minutes as well, until they start to brown. Take care not to burn, though, by controlling the heat.
3. Add the garlic, cumin and paprika and fry for a minute. Return the meat.
4. Add the broth, bring to a boil, reduce and leave to simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, about an hour.
5. Taste for salt, and adjust if need be. Add the basmati and enough water to cover the rice. Do not stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat for simmering, cover and leave for 10 minutes.
6. Dissolve the saffron in a few tablespoons of hot water. Lift the lid on the plov and dribble the saffron water over it without stirring. Replace the lid and continue to cook for ten minutes.
7. Taste to check that the rice grains are cooked, or perhaps just a little al dente. Turn off heat and leave to rest for ten minutes.
8. To present, spoon out the rice first as best you can, onto a warm platter, them the meat pieces on top. Finely chop some cilantro and sprinkle over top.

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shurpa.jpgA rich and hearty soup of red meat and root vegetables should be very welcome any winter’s day on the Great Steppe. This version of Uzbek shurpa uses beef in place of the more traditional mutton. The fine dice of vegetables makes those meat morsels seem hefty on the spoon. Carmelization is created first on the meat and then the vegetables by searing, a process that requires high heat, a heavy pot, and vigilance on the part of the cook. After the broth has been added the soup needs a long, slow simmer in order to tenderize the flavourful beef stewing cut. Yogurt is not just an attractive garnish, but an integral part of the flavour, as its sourness cuts through the richness of the soup and balances the sweetness of the root vegetables. The yogurt will depress the temperature of the bowl, though, so have the soup piping-hot, and try just a tablespoon or two of yogurt per bowl.

Perhaps start with a salad or two. Serve the soup with green tea or black tea (both traditional), or a chianti.

Beef Shurpa

2 hours,including 90 minutes simmering; serves four

2 Tbsp canola or sunflower, (ie. high smoking point)
1 lb stewing beef, cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 onions, halved and sliced
1 potato, peeled and diced to 1/4″
1 carrot, peeled and diced to 1/4″
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 tsp caraway
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
7 oz canned tomato, diced and with juice
2 cups beef broth
salt
yogurt
parsley

1. Blot the cubed beef with paper towel and heat the oil over high heat to just smoking in a wide and very heavy pot. Add the meat in one layer and allow it to begin browning. As it browns, turn the pieces so they cannot burn. Remove the meat.
2. Sear the onions in the hot oil until they have begun to brown as well. Add the potato and carrot and fry these for a few minutes as well, until they start to brown.
3. Add the bay, caraway seed, salt, pepper, and garlic and stir for a few seconds. Return the meat.
4. Add the tomato and juice and scrape the pot to remove the carmelized frond.
5. Add the broth, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and leave for ninety minutes.
6. Taste for salt. Serve in dollop of yogurt and a garnish of finely chopped parsley.

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applepom.jpgMost Uzbeks live in the more agriculturally fertile regions of Central Asia, and these two simple salads of available fruits, vegetables, dairy, and herbs are fine starters for an Uzbek meal. The apple salad is slightly sweet, the cucumber slightly salty, and both are palate-cleansing preparation for the dinner to come. Do not be scared away by the raw onion: in both cases the separated rings are tamed by steeping them in hot water. About ten minutes should suffice, although this will depend to some extent on the onions; use a sweeter variety if you can, slice thinly, and taste after ten minutes to see if the sulfur has been sufficiently calmed. For the apple salad I used Cox’s apples, a flavourful snacking variety and especially good this year in the UK.cucdill.jpg If you do not have pomegrantate seeds handy, sultanas plumped in apple juice would also work well. For the second salad, an English cucumber can keep its seeds, and the moisture that comes with their pulp, but a less delicate cucumber might be better seeded, if you prefer. These salads are very simple, so take care to use a good yogurt and a good goat’s feta. Flatbreads are also traditionally offered at the beginning of an Uzbek meal, so certainly bring them out if you are able.

Apple Salad

15 minutes; serves four

1 small onion, sliced into thin rounds and separated into rings
3 small apples
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 tsp salt
black pepper
1 pomegranate

1. Cover the onion rings with hot water and leave to steep for ten minutes.
2. Quarter, core and cut the apples into thin wedges.
3. Place the yogurt in a bowl and stir in the salt.
4. Drain the onion slices and rinse them quickly in cold water.
5. Toss the onion and apple in the yogurt to cover (fingers are most the efficient here).
6. Dress with black pepper and seeds of the pomegranate.

Cucumber Salad

1 small onion, sliced in thin rounds and separated into rings
1 cucumber, peeled, halved and perhaps seeded, perhaps not
4 oz goat’s feta
black pepper
handful of dill

1. Cover the onion rings with hot water and leave to steep for ten minutes.
2. Slice the cucumber, crosswise, 1/4 inch thick.
3. Drain the onion slices and rinse them briefly in cold water.
4. Arrange the cucumber slices and onion in a pile on the plate, and scatter first with feta and then with dill.

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