Thursday, September 30, 2010

GAStronomy - a campstove cooking tour: Uzbekistan

I thought I’d leave Uzbekistan with the words I most feared hearing being “can I see your passports”. Yet as the police presence proved to be more part of the architecture rather than an annoyance I learned to detest a new phrase, “sorry, plov finish”.

The national dish of Uzbekistan is ubiquitous across this double land-locked nation. The traditional ingredients lining up alongside rice are mutton and carrot. It is flavoured with onion and some of various spices sold by the handful in the colourful marketplaces. Yet this hearty meal, as we have noted first hand, can be found right across the Central Asian region and through to the Middle East where it becomes pilaf. (read below for Plov Recipe)

Our first experience with plov however was a bit of red herring. Sitting in an Aktash (Russia) café, we ordered soup and were rewarded with a small cup of broth, meat and vegetables. Feeling our hunger still grumbling, our next dish was plov. This would be our first encounter. To our confusion, we were presented with a slightly larger bowl of the same broth, meat and vegetables. The waitress indignantly assured us, that ‘da’, this is plov.

It was clearly not plov as the Uzbek’s know it. Here the cumin is strong, the rice oily and the vegetables fresh. Large servings are usually accompanied with non and ‘Uzbek salad’. The salad, generally consists of diced tomato, cucumber and raw onion, often ceremoniously draped over the plov. The non, is sacred. Soft round loaves are sold on each and every street corner. The etiquette of consuming non is simple; tear up the bread on a plate for all at the table, never place a piece upside down, eat with your right hand and don’t even think of throwing crumbs in the rubbish, place them outside for birds.

There are numerous variations on the tested lamb and carrot combination. During our trip, seasonal pumpkin often accompanied carrot and chickpeas appeared mandatory. Another popular version is chicken with dried fruit.

Once one gains the taste for Uzbek plov it’s hard to shake. Remember, countering the oil with bread and fresh vegetables is almost as important as timing your trip to the local eatery. On countless occasions the large pot of lunchtime plov was devoured so quickly by the patrons that when we arrived our requests were met with an apologetic look and those painful words ‘sorry plov finish’.

Sourcing Ingredients:
We found all the necessary ingredients in the amazing markets of Tashkent. Traditionally it is cooked with the fat of a sheep tail (also easy to find at the market), but generally cooking oils now the substitute.

Olive oil
200-300g Lamb – cut into 2cm pieces
1 Carrot
1 Onion
300g Pumpkin
½ cup Chickpeas
1tsp Cumin,
½ tsp paprika
Pinch of saffron and tumeric
2 clove Garlic
2 cups Rice – washed thoroughly before cooking

1. Brown lamb pieces in generous amount of oil in a large pot
2. Add onions, carrots, pumpkin and stir regularly
3. Add spices, salt and ½ cup water
4. Bring to boil, then simmer until lamb is tender
5. Use a spoon to press the contents flat in the bottom of the pot
6. Gently add rice and chickpeas and garlic bulbs
7. Pour in boiling water so the rice is covered by about 3cm
8. Do Not Mix
9. Bring to the boil, then reduce to low simmer, cover with a lid and cook for about 15-20minutes until the water evaporates
10. Pierce the rice with a wooden spoon, creating several holes all the way to the bottom and cover again
11. Simmer until the moisture from the base of the mixture is absorbed through the rice…but do not mix/stir
12. When serving carefully put the rice on the bottom of the plate and the meat/vegetable mixture on top
13. Serve with tea, tomato, cucumber and raw onion salad and freshly baked bread (see above for details)


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