Plov – Uzbek Rice Pilaf with Lamb and Carrot

Plov1_2000px
My version of Uzbek plov.

I first ate plov (плов) in a small canteen in Turpan, an oasis city in the deserts northeast of the Tarim Basin. Uyghurs call it “polo”, and restaurants in Xinjiang make it in gigantic kazans outside, dishing it out as ordered and topping it with a hunk of fatty lamb meat. It was one of my first tastes of Central Asian cuisine, and incidentally the first dish I started cooking with. I’ve learned a lot about making plov since my first post on it over a year ago; this is a complete re-do of the old recipe with new photos.

Cooking plov in Turpan, Xinjiang
Plov_StepByStep
Plov preparation step by step.

Plov could be considered a pan-Asian dish; whether Uzbek plov, Uyghur polo, Indian pulao, Afghan palaw, Iranian polow, or Turkish pilaf, the basic idea is the same: rice and oil. The recipe I present here is for Uzbek plov (specifically, Fergana style), which tastes very similar to Uyghur polo, and is the most common type of plov in restaurants outside of Central Asia. Uzbekistan is the spiritual “homeland” of plov with many different regional varieties.

Plov in Bukhara

How should plov taste?
In the ideal Uzbek plov, the rice grains should be separate, maintain their form, and not stick together. The rice should be tender, yet firm: a good plov is not mushy and sticky like porridge, nor is it creamy like a risotto. The closest equivalent in European cuisine is probably paella.

Plov should be rather oily, and after eating there should be a layer of oil left on the plate. The meat for plov should be tender lamb meat. The carrots should be in big chunks, soft and sweet, having been caramelized during the cooking. Overall, the plov should have a nice balance of tastes between savory/lamb meat, salty, oily, cumin, and sweet (onion & carrot).

bukhara_plov2
Plov served in a chaikhana in Bukhara.

Cooking utensils
It is best to make plov in a kazan. In the past, I made plov in a cast iron wok (and you can see this in many of the photos), but your plov will turn out much better in a kazan. It’s very easy to mess up plov, especially if you use the wrong cooking vessel. Read this post to learn what kazans are and where you can buy one.

My kazan.
My kazan

Making plov is a journey that will probably require many, many tries and many soggy, mushy, burnt, or not-cooked-enough plovs. I’ve been making it for over a year now and still can’t claim to have fully mastered it. Of course, the challenge is part of what keeps bringing me back to it, but even my less-than-ideal plovs usually still taste pretty good.

This recipe is adopted from Stalic Khankishiev (video here) and Abdulaziz Salavat (video here).

Ingredients (all very approximate):
1 lb rice: The choice of rice is very important! I have used basmati rice, risotto rice (Carnaroli), and now I am using a “plov rice” sold in Gourmanoff grocery in Brighton Beach (they don’t say what kind of rice it is, but it looks like a standard medium grain rice, similar to Calrose). I also know people who use Turkish “baldo” rice to make plov. All of these varieties can make a tasty plov, but the results will be very different.

In plov, it’s very important that the cooked rice grains stay separate and not a sticky mushFor this reason, it’s much more difficult to obtain a good result with East Asian rice, which almost by design is supposed to stick together. Basmati is often used by amateur plov cooks outside of Central Asia because it tends not to stick together. In Uzbekistan, plov rice is medium grain, fairly round and plump, and looks and tastes nothing like basmati rice. But for your first try, I recommend Basmati as it won’t stick and the resulting plov is still tasty, even if not very true to the original.

samarkand_plov
Plov in Samarkand. Notice the rice is medium grain and plump, not at all like basmati.

Risotto rice does tend to be a bit sticky, but I find the shape and texture of carnaroli resembles rice in Uzbekistan. You can buy carnaroli rice in NYC at Kalustyan’s, and Amazon has it as well.

1 lb lamb meat – Use a 1:1 ratio of rice and meat. I have used lamb shoulder chops and lamb leg, all work fine for plov. You want pieces that have some bone and fat in them.
2 medium onions
2 large carrots
Cumin seed – You need the whole seeds – cumin powder is a poor substitute. Grind a few good spoonfuls of cumin seed with a mortar and pestle – it doesn’t need to be a powder, just lightly ground is fine.
1-2 garlic heads
Dried chilies or fresh chili peppers 
– not that many, maybe 5-6 small ones or 1-3 big ones. Can be omitted.
Salt
Vegetable oil and/or lamb tail fat
Ingredients

Directions (takes about 3 hours start to finish)

1. Wash and soak the rice. Put the rice in a container, pour water over it, and mix it around with your hands. Pour out the water (being careful not to pour out the rice), then repeat this many times until the water is clear. It could take up to 10 times or even more depending on how much starch is on the rice.

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Rice after being soaked for 30 minutes

After washing the rice, soak the rice in warm or hot (but not boiling) water while you prepare the other ingredients. You can put a bit of salt in the water to improve the flavor. It should soak for at least 30 minutes or even longer (I usually soak the rice for 1.5-2 hours). After you finish soaking the rice, wash it a couple more times to get the remaining starch out. Make sure to always keep the rice soaked in water, and only pour out the water right before you cook it: exposing soaked rice to the open air can adversely affect the texture.

The soaking accomplishes 2 things: 1) it helps to remove starch from the rice, making it less sticky when cooked and 2) it helps the rice cook faster, which will be crucial later in the recipe. If you notice the water getting very cloudy during the soak, you can replace it with new water.

2. Cut the onions into slices (half moons).

3. Cut the carrots into big sticks. You want fairly big pieces, maybe ~2 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. While it may seem like a lot of carrots, keep in mind they will shrink dramatically during cooking. Generally err on the side of too much carrot. I don’t think I’ve ever had a plov with too much carrot, but I’ve certainly noticed when there is too little.
Carrots

4. Debone and cut up the lamb meat. Cut out the fat and bones, and keep aside. Chop the lamb meat into medium sized pieces. Leave a bit of meat on the bony pieces, as we’ll cook them, then top the plov with them, as you can see in the picture on the top of this page.

5. Heat up the kazan and heat the oil. Put the kazan on high heat. Once the kazan is hot, add a lot of vegetable oil to cover the bottom in a fairly deep layer, and wait a bit until the oil heats up. You must put a lot of oil or the plov will not cook correctly and/or burn! Having lots of oil will also help keep your rice oily and not stick together – very important in plov. Err on the side of too much, rather than too little oil.

kazan_oil
You should have at least this much oil in your kazan, maybe even more!

If you are lucky enough to have lamb tail fat (курдючный жир, kurdyuchniy zhir) then instead of oil, you can cut the fat into slices and melt them into oil. The resulting fat crisps make a tasty snack. Remove the crisps. Lamb tail fat is a luxurious rarity for me here in NYC, so I usually melt the fat pieces into oil, then add vegetable oil.

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Lamb tail fat starting to cook.

6. Fry the fat and bones and meaty bone pieces. Fry these pieces until they get to a nice golden-brown and you smell the aroma of lamb fat. Then remove them and keep the meat and bones aside (you can discard the fat pieces). This will flavor our oil, and give the plov the right taste.

7. Fry the onions until they are a light brown color. They don’t need to be fully caramelized, just a little brown around the edges is fine.

8. Fry the lamb meat. Put the meat in, then mix everything together and fry until the meat is lightly browned all over. For a nice touch, when you put the meat into the kazan, stick it onto the sides, and let it sear a bit before mixing everything.
kazan_kebab_plov

cook_meat

9. Put in the carrots. Make a big pile of carrots over the meat & onions. Sprinkle about half of the cumin seed over the carrots. After a minute (steam should be rising from the carrots), mix everything together and start frying. Fry for 10-15 minutes until the carrots are soft and you smell the “aroma of plov.” The basic ingredients are all there now – fat, meat, carrots, and cumin. The carrots must be soft before you are done with this step – cook them as long as you need to until you can easily pierce them with a fork! If the carrots are still crunchy when you eat the plov, it simply isn’t plov.
cook_carrots

10. Make the broth. Now, you can finally reduce the heat to medium. Cover everything with hot/boiling water. Put the bones back in. Put in the garlic heads and the chilies. Add raisins and/or barberries if you are using them. When the water boils, turn it to minimum heat, and let it simmer for at least 40 minutes to 1 hour, uncovered. This broth is called “zirvak.” You want the heat to be low enough that you see bubbles coming up only once every 1-2 seconds. The length of time you let this cook depends on how tender your meat is – if you are using an extremely tough meat like goat, you might need hours.
zirvak

11. Remove the bones, garlic, and chilies, and salt the broth. If any of your bone pieces have a good amount of meat on them, save them for later. Keep the garlic and chilies aside. Salt the broth and taste – it should be very salty. Remember, you are going to add rice in, which will absorb the broth. With plov, generally err on the side of more salty.

12. Add the rice. Be very careful with the next few steps because this is what makes it PLOV instead of rice porridge!

To explain how rice cooks: the rice must first absorb enough water, then it must heat up enough that it changes its texture. We will first boil the water in rice so it absorbs water, then steam it so it cooks.

First, make sure all the other ingredients are in a compact layer at the bottom. Then carefully add the rice in a layer ON TOP of the other ingredients. The rice should cover everything in an even layer. When done, carefully smooth out the top of the rice, and add a little boiling water to cover it if necessary. Be very careful not to add too much water! The amount of water you add will depend on the type of rice you use, and how long the rice has soaked. If you didn’t soak it all – you need a lot, maybe about 2 fingers worth of water depending on the type of rice. If you soaked it for hours – very little, maybe just enough to cover the rice, or none if you have enough broth. If in doubt, err on TOO LITTLE water. You can’t un-soggy rice that has absorbed too much water!

Be careful not to disturb the rice layer when adding water (you can pour the water over a spatula). Because we will be cooking the rice on very high heat, we want to make sure it stays on top of the other ingredients so it doesn’t fall to the bottom and burn.
cook_rice

13. Cook the rice. Turn the heat as high as possible. There should be big bubbles bursting all over the top of the rice. After a while, flip over the top layer of rice so the rice on top gets to cook on the bottom. If you don’t do this, you will find the rice on top is not done when the bottom is already cooked. Try not to disturb the layer of carrots and meat underneath as you flip the rice.
cook_rice2

14. Let the water boil off. As the water boils, it should drop below the top of the rice. We want the water to be completely gone.

At this point, the water should have absorbed the rice, but not be “done.” In other words, the rice should have swollen to its full size (only experience will tell you what the full size of any type of rice will be), but it should still be a bit crunchy and undercooked when you bite into it. However, it should not be so hard that you cannot chew through it – nor should it be so soft that it is basically done. If the rice is still too hard, add a bit more water as necessary. Otherwise, turn the heat down to medium and let the rest of the water boil off.

As the water drops, make holes in the rice to help the water escape more quickly. Check the holes and the sides of the kazan for any water remaining – keep in mind oil will always be at the bottom. When the water is gone, turn the heat back down to minimum.

cook_rice3

15. Steam the rice. Make a small “hill” of rice, and top with the rest of the cumin and a sprinkling of salt. Push the garlics and chilies and any hunks of meat on the bone into the top of the rice layer. Make some holes in the mountain to help the steam circulate. Cover the kazan, and let this cook on low to minimum heat for at least 35-40 minutes (the exact time depends on the rice you use and how cooked it was in the previous step). Make sure that the cover is tight and no steam at all escapes – you can wrap the lid with towels for a tighter seal. After a minute or so, the cover should be hot to the touch. This final steaming stage will turn the rice from “wet rice” into “plov” with individual, separate grains.

Balancing the steaming time vs. how hard the rice is in the previous stage is a fine art, and depends on the rice you use and your kazan and stove. For my type of rice, rice that is fully swollen but still not cooked + 40 minutes of steaming works the best; for other types of rice, you may want more cooking and only 20 minutes of steaming.

rice_mountain

16. Finished! Take off the lid, and remove the garlic and chilies and bone pieces. Taste the rice on the very top – if it still tastes slightly undercooked, don’t worry – we will fix this in a second.

Scoop up the rice and gently shake it back into the pot, to help the rice grains separate from each other.

Carefully mix the meat and carrots on bottom with the rice, being careful not to mush the rice together. If the top layer of your rice tasted a little undercooked, you can put the lid back on and steam it for another 5-10 minutes depending on how undercooked it is (you may want to turn the heat up for a minute or so just to warm things up again, before putting it back on minimum).

Plate the finished plov and garnish with the garlic and chilies and meaty bone pieces.

Serving: Plov is often served with a salad of sliced tomatoes and onions called “achik chuchuk.” Just mix sliced tomatoes and onions with salt and a dash of pepper. Sliced cucumber and hot pepper is often added as well, and I like putting in a splash of white vinegar. You can add some greens like mint or cilantro or dill if you like. Traditionally, people drink hot green tea with plov (and in general any greasy dish).

Plov2_2000px

Common mistakes:
Rice too hard – Taste the rice as the water boils off and add more if it is too hard. It’s easy for the top layer of the rice not to cook if you don’t mix it well. Be aware that the rice will expand while cooking and the bottom layers will cook much more than the top layers. You have to flip the top layer to the bottom to get an even cook. Depending on the type of rice you use, it may need to boiled for longer and steamed less.

Rice unevenly cooked after steaming / rice on top too hard, rice on bottom too soft
This happens if the cover is not tight (steam escaped), or you are using a wok or regular pot instead of a kazan (because the thin-walled wok is poor at retaining heat and keeping the top warm where the rice is). In this case, you can flip the rice on top onto the bottom, mix everything up, then steam it for a bit longer.

Rice became a sticky mush / overcooked – This happens if you use too much water when cooking the rice, especially if you soaked it beforehand. When cooking the rice, you should see a lot of water get absorbed by the rice after only a few minutes – if the water is taking especially long to go away, it means there is too much. Skim off as much water as you can to salvage the plov! And in general, err on the side of pouring too little water than too much.

Depending on the type of rice you use, it may need to be boiled less and steamed longer.

This may also happen if you do not properly wash/soak the rice beforehand. Also, if you use East Asian types of rice it is nearly impossible to avoid a sticky mush.

Tasteless/not salty enough – this can happen if you don’t use enough lamb fat to flavor the oil, don’t use enough oil, don’t use enough cumin, or of course if you don’t use enough salt. The zirvak broth should taste almost over-salted before you put the rice in.

Rice burns at bottom – this happens if you aren’t careful about keeping the rice in a layer at the top. Technically, the rice should never touch the bottom of the kazan.

Meat burns at bottom – Usually happens if you cook the rice for too long during the final steps when all the water is gone. It is also very easy for the food on the bottom to burn if you use a wok or a flat-bottomed pan to cook plov. This can also happen if you don’t have enough oil.

Enjoy!

Soman: Uyghur chopped lagman noodles

Soman_8
My version of Uyghur soman (дын-дын цомян, 丁丁炒面)

Soman is my absolute favorite Uyghur food. I have never been able to find it outside of China, and today I made it for the first time. It’s been nine years since I’ve eaten it!

Soman goes by a few names – sometimes just “soman”, sometimes “din din soman”, in Central Asia “дын-дын цомян”, and in Chinese 丁丁炒面(ding ding chao mian – literally “stir fried noodle cubes”). It’s essentially the same dish as lagman (recipe here), but the noodles are chopped up into little cubes before cooking. You get lots and lots of little noodle pieces that you can pick up and eat with a spoon – the closest analogue in Western cuisine is the German spaetzle. Despite being similar to lagman, it’s really a completely different eating experience!

Uyghur_Soman
Soman, as served in a small cafe in Niya/Minfeng on the edge of the Taklamakan desert.

As with lagman, the dish can be served in a stew, or stir fried with the toppings. This recipe is for the stew version, but the stir fried one is simple – just put less water in your sauce, then add the soman noodles after cooking and stir fry everything for a bit.

How to make the soman

The general process I follow is: 1) make the dough and rest it 2) do all the prep for the lagman 3) coil the dough into noodles 4) cook the lagman sauce and let simmer 5) chop up the noodles and cook them 6) serve.

noodle_coil
The magic noodle coil…those who don’t coil their noodles, will not make a good lagman.

The first few steps are exactly the same as in the laghman recipe. My only extra tip is to make sure your dough is not too dry, and that you don’t leave it out for too long. Soman is usually a bit thicker than lagman, and if it dries out, it’s possible for the center to not cook through.

1) After coiling the noodles, brush them well with oil and put them in the fridge for a bit. When you are ready to chop the noodles, start uncoiling the dough pieces and stretch each one out into a basic noodle shape. With soman, you don’t have to be as careful about making your noodles uniformly round & thin like lagman. Using a knife, start chopping the dough into little cubes. Pile the cubes up on an oiled plate.

noodle_chop

Chopping the noodles can take much longer than it seems. Try not to pile too many noodle cubes onto one plate, and put the plates into the fridge when full. Otherwise, the noodle pieces can end up sticking and melting together if you leave them for too long.

noodles_chopped

2) Boil a pot of water and pour all your noodle pieces in! You may find that the noodle pieces have ended up sticking together and to the plate in one big mass of dough. Don’t fret – if you oiled them enough in the coiling stage, they should come apart in the boiling water. Use chopsticks to poke around in the noodles and make sure they separate and don’t stick to the bottom.

cooking_noodles

3) After the water returns to a rolling boil for a few minutes, try the noodles. They should be al dente. Quickly remove all the noodles, place in a sieve, and briefly rinse in cold water and toss.

How to make the stew

The stew is the same as in the lagman recipe, but make sure you chop every ingredient (meat, vegetables) into a cube shape. The whole idea behind this dish is that everything is chopped up so you can eat it with a spoon.

cooking_sauce

When the stew is done, plate the soman noodles and generously ladle the stew over it, making sure each plate has a good amount of sauce. Mix everything together in the plate a bit. Enjoy!

Soman_6

Uzbek nan bread

uzbek nan new
My version of Uzbek nan bread.
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Another pattern.

This recipe is for the Uzbek bread, obi non, or in Russian “lepyoshka“, but you will see various breads that look very similar to this all over Central Asia – round, and pressed down in the middle, almost like a giant bagel or pizza crust. In Central Asia, bread is such a basic staple food that you get it with literally every meal, without asking for it. If you visit someone’s house, they will bring you bread and tea.

samarkand_nan
Beautiful bread bought at the Siyob bazaar in Samarkand.

This is a versatile bread and tastes great just eaten by itself, fresh out of the oven. It’s also great to eat with soups and stews, or with jam. It’s most similar to a baguette in taste and texture. This bread is pretty similar to the Uyghur version I wrote about earlier. The difference is that it is much thicker and the pressed down part in the middle is smaller. If the Uyghur nan bread is like a big pizza crust without any sauce on it, the Uzbek nan bread is like a giant inflated bagel.

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Bread served at a restaurant in Bukhara.

Making bread is truly an art – don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out right the first few times you make it. I had to make this bread 20+ times before it turned out the way I like it, and I’m still trying to perfect my technique.

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Bread, tea, and salad at a Khiva restaurant.

In Central Asia this bread is made in an oven called “tandyr”(similar concept to a tandoor oven), slapping the dough directly onto the oven walls, as you can see in the video below. I obviously can’t replicate that at home, but I’ve gotten good results with a pizza stone. Failing that, it would probably turn out OK on a baking pan.

I use some bread stamps I bought in Uzbekistan to make the patterns on the bread. They are called “chekich”; you can see the bakers in that video stamping the dough with them in the beginning. You can buy them from this store on Etsy, or if you know someone traveling to Central Asia, ask them to buy a couple for you – they only cost a few dollars and should be sold in almost any bazaar. In New York, you can buy bread stamps at Fortuna grocery in Brooklyn – they sell small wooden ones behind the checkout counter, along with plates and teapots. If you don’t have a chekich, you can just use a fork.

uzbek_bread_stamp

Ingredients
Flour
Dry yeast
Salt
Sugar
Milk – optional, use instead of water to make the bread more soft. I like using a mix of milk and warm water.
Egg (optional) – to glaze the bread
Toppings for the bread – sesame seeds, nigella seeds, finely minced onion, garlic

Directions
Make a pile of flour with an indentation in the middle. Don’t worry about how much or how little flour to put; you will either end up with a bigger or smaller bread and after a few tries you will know roughly how much flour makes how big a bread. In the middle, pour some warm water. Put in half a packet of dry yeast, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of flour. Then stir up the middle and wait for a few minutes until it bubbles up and turns into a foam.
IMG_3070

Begin mixing the water into the flour. Mix until everything is dry and slowly add more water until you have a semi-solid dough, scraping the excess flour off the walls of the bowl. Don’t worry about exactly how much water to put; if you put too much water then put in more flour until it’s solid. I generally err on the side of too little water, because the dough will end up getting very sticky once you start kneading it. You can always add more water.

When it is solid enough to work with your hands, flour a clean surface and start kneading the dough, adding more flour as required if it gets sticky. Knead this for 10 minutes until it no longer sticks to your hands and is relatively firm and pliable.
kneading

Put this in a bowl and let it rest for 40 minutes in a warm place, covered with a clean cloth.
raised dough

After the 40 minutes are up, the dough should have risen (but don’t worry if it appears not to have risen that much). Take out the dough and knead it again for a few minutes, then shape it into a fat disc and let it rest for another 15 minutes, covered. Why do we rest the dough so much? So that we can form it into a big doughnut later. If we don’t rest it enough, we’ll find the dough is resistant to shaping.
IMG_3071

After the 15 minutes are up, take the dough and roll it out into a big circle, not too thin. Then use your fingers to press down the middle of the dough, pushing the air outwards. Don’t make the middle too thin. Use your fingertips to press a circular ring into the middle of the dough. You really want to define a nice circular edge, it’s not so important to press the middle down. Let this rest for another 5 minutes.
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IMG_3052_2

Press all the way around your circular indent again. Now use a bread stamp to press down the middle and make nice patterns. The patterns aren’t just to be pretty, the holes help prevent the middle from rising, giving us that nice giant doughnut shape we want. If you don’t have a stamp, you can just use a fork to make holes all around the center. Whether you use a stamp or fork, make sure to press down hard so the holes go all the way through the dough.

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Use a brush to cover the bread with a mixture of beaten egg and milk. This will give the bread a nice shiny golden brown crust when it’s done, and also make it sticky so our toppings won’t fall off. If you don’t have egg, you can use just milk to glaze the bread, or failing that, water. The point is to wet the bread – the choice of egg or milk or water just has different effects on the finished appearance. Whatever you do, just glazing the top and sides is fine – don’t glaze the very bottom because it can end up getting stuck to the peel. Then add your toppings – I usually just put sesame seed, but nigella seed works nicely too, as does finely minced onion or garlic. Imagine it’s a giant bagel, just add whatever you would like on a bagel.
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Rub flour into your baking peel to create a rough surface. Now you need to be fast so the dough does not stick to the peel. Put your dough onto the baking peel. Then quickly slide the dough onto the baking stone in an oven preheated to 400F. You just put the tip of the peel on the far end of the stone and wiggle it back and forth until your dough slides off – that’s why it’s crucial to flour the peel first, otherwise the dough might stick. If your dough ends up sticking to the peel and won’t come off, it’s no big deal, just take the dough with your hands and put it onto the stone (be careful not to burn yourself).
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Bake this for about 15 minutes until the bread has a nice golden brown crust. Enjoy!

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Mastava: Uzbek rice soup

Mastava w bread
Mastava with Uzbek nan bread.

This is one of my favorite soups and it’s very easy to make. Mastava is a thick, hearty soup of rice, meat, potatoes, and other vegetables, served with a dollop of sour cream. Like many Central Asian soups, it is first “fried”, then water is added to make it into a soup.

Don’t worry about the exact proportions of the ingredients, just make sure you don’t put in so many things that it doesn’t fit in your pot! You can add in whatever other vegetables you have on hand. It’s a good dish to make a big batch of on weekends if you are too busy to cook during the week, or happen to have a lot of vegetables on hand. It stores well and tastes even better the next day.

Uzbek nan
I made this Uzbek-style nan bread to eat with the soup. The recipe is very similar to the Uyghur nan bread I posted earlier, although there are some slight differences. The Uzbek nan is generally softer and thicker. I’ll do another post on it soon.

This recipe is from Восточный Пир by Hakim Ganiev.

Ingredients
Meat (beef or lamb) diced into cubes
Onion, diced
Garlic, diced
Carrots, diced into cubes
Potatoes, diced into cubes
Bell peppers, diced into cubes
Tomatoes, diced into cubes
Rice (only a handful, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes) – you can just use regular rice for this as it will get soggy in the soup
Tomato paste
Salt
Cumin
Black pepper
Sour cream (garnish), or smetana if you have it
Cilantro (garnish)
ingredients

Directions
1. Sautee the onions in oil, on high heat, until they are slightly translucent and golden. Add the meat and garlic and sautee.
meat and onions

2. When the meat is browned, add in the carrots and bell peppers. Cook this for a few minutes on medium heat.
cook vegetables

3. Add in a few big spoonfuls of tomato paste and mix well. Add the tomatoes. Mix everything well and cook for a bit.

4. Add the potatoes, salt, and spices (ground cumin, black pepper). Cook for a few minutes.
add potatoes

5. Pour in cold water until you have as much soup as you want. It will be a fairly thick soup in the end.
add water

6. Turn the heat to high until the water has just started to boil. Then turn to minimum heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes.

7. Add in the rice and let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the rice is soft.
soup ready

8. Salt to taste. The soup is done! Serve with a spoonful of sour cream and chopped cilantro.
mastava2

Ajapsandali – Georgian stewed vegetables

ajap1
Adjapsandali with khachapuri (cheese bread).

Taking a break from the meat-heavy dishes on this blog, here is a Georgian vegetable stew that’s very simple to make. I cooked it the other day together with some cheese bread, and didn’t even notice I was eating a vegetarian meal!

This recipe is from Практическая энциклопедия грузинской кухни (A practical encyclopedia of Georgian cuisine) by Elena Kiladze. 

Ingredients
Eggplant (1 large)
Potato (2 medium)
Tomatoes (3 medium)
Onion (1 medium)
Cilantro
Basil
Parsley (optional)
Dill (optional)
Garlic
Salt
Red pepper powder
Black pepper

1. Cut the eggplant and potatoes into half circles, the onions into half rings, and the tomatoes into quarters. Finely mince the garlic and greens.
2. Fry the onions over medium heat until they are golden brown, then add the potatoes and fry these for another 2-3 minutes.
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3. Add the eggplants and tomatoes, cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.
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4. Pour in 1/3 cup of water, turn down the heat to minimum, then cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and eggplants are soft.
5. Add the garlic, greens, salt, pepper, and mix well. Turn off the heat and let sit covered for some time. Enjoy!
step3

Central Asia food report!

I’ve returned from a 2-week trip to Central Asia! I spent a week in Uzbekistan and a week in Kyrgyzstan, eating some of the foods I write about on this blog. Prior to this trip, it had been 8 years since I was last in Central Asia (in Xinjiang) so it was good to eat some old favorites and try some new foods.

Plov
Uzbekistan is the motherland of plov and it did not disappoint in this regard! I ate plov in every city I visited – Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara. Each region has its own plov variety, which I found really interesting as there is basically only one variant of plov(or “polo”) in Xinjiang. The Uzbek plov was generally oilier than mine, and their rice grain is different. I had been using basmati, but in Uzbekistan they use a thicker, rounder grain of rice, almost like risotto or Japanese sushi rice. Here’s my plov recipe.

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Plov in Bukhara.

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Plov in Samarkand. Note the chickpeas and how all the elements (rice, carrots, meat) are separate.

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Plov in Khiva. Note how the rice is all white.

Laghman
Finally, to eat laghman made by someone other than myself! While Indian biryani or even Turkish pilaf has some resemblance to plov, there’s basically nothing like laghman to be found in the West. I keep cooking and cooking laghman at home, and after 8 years away from Central Asia, sometimes began to wonder if anyone else on earth eats this dish. Here is my Uyghur lagman recipe.

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Uyghur-style laghman at Chinar restaurant in Bukhara

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Kovurma laghman at Besh Chinor restaurant in Samarkand

The traditional Uzbek lagman is more like a noodle soup with all sorts of vegetables and potatoes in it. It’s often flavored with dill. However, they do have other varieties of lagman like “kovurma lagman”, which resembles the Uyghur version (noodles with a sauce on top), and many restaurants sell Uyghur-style laghman as well. I personally much prefer my laghman with a sauce topping rather than in a soup.

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Guiru laghman at an Uyghur restaurant in Osh.

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Guiru laghman in Bishkek.

I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Kyrgyzstan, at least in the cities. While the traditional Kyrgyz food might not be that exciting, due to their location in between Uzbekistan and China they have some great restaurants serving Uzbek, Uyghur, and Dungan cuisine. The laghman was great, and actually surprisingly similar to the one I cook at home. Of course, since my own recipe comes from an Uyghur chef from Bishkek, perhaps it’s not so surprising.

Manti
A staple of our travels! This is one dish I rarely make at home because it’s just so time consuming; plus it’s easy to just buy frozen dumplings from the Chinese grocery even if they aren’t the same thing. But Central Asian manti are really quite special, especially with some yogurt sauce. Chuchvara soup is even more time consuming; I admit I’ve only done it myself once because it takes so long to fold all those tiny dumplings. Here is my manti recipe.

khiva_manti

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Meat
In Kyrgyzstan I ate a dish called “kuurdak” which is very similar to “kazan kebab”(I haven’t posted the recipe yet). Basically roasted meat with potatoes. It’s rather oily, but very tasty.

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Kuurdak at an Uyghur restaurant in Osh.

I also ate plenty of shashlik/kebabs in Uzbekistan. Here’s a meal from a rest stop in the middle of the Kyzyl Kum desert on the road from Khiva to Bukhara. For being in the middle of a desert, they had surprisingly good food.

shashlik_lunchShashlik lunch at a rest stop in the Kyzyl Kum desert

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Shashlik at Besh Chinor restaurant in Samarkand

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On the left, “hasip”, a type of Uzbek sausage; on the right, “naryn”, cold noodles with horse meat. At “Miliy taomlar”(National foods) in Tashkent.

Bread
In Uzbekistan they generally make a big, puffy, round sort of bread as opposed to the flat disc-shaped bread you see in Xinjiang. I bought myself some Uzbek bread stamps in Samarkand – a cooking tool almost impossible to find in the West, though you can order one at quite some cost from China – details in my nan bread recipe. I found them in the Siyob bazaar in Samarkand, sold for 10,000 som each (around $2.50 USD). Not really a common tourist souvenir so may be hard to find outside of a bazaar, although I remember seeing them being sold in Khiva as well.

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Beautiful bread bought from Samarkand’s Siyob bazaar.

boor_sok
In Kyrgyzstan, they served a type of bread called “boor sok.” It’s little pockets of frybread, not unlike sopapillas. Very tasty. I’ll have to try making them at home.

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Uzbek bread stamps.

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G
osh nan or Uyghur meat pie. Here’s my recipe.

Cold dishes/appetizers
At every meal, some type of salad was served, usually with the bread. Typically a simple salad from tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, and a pinch of salt, but sometimes flavored with some fresh herbs too. You can see the little salad in most of the pictures above.

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Ashlyanfu at Arzu restaurant in Bishkek

I also got to try “Ashlyanfu”, which comes from Dungans (Chinese Central Asians). It’s a cold noodle soup with wheat noodles and mung bean jelly noodles. Sounds strange, but very good. I’ve yet to try making this one at home, maybe because it seems rather labor intensive (making the jelly noodles). In mainland China, they eat something similar called “liang pi”; I eat it sometimes at the Chinese places near my home.

Tea
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Naturally, green tea was served at every meal. Unlike in Xinjiang where people “wash” the tea bowls with some hot tea and then throw it out, in Uzbekistan they pour some tea into a bowl and then pour it back into the pot, sometimes multiple times. I picked up my own Uzbek teapot and tea bowls. They were selling all sorts of fancy elaborate porcelain in the tourist shops, but I really just wanted the same exact blue and white teapot that appears in almost every restaurant in Uzbekistan (it makes an appearance in a few of the pictures above). Luckily I found them in Siyob bazaar in Samarkand for cheap – a teapot and four bowls was around 25,000 som or $6 USD.

Hope you enjoyed the photos – I’ll try to get back to posting recipes soon.

Da Pan Ji: “Big Plate Chicken”, a Chinese/Uyghur Fusion Dish

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My version of dapanji, with nan bread.

Da pan ji (大盘鸡 “big plate chicken”) is one of the few foods that is equally popular among Chinese and Uyghurs. It originates from Xinjiang, but is claimed by neither group: Uyghurs regard it as a Chinese dish, and Chinese regard it as a Xinjiang specialty. Regardless of who originally came up with it, it’s become quite popular in the rest of China and can even be found in Chinese restaurants abroad.

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Dapanji served in an Urumqi restaurant.

Just like the name, it’s a big plate of chicken stewed in a rich, spicy sauce with potatoes, green bell peppers, and chilies. The star anise makes it amazingly fragrant when complete. There are plenty of variations in the sauce and how it is served: some places serve it with noodles, other with bread, others just by itself. I personally love eating it with Uyghur nan bread to soak up the sauce.

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Dapanji served in a Kashgar restaurant.
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Nan bread is great with dapanji, recipe here.

This recipe is adopted from JadeCw’s recipe on Xiachufang as well as Abdulaziz Salavat’s version.

Ingredients:
Chicken (1-1.5lb, I use dark meat that won’t get tough during the cooking)
Potatoes (3-4 medium sized ones)
Green bell peppers (1-2)
Onions
Chinese fermented black bean sauce (豆瓣酱 doubanjiang)
Chili garlic sauce
Tomato paste
Soy sauce
Dried chilies
Star anise (八角 bajiao, 5-6 pieces)
Sichuanese peppers (optional, a small handful)
Can of beer or Shaoxing cooking wine (optional)
Sugar
ingredients

Directions:
Prep: Chop the potatoes into medium pieces – not too big or they won’t cook through, not too small or they’ll get overcooked and make the sauce starchy. Chop the chicken into small to medium-sized pieces. Chop the green bell peppers into medium-sized square pieces.
1. Heat the wok on high heat and add oil. When the oil has heated, add a small amount of sugar (1-2 teaspoons) and mix well.

2. When the sugar has melted into the oil, put in the chicken and stir fry this until it is browned. The melted sugar will give the chicken a nice golden color.
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3. Put in the onions and cook these until soft and light brown.
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4. Add the black bean sauce, chili garlic sauce, and tomato paste. Add a good dollop of each – maybe 2-3 tablespoons worth. Mix everything well.

5. Salt, and add the dried chilies and Sichuanese peppers, mixing everything well.
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6. Add soy sauce, add the beer or wine (if you are using it), and add enough water so the broth almost covers everything.

7. Put in the star anise. Once the water boils, turn the heat down to medium. Mix everything well, cover the wok, and let this cook for at least 25 minutes.
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8. Taste the sauce and reduce if too watery. The sauce should be spicy, aromatic, and savory. Finally, add the bell peppers and let them cook briefly. Dapanji is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day after it has been sitting in the fridge; the flavors thicken and become more complex with time. Ideally, let it simmer over minimum heat for a while before serving. Serve in a big serving plate; you can put noodles or bread on the bottom to soak up the sauce, or serve them separately. Enjoy!
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Dapanji served over noodles.