Sunday, March 18, 2012

Uzbek Plov -- Central Asian Rice Pilaf

The Turkish word for a seasoned rice cooked with oil, pilaf, which in turn originated from the Persian word pollow, is transliterated as "plov" [ploff] from the word used in southern Russia and the Central Asian and Caucasus regions influenced by Russia. But regardless of the pronunciation of the word or the non-Latin alphabet in which it's written, the rice dishes are generally delightful.

Here's the recipe I've been working on for an upcoming cooking class at the Buford Highway Farmers market, where I've been teaching since January. The menu is to be dishes from along the ancient Silk Road. It's the sort of food Marco Polo, the merchant from Venice who with his uncle traveled that overland route, by horse or by camel, from the Middle East to Western China.

The Uzbek people are of Turkik origin, once horsemen and herders, and inhabit parts of northern Afghanistan and the modern state of Uzbekistan. Cities that inspired my dreams of the exotic when I was young, like Samarkand and Bukhara, are Uzbek.

This region is fairly dry, and vegetables are fewer than is wetter areas. But carrots are plentiful, having originated there. And almonds, pistachios, walnuts, grapes, apricots, melons and pomegranates abound. Typical of plovs from the region, this one has carrots, along with almonds and golden raisins. Unlike pilafs from the Middle East, where olive oil is plentiful, the plov below depends on butter and vegetable oil.

And unlike some of the heavy pilafs, like ones I ate in Afghanistan, this does not have lamb fat as the oil. Fat-tailed sheep are uncommon here and, besides, that fat makes the rice simply too greasy and rich for Western tastes.

Uzbek-style Rice Pilaf (Plov) with Carrots

2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons butter plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 small onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
8 whole cloves
8 whole peppercorns
2 carrots, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Rinse and drain the rice twice. Set out on a dish towel to dry while doing the next steps.

Heat the butter and oil together to medium temperature. Briefly fry the slivered almonds, stirring very frequently, until golden. Lift the from the butter with slotted spoon. Add raisins and stir and fry 15 seconds. Lift out and add to almonds.

Fry sliced onions, stirring frequently, until medium golden color. Lift out to a different bowl.

Add and fry whole spices half a minute. Add carrots. Stir and fry until they just start to brown. Add rice. Stir and fry 2 minutes. Rice should become opaque, like broken marble.

Add salt, sugar, water, and lemon juice. Stir briefly.

Bring to boil. Without stirring, cover and simmer over lowest heat 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes.

Open rice. Add raisins, almonds and half the fried onions. Fluff gently but thoroughly to mix in the additions. Cover and let sit 5 minutes.

Serve on platter, heaped up in a mound. Sprinkle with remaining fried onions.

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