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

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

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

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.

Dapanji_urumqi
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.

Dapanji_kashgar
Dapanji served in a Kashgar restaurant.
Newnan5
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.
cook_chicken

3. Put in the onions and cook these until soft and light brown.
cook_onions

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. Add in the potatoes.
cook_chicken3

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.
cook_sauce2

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!
finished_sauce

Dapanji served over noodles.

Samsa: Baked Meat Buns

Samsa600px
My version of samsa.

Samsa (самса, 烤包子) are baked buns that are eaten all over Central Asia. The filling is usually meat (beef or lamb), onions, and plenty of fat. As you might guess from the name, they are distantly related to Indian samosas. In Xinjiang, they sell these on the street in every city.

selling_samsa
Samsa being sold in Turpan.

Samsa are usually fairly greasy and, like most Central Asian food, best washed down with hot green tea. I often bought samsas to eat on long-distance buses in Xinjiang; one time a man next to me saw my water bottle and cautioned me against drinking it with the samsas. The traditional belief (not only in Xinjiang, but across Eastern Europe and Asia) is that drinking cold things is bad for your digestion, especially after eating greasy food.

IMG_20151225_221138
These are traditionally baked in a tandyr oven like nan bread – sticking them straight to the wall and prying them off with tongs. I used a pizza stone and got good results – unlike nan, you can get pretty close to the real thing at home.

The recipe here is for the standard meat samsa. You can also fill them with pumpkin and onion. Although not traditional, I imagine yam or sweet potato would work well too, maybe even taro! You can wrap a chicken drumstick with onion and samsa dough and make amazing baked chicken samsas that turn out wonderfully juicy and tender inside.

Natalia Kim has a nice video demonstrating the process.

chicken_samsa
Chicken drumstick samsa.

Ingredients
Flour
Water
Egg
Salt
Black pepper
Meat (beef or lamb) – use a somewhat fatty cut
Onion
Butter

Directions
1. Make a dough of flour, water, egg, and salt. Knead this until it is fairly firm and let rest for an hour, in the fridge.

2. Take some dough and roll it out until it is very thin and takes up almost all of your rolling space. Lightly brush this with melted butter.
rolldough

3. Roll up the dough sheet into a tube. Coil up the resulting dough twist and keep in the fridge. Do this for all of the dough.
tube dough

4. Chop up the meat into fairly small pieces, making sure to leave the fatty bits in. Mix this with finely diced onion, salt, and black pepper.

5. Portion the dough twist into small pieces. Holding a piece upright (so the spiral faces the ceiling), press down on it with your other hand. What you are doing is squashing the spiral out and creating the layered dough.
dough_pieces

6. Roll this dough out until it is thin. Spoon a good amount of filling in, then fold it up.
fill_piece

If you want to make circular samsa, just bunch up the edges and press it together in the middle (a bit of water may help it stick), but make sure the edges are fairly thin or you will end up with too much dough in the center of your samsa.
wrap_piece

If you want to make triangles, simply fold up two sides then fold the bottom. You can fold into a packet shape (two sides, then two ends) as well.
triangle_samsa

Whatever you do, make sure your samsa are sealed well so the juices don’t leak out during baking.

7. Brush the samsas with beaten egg and top with sesame and nigella seeds.
coat_samsas

8. Have the oven preheated to 420 degrees. Place the samsa directly onto the baking stone. Alternately, you can put them on a baking sheet lined with oiled foil.

9. Bake for about 25 minutes at 420 degrees. When they are done, you should see golden brown spots appearing on them. Enjoy!
baking_samsas

Samsa

Goosh Nan: Uyghur Meat Pie

goshnan
My version of Uyghur meat pie or goosh nan. Deep fried version.
meat pie slice 2
Steamed version of goosh nan.

Goosh nan (گۆشنان, gösh nan, “meat bread”) is the Uyghur version of a dish that is popular all over Central Asia and the Turkic world. It’s a round, flat pie stuffed with mincemeat, fried, and sometimes additionally steamed. It was one of my favorite dishes in Xinjiang, and makes a great appetizer or light meal, with plenty of hot green tea to wash it down.

meat nan in urumqi
Goosh nan in an Urumqi restaurant.

Goosh nan’s closest relative is the Tatar cheburek (or çiğ börek in Turkish), which is a half-moon shaped dough stuffed with meat and deep-fried. The concept of meat wrapped in dough is a key feature of Central Asian cuisine: manti, börek, chuchvara, goosh nan, and cheburek are all variants of the same idea.

gosh_nan
Gosh nan in an Uyghur restaurant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Goosh nan is a simple dish to prepare: roll out two pieces of dough to paper thin circles, top one with mincemeat, cover it with the other dough, and fry. Sometimes it is also steamed after frying, and sometimes it is more bready and baked, like in the picture below:

meat pie in kashgar
Goosh nan in a Kashgar restaurant.

This recipe is from Abdulaziz Salavat (in Russian). Here is an Uyghur video as well. I like the deep fried version the best, but try the steamed version too; it gives it a unique texture and flavor.

Ingredients:
Finely minced beef or lamb. It’s better when you mince the meat by hand, but ground meat will do.
Onion
Salt
Black pepper
Flour
Water
Egg

Directions:
For the filling
1. Finely dice the onion and mix it into the ground meat with salt and black pepper. This is the same basic filling as in manti, cheburek and chuchvara. 
farsh

For the dough
1. Make a fairly firm dough out of flour, water, egg, and salt. Knead for 10 minutes and let it rest for 30min-1hr (it will be easier to roll out if you rest it).

2. Take two pieces of dough about the size of your palm. Roll each of these out to a wide, paper-thin sheet.
rolled dough

3. On one of the dough sheets, put your meat filling in a circle a bit smaller than the pan you will fry it in. Make the filling smooth and even.
dough with filling

4. Cover it with the other dough sheet, pressing down firmly all around the meat so the dough sticks together.
layer dough

5. Use a knife to cut out a circle, leaving room around the edges.
cut dough

6. Use your hands to make little folds all around the edges of the dough and press firmly so the dough pieces do not come apart.
folded edges

7. Deep fry the pie until golden brown. If you want to make the steamed version, you don’t have to deep fry it (steaming will make it un-crispy again anyway) but still fry both sides until golden brown. When it’s done, drain the pie on a thick pile of paper towels and dab oil off the top.
frying pie
draining pie

By the way, if you want to make cheburek, just do all the above steps, except make only one dough sheet, put meat on one half side, then fold it over.
cheburek2
8. If you want the steamed version, put the pie in a steamer, cover, and steam for 25 minutes.
steam pie 2

Ishtiha bolsun!

goshnan2
Deep fried version

meat pie with salad
Steamed version

Beshbarmak – Central Asian Nomad “Lasagna”

Beshbarmak_1
My version of beshbarmak.

Beshbarmak looks like something a nomadic horseman would eat: wide pasta topped with big hunks of meat and onion. It doesn’t look particularly appetizing. But believe me when I say it is something special.

I added bell pepper to my version to give it some color, but it is entirely superfluous. The magic is in the rich, savory meat broth and the tender pasta sheets. My wife, upon seeing it for the first time, called it an “open-faced lasagna.”

Beshbarmak as served in Kazakhstan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Beshbarmak literally means “five fingers” due to the way it used to be eaten. It originates from the nomadic peoples of Central Asia, and nowadays this type of dish is enjoyed all across the region: as beshbarmak by the Kazakhs, Kygryz, Tatars, and Bashkirs, as turama or dograma in Karakalpakstan and Turkmenistan, and naryn by the Uyghurs. Truly a pan-Central Asian dish!

Traditionally, beshbarmak is cooked with all sorts of different lamb and horse meat cuts, as well as kazy (horse meat sausage). I have a hard enough time finding lamb meat here in NYC, so I just used lamb shoulder chops. It would work well with beef, too.

My version is a little different from the traditional dish. Traditionally, the meat is boiled (I sautee it then simmer) and there are no vegetables other than onion. I was inspired by this Uyghur video which is actually for a different dish entirely. Stalic has a video for beshbarmak, as does Abdulaziz Salavat (both videos in Russian). The Russian Wikipedia article for Beshbarmak has everything you would want to know about its etymology and its different national variants.

Ingredients:
Flour
Egg
Salt
Oil
Lamb meat
Onion
Cumin seed
Bullion cubes/powder
White or black pepper
Bell pepper (entirely optional)

Directions:
Noodle making
1. Make a dough out of flour, egg, salt, water, and a bit of oil. Knead for 10 minutes and set aside, covered. Let it rest for at least half an hour.

2. Roll the dough into a cylinder and use a knife to cut off a small piece. Lightly oil the piece.
CutDough

3. Use a rolling pin to flatten out the piece into a big, thin, pasta sheet. Continue until you’ve used all the dough. Make sure to space out the pieces so they don’t stick together.
RollDoughPieces

4. Bring some water to a rolling boil, lightly salt, and put in the beshbarmak pieces one by one. After the water has returned to a rolling boil, let it cook for another 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the noodles – you want them al dente.
CookNoodles

5. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water. Layer the noodles in a plate.
PlateNoodles

Making the topping
1. Sautee the lamb meat in oil over medium-high heat until browned.

CookMeat
2. Add in the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add salt, cumin seeds, and white or black pepper. Mix well.

CookOnion
3. Add bouillon/water until the contents are barely covered.
4. When it starts to boil, turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
CookBroth

5. Open the lid and add in the bell pepper. Cook this briefly over medium heat.

AddBellpepper
6. Pour some hot broth over the noodles to warm them up. Put the topping on the noodles. Ash bolsun!

Beshbarmak

Uyghur laghman noodles with omelette

Lagman2

EatingLagman
Every restaurant has its own variety of laghman. In Uyghur restaurants, it usually means a dish of noodles topped with lamb and vegetables in a tomato-based sauce. In Uzbek or more Russianized restaurants, it’s often more like a noodle soup. In essence, laghman is just wheat noodles with sauce. Even Italian spaghetti bolognese could be considered a distant European cousin of laghman.

I really like the addition of sliced omelette. The recipe is adopted from Abdulaziz Salavat who calls it “suiru lagman”(video in Russian).

Ingredients
Flour, salt, and egg for laghman dough – or buy premade flour noodles
Lamb or beef meat – diced in small pieces
Bell pepper – diced
Tomato paste, 1-2 tablespoons
Onion – diced
Garlic – diced
Salt
Red pepper powder
White pepper powder
Paprika
Chinese black vinegar (e.g. Chinkiang vinegar)
Soy sauce
Cilantro – chopped
3-4 eggs (for omelette), beaten

Directions
1. Make the laghman noodles following the directions in the previous post. Boil in salted water until done, then rinse and plate.
RinseNoodle

2. Prepare the omelette in a separate pan: fry the beaten eggs in oil until solid, turn and fry a bit more on other side. Cut the omelette into slices.
CutOmelette

3. Over high heat, stir-fry the lamb pieces in a heated wok until lightly browned.

4. Add in the onion and cook until soft and translucent.

5. Add the garlic and a bit of cilantro, cook this until the garlic is fragrant.
add garlic

6. Add in the tomato paste, cooking it for a bit first, and mix well.

7. Add some water or bouillon to make a sauce. Turn the heat down to medium. Add in the bell peppers and cook for a bit.
Cooking

8. Add salt, white pepper, red pepper, and paprika. Let everything cook and the sauce reduce for a bit.

9. Add a dash of soy sauce and black vinegar. Add in the cilantro.

10. Finished! Top the noodles with sauce and omelette slices.
LagmanTop