Uzbek Plov is the king of Uzbek cuisine, most certainly served on Eid in Uzbekistan. Like many other Central Asian countries, while secular, Uzbekistan is predominantly Muslim and Eid is a national public holiday. Once the privilege of the wealthy, Uzbek Plov is today, found everywhere and anytime but one peculiarity remains – while many households cook it regularly now, for special occasions, it is believed by many that a real Plov can only be cooked by an oshpaz or Master Chef.
This is a recipe I learnt from an Uzbek student we had staying with us some years ago, it’s her mother’s recipe and I make it pretty much as I remember it. Vegetarian option at the end.
Like many national dishes, Uzbek Plov has many, many variations according to regions as well as cooks! It is essentially the Uzbekistan version of the bryani and when cooked with barberries and raisins, is reminiscent of the Persian jewelled rice. The ingredients that remain constant besides the rice are lamb, onions and carrots, then you can have chickpeas, potatoes, barberries, pomegranates and even eggs.
I cook this fairly often, varying the additional ingredients somewhat but more often than not, I prefer to keep it simple, as in this recipe, serving it with a salad and perhaps half a boiled egg (in quarters) per diner. If you find that too dry, a simple light curry or dhal would go nicely.
Basmati rice is best and I always use leg of lamb, boneless is easier to eat with but on the bone always produces a richer dish. You can julienne the vegetables or cube them, I do either, depending on my mood on the day.
Traditionally, lamb fat is used for this but you can use a plain vegetable oil or ghee, like I do.
What is also quite commonplace is to cook a whole bulb of garlic per diner (!) with the plov and to serve this on the plate as is. Cooked garlic in skin is fairly mild and sweet and makes a great accompaniment but if you don’t fancy it, add the a couple of bulbs to the recipe for the flavour, then discard them.
I use chicken stock in my plov as I find lamb stock a little overpowering, fell free to use any stock you prefer, even vegetable.
Ingredients (serves 4)
400g Basmati rice
3 large onions, halved, then sliced thinly
3 large carrots, in small cubes
2 handfuls frozen peas, left out until needed
4 whole garlic bulbs (head)
1 green chilli, seeded and halved
2 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
750-800ml hot chicken stock
2 bay leaves
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1. Scrub the garlic bulbs, leaving the skin on and slice just a little off at the bottom end to expose a little garlic. Don’t cut the root end as the garlic cloves will come apart.
2. Heat a heavy bottomed casserole dish on high heat, add the ghee and when hot, brown the lamb. Do this in batches to ensure that the meat is sautéing and not boiling which will happen if you overcrowd the pan as there will be too much liquid from the meat.
3. Add onions and saute until translucent, reducing the heat to medium.
4. Add carrots and mix well.
5. Add the dry spices and salt, stir throughly to mix and coat the meat.
6. Add 750ml of the stock and bay leaves, bring to boil, cover and simmer for 1-1 and a half hours until the meat is tender. I find that an hour is usually enough although on the bone meat may take longer. The meat should be just falling off the bone.
7. Stir the lamb and add the rice, garlic and chilli, spreading it fairly evenly all over, cover, lower the heat right down and cook for 20 minutes. Now, you have a choice here. If left undisturbed, the rice will catch and you’ll get a crust at the bottom. If you don’t want this crust, stir and mix the rice every 5 minutes or so, then continue cooking.
8. After 20 minutes, add the peas, stir if that’s what you’re doing, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
9. Serve, with fresh parsley all over, with a bulb of garlic for each diner.
VEGETARIANS! – Substitute the meat with courgettes, capsicum and any other vegetables of your choice, using vegetable stock. Add the rice and vegetables at the same time. Top with boiled egg if you eat eggs.
PESCETARIANS! – Use mixed seafood, or just fish (salmon is a good choice) on its own, using vegetable or fish stock. Frying the fish in a little oil first will give it some bite. Cook the rice for 15 minutes, then add the seafood and cook for another 15 minutes. Top with boiled egg or just the cooked seafood from the Plov.