Uzbek Plov / Lamb Rice Pilaf in Instant Pot


My version of Uzbek plov, cooked in an Instant Pot.

Plov in an Instant Pot instead of a kazan? Isn’t that sacrilege? Possibly. But I’ve discovered that cooking plov in an Instant Pot or electronic pressure cooker is faster, easier, tastes just as good as cooking in a kazan (dare I say it, maybe even better), and most importantly – the results are consistently repeatable!

Learning to cook plov properly in a kazan can take many failed attempts and even after 3 years I will admit that my results can vary a lot. The hardest part about cooking plov in a kazan is the final stage when you are cooking the rice and simultaneously boiling off water – it’s very easy to mess up and overcook or undercook the rice. Because the pressure cooker is fully sealed, it provides the perfect environment for cooking rice, and there is little water left to evaporation – meaning no guesswork and eyeballing while cooking the rice – just measure out a 1:1 ratio of water to rice, hit a button, and it comes out perfectly. And no longer do you need to stand over the stove cooking the carrots until they are soft – the pressure cooker does that for you. I also find the meat is more tender when cooked in the Instant Pot, and nothing gets burned at the bottom.

If you are still skeptical (I know I was when I entertained the idea of plov in a pressure cooker) – I can assure you the rice turns out perfectly al dente, the flavors are great, the carrots are soft, the garlic is nearly a soft puree, and the lamb meat is tender and moist. This is real plov (and believe me, I am picky about my plov). Honestly, if you have an Instant Pot, there’s no reason NOT to cook plov this way. I don’t get compensated in any way for advertising Instant Pot products – and at any rate, this recipe should work in any electronic pressure cooker. I’m genuinely just amazed at how much easier this makes cooking what would otherwise be a highly inaccessible recipe for most people.

Ingredients (4 portions)
4 180 mL cups of rice (720 mL) – long discussion of rice type in the original plov post, but long story short – don’t use East Asian varieties of rice, use any round medium-grain rice – e.g. risotto rice, paella rice, Turkish baldo rice, and in a pinch you could use basmati
4 180 mL cups of water
1 lb lamb meat
Small piece of lamb fat, chopped into small pieces (optional)
Vegetable oil
3 medium-sized carrots, sliced into sticks 5-6cm long and 0.5×0.5cm thick
1 medium to large onion, sliced into half-moons
1 small onion, halved (optional)
Cumin seed, roughly ground in mortar and pestle
Salt
Garlic head
A few dried chili peppers
Barberries (optional) – they add a nice sour flavor,

Time budget: 30 mins prep, 15 minutes sauteing, 15 minutes pressure cook + 10 depressurize, 5 minutes pressure cook + 10 depressurize, 20 minutes steaming = roughly 2 hours

Instructions
1. Put the instant pot on ‘saute’ mode and put in the lamb fat pieces. Let them fry until they have released most of their fat and only the cracklings are left. Remove the cracklings (they make a nice snack). Skip this step if you don’t have any lamb fat.

2. Pour some vegetable oil in, enough to coat the bottom of the pot (if you put enough fat in from step 1, you might not need any). Then put your small onion in, and roll it around in the oil, letting it fry until slightly brown on the outside, then remove the onion and discard it. People do this because they claim that the onion ‘absorbs’ the bad taste of the vegetable oil. I just do it for the sake of tradition, but you can probably skip it if you want.

3. Put in the onion slices and let these fry 5-10 min until they are a nice brownish color – they don’t need to be caramelized.

4. Put the meat in and fry it for a minute or two until it’s lightly browned on the outside – don’t need to go overboard in cooking it, since we are going to pressure cook it.

5. Put the carrots in along with a pinch or two of cumin seed and mix everything up.

6. Pour in the water (remember, 1:1 volume of water to rice). Put a pinch or two of salt in, the chili peppers, and stir everything. Close the instant pot lid, set the vent to ‘Seal’, and set the Meat/Stew setting for 15 minutes. You will notice a garlic in the photo, but I am still undecided about when to put it in. If you put it in now, it will help flavor the broth, but it gets too soft and nearly disintegrates. At any rate, you can put in the garlic in a later step with the rice.

7. After the 15 minutes are up, let it sit for 10 minutes. Wash your rice until the water runs clear. Then quick release the pressure and place the rice in an even layer ON TOP of the other ingredients – DO NOT MIX. You want the rice layer to be as flat and even as possible. You can put in the garlic head if you didn’t in step 7 (bury it in the middle of the rice). You can put in the barberries at this stage as well. Then again close the lid, set the vent to ‘Seal’, and set the ‘Pressure Cook’ setting for 5 minutes.

8. After the 5 minutes are up, let it sit for 10 minutes, then quick release the pressure. The next step should be done quickly to preserve steam. Open the lid and sprinkle a few pinches of cumin, then make a few holes in the rice (this helps the steam circulate), then close the lid, seal it, and leave it on ‘Keep Warm’ setting for 20 minutes. What we are doing in this step is steaming the rice like in the original recipe.

10. The plov is ready! Plate it with the rice on bottom, meat/carrots on top, and garlic in the middle. You can use a fork to gently fluff up the rice. It may be sticking together slightly in the Instant Pot, but come apart easily with a fork. The rice grains should be individual and slightly chewy, though cooked through – ‘al dente’.

Summary:
Measure out 1 180mL cup of rice per serving. Measure out a 1:1 ratio of water to rice.
1. Prepare the oil/fat
2. Saute the onions until brownish
3. Brown the meat
4. Put in the carrots and cumin
5. Put in the water, put in salt, chilis
6. Meat/stew setting for 15 minutes, release pressure after 10 minutes
7. Wash rice, put in an even, flat layer on top, put barberries, put garlic
8. Pressure cook on high for 5 minutes, release pressure after 10 minutes
9. Put cumin seed, make holes
10. Cover and keep warm for 20 minutes

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Soman: Uyghur chopped lagman noodles

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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.

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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

Uyghur laghman noodles

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My version of Uyghur laghman noodles.

Laghman noodles have a special place in my heart. If you go to Xinjiang, chances are you will eat lagman noodles – not only once, but many times, and maybe even every day. In fact, I’m pretty sure there were days I ate lagman more than once in a single day.

Laghman is probably one of the most Uyghur of Central Asian foods – while foods like kebab, plov, and naan can be claimed by many nationalities, noodles are an Uyghur specialty. The etymology of “laghman” is open to debate, but most agree it originally comes from Chinese 拉面(la mian), or literally “pulled noodles.” Hand-pulled Uighur noodles are a wondrous thing – thick with a nice bouncy chew to them.

bishkek_lagman
Laghman, as served in an Uyghur restaurant in Bishkek.

There are as many different varieties of laghman as there are people making laghman, because there is no fixed recipe. It is noodles topped with a sauce of meat and vegetables. Basically anything is game – lamb, beef, chicken, green beans, bell pepper, bok choy, squash – whatever fresh vegetables are on hand. However, there are a few common points: onion, garlic, tomato sauce, and bell pepper are almost always present.

"Dapanji"(stewed chicken) laghman served in a cafe near Hotan.
“Dapanji”(stewed chicken with potatoes) laghman served in a cafe in Niya, a town on the very southern edge of the Taklamakan desert.

I have tried for a long time to recreate the taste of laghman noodles in Xinjiang. It is possible that after 7 years my memories of the taste have faded. So far, this is the closest version I’ve made.

This recipe is adopted from Abdulaziz Salavat’s videos (making the noodles and making the sauce). Uyghurs make pulled noodles differently from Chinese (who generally use the folding method, and use flour instead of oil to keep it from sticking). Abdulaziz, an experienced chef, makes noodle pulling look easy, but it is actually quite difficult. His noodles are made by rolling the dough with one hand and pulling with the other. However, if your technique or dough are off, your noodles will be uneven, too thick, or break off.

bukhara_laghman
Uyghur-style laghman as served in a restaurant in Bukhara.

If you don’t want to pull noodles by hand, you can eat this dish with fresh flour-and-water noodles sold in Asian groceries. I make it this way for quick weeknight meals (making noodles by hand is a lengthy process). In NYC, I buy the Twin Marquis thick noodles sold at Hong Kong Supermarket or other Chinese groceries. They are a decent substitute for hand-pulled noodles, although the taste is a bit different.  If nothing else is available, you could use udon noodles, but they aren’t the right shape/texture.
PackageNoodles

Ingredients
Noodles:

Flour
Salt
Egg
Oil
(or buy fresh premade noodles)
Sauce:
Ingredients
Meat (lamb or beef)
Onion
Tomatoes
Garlic
Chinese celery (or regular Western celery in a pinch)
Tomato paste
Chili paste – I use the chili garlic sauce commonly sold at Asian groceries.
Salt
Soy sauce
Chinese black vinegar
Fresh vegetables – Bell pepper, green beans, bok choy (just the white part, not the leaves). Feel free to substitute with whatever is fresh, although bell pepper at a minimum is a must.
White pepper
Sichuan pepper (“hua jiao”) – optional, but gives a unique flavor

Directions
Noodle Making:
1. Make a dough of flour, salt, water, and egg, kneading well for 10-15 minutes. Then let it rest covered for 30min-1hr, making sure the dough does not dry out. After resting it, form it into a rectangular shape about 1cm thick and lightly brush with oil.
MakeDough
You might wonder about the point of resting dough with no yeast in it. It makes the dough easier to roll and stretch out later. Dough that is not rested tends to be resistant to shaping and difficult to work with.

2. Cut the dough into long pieces and roll them into a smooth cylindrical shape. You want these cylinders to be as smooth and regular as possible, because they will be stretched out into noodles and any imperfections will be magnified. Lightly oil a large round plate. Starting from the center, spiral the dough pieces over the entire plate. Lightly brush the coiled dough with oil. Then let these sit in the fridge covered in plastic wrap for at least 5-10 minutes.
noodle_coil_1024

What is the purpose of the magic coil? After making laghman many times, I’ve concluded that it 1) Gives the initial round shape to the noodles, to be pulled out later, and 2) allows you to oil them all at once, which is important so they don’t stick later, and 3) allows you to conveniently store them in a stable state that won’t easily dry out.

3. In this step I recommend you keep the dough coil in the fridge covered and work piece by piece, so the dough doesn’t dry out. Take a dough piece and roll it between your fingers to round out any uneven spots. Pull out the noodle piece  and make it into a loop, holding both ends in one hand. Dangling the dough down from the ends, spin the bottom so it twirls up and braids itself. Then holding both ends again, pull it out, waving it up and down, and smacking it against the table. Fold the dough over on itself again and repeat the twirling and pulling. The noodles should be pretty thin by now – cut them so they’re a reasonable length and untwirl them. Don’t worry if they seem too thin, as they will swell up when you cook them.

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Don’t fret if you end up breaking some noodles in the process – after they’re cooked you won’t notice much how long the pieces are. However, if your dough is constantly breaking, it could be mean that it wasn’t kneaded enough to begin with. After the noodles are finished, either cook them immediately or cover them with plastic wrap and store in the fridge – you don’t want them to dry out.
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4. Bring water to a rolling boil in a cauldron and lightly salt. Put in the noodles – don’t worry if it appears like they have stuck together in a mass of dough. If the dough was oiled correctly in previous steps, they will come apart. Poke with some chopsticks to separate out the noodles as they cook. After the water has returned to a rolling boil for a few minutes, taste a noodle – it should be al dente with a nice firmness to it – drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water in a sieve. Plate the cooked noodles and keep them aside for the sauce.
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Making Sauce
Prep: Slice the onions into half moons. Dice the garlic and celery leaves. Dice the tomatoes. Chop all the fresh vegetables into squares. Cut off the ends of the green beans and cut them into fairly small pieces (maybe 1/2 inch long). Optionally, marinate the meat with corn starch and soy sauce – this can help make it more tender.

1. Heat the wok to high heat, heat oil, then stir fry the meat over high heat. You will cook everything on high heat in one go. After the meat is nicely browned, add onions, cook till soft and golden brown, then add a splash of black vinegar.
cookmeat

2. Add 2-3 big spoons of tomato paste and 1 spoon of chili garlic paste, mixing everything well.
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3. Add the celery, tomatoes, bok choi, bell pepper, green beans, and any other vegetables you want to add. Stir a bit after adding each vegetable.
make_lagman

4. Add some water or broth to make a sauce. After the water starts to boil, reduce to a simmer and put the meat back in if you removed it earlier. Add vinegar, soy, Sichuan pepper, and salt to taste. Finish it all off with some garlic, mix, and simmer a bit.
cook_laghman_sauce

5. Dish the sauce over the cooked laghman noodles. Enjoy!
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