Uzbekistan declared independence from the former Soviet Union on September 1, 1991. Celebrate with this adaptation of Plov, Uzbekistan’s national dish. This recipe is from Crainny in Atlanta, Georgia whose half Uzbek, half-Russian friend gave it her. I can’t vouch for it but Svetlana, a native of Ukbekistan, loved it.
4 cups long grain rice,
4 large carrots
4 large onions
2 lbs lamb meat – preferably leg or shoulder with some fat on it
1/4 cup melted lamb fat or vegetable oil
8 cups boiling water
3 heaping T. coarse salt
2 t. black pepper
3 T. ground coriander
3 T. ground cumin
1/2 T. paprika
1/2 t. turmeric or a pinch of saffron for color
1/2 T. tarragon
1/4 c. dried barberries (optional)
1 large head of garlic, un-peeled
Rinse rice in cold water at least 7 times, pouring out all the water completely after each rinse; set aside
Boil water in a saucepan and add 2 tbsp salt to it; set aside
Cut up the lamb into 1 to 1-1/2 inch cubes.
Half and slice the onions 1/4 inch slices
Half lengthwise and slice or julienne the carrots
If you have fatty lamb pieces use those for melting out the fat, if not, use vegetable oil instead.
In a heavy bottom large pot or dutch oven heat the oil, or brown the fatty lamb pieces to get the fat out over high heat, until fat is smoky (but not burning). Toss in all of the lamb and continue browning on all sides until pleasantly brown and stops sticking to the bottom. You can either remove the meat now, or continue with the meat on the bottom. Reduce heat to medium. Toss in onions and cook in fat until translucent, about 5-7 minutes, frequently stirring them. Toss in carrots, continue stirring. Add some of the remaining salt and half of the black pepper and paprika at this point. If you removed the meat earlier, now add it back and sprinkle some of the coriander and cumin over. Stir for another 2-3 minutes
Spread the rice evenly, over the meat, onions and carrots; don’t stir.
Make a hole in the rice with a handle of a wooden spoon, and pour the water through that hole slowly, taking care not to disturb the bottom ingredients. Water should cover the rice by not more than 1/2 inch. Better under-water it than over-water. Reserve the remaining water, if you have any.
Leave the heat at medium and cover the pot tightly and let rice steam through for about 15 minutes without opening the pot.
After 15 minutes toss in the remaining spices and salt. Cover again and keep steaming.
Cut the top off the garlic head, slightly exposing the garlic cloves.
Stick the garlic head (exposed side down) into the middle of the steaming plov, about 3/4 way and cover again. Steam for another 10 minutes or so.
Check plov once in a while for doneness – the top grains should be slightly firm, and the bottom ones – well done, but not mushy. All water should evaporate, but not burn.
If you feel your plov is not done yet, but water is gone, make holes in the plov with the handle of the wooden spoon – all the way through to the bottom, and pour remaining salty water into those holes. Don’t abuse this technique, because it’s very easy to overcook the plov this way. Use very little water at a time.
Remove from heat and stir with wooden spoon, bringing the bottom ingredients up to the surface.
Rice should be slightly sticky, but all grains should easily separate and not be easily mashed with a spoon. Meat should be tender and juicy, and vegetables should be all very tender.