(Central Asian rice pilaf with lamb or beef)
Pilafs are an important part of central and south Asian cuisine, and the making these savory rice dishes is often taken to the level of high culinary art. The Uzbek version of pilaf, called plov (ПЛОВ), is considered the national dish of Uzbekistan. Plov is also a favorite dish in Turkmenistan.
Uzbeks traditionally use lamb and sheep's fat for plov, but you can use beef and vegetable oil if you like. Choose a fatty cut of meat if you can. It will yield exceptionally tender and tasty results.
4 to 6 servings
- Oil or sheep's fat -- 3 tablespoons
- Stewing lamb or beef, cubed -- 1 1/2 pounds
- Onions, thinly sliced -- 2
- Carrots, cut into rounds or thick sticks -- 4
- Paprika -- 1 tablespoon
- Cumin -- 2 teaspoons
- Turmeric -- 1 teaspoon
- Water or stock -- 6 cups
- Salt and pepper -- to taste
- Basmati rice -- 3 cups
- Whole head of garlic -- 1
- Heat the oil or fat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high flame. Add the lamb or beef and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate or bowl and set aside.
- Add the onions and carrots to the pot and saute until the onions are wilted and lightly browned, around 6 to 8 minutes.
- Stir in the paprika, cumin and turmeric and cook for 1 or 2 minutes more.
- Return the browned meat to the pot and add 2 cups of the water or stock, along with salt and pepper to season.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the meat is tender to the bite.
- While the meat is simmering, place the rice in a large bowl and rinse in several changes of water until the water runs clear. You do this to to wash extra starch of the surface of the rice to keep the grains from sticking together. Drain well.
- When the meat is sufficiently tender, take it off the heat and remove the cover. Carefully add the rice to the pot, smoothing it out to cover the meat evenly. Do not stir the rice into the meat!
- Sprinkle the remaining spices over the rice and season with salt and pepper.
- Carefully pour in the remaining stock or water without disturbing the rice. Liquid should just cover the rice by about a half inch, and the surface of the rice should be smooth. Smooth it out with a spoon if necessary.
- Return the pot to a medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Wash the garlic, and slice off the top of the head to expose the tops of the cloves. Push the garlic cut-side down into the middle of the rice. Cover the pot tightly and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from heat and let rest for another 10 minutes.
- Take off the lid, remove the head of garlic and set it aside. Use a fork to fluff the plov and mix the ingredients together. Then mound the plov onto a serving platter.
- Serve immediately with a side salad of thinly sliced tomatoes and sweet onions tossed with a little paprika, oil and salt. Squeeze the simmered garlic cloves onto slices of bread.
- Turkmen Palaw: For the Turkmenistan version of plov, simply eliminate the spices and garlic.
- Rice: Basmati rice works well for plov, but you can use regular long- or medium-grain rice if you like. If so, soak the rice in water for 30 minutes to an hour and drain well before adding to the pot to ensure it cooks all the way through.
- Other additions: Many Uzbek cooks add dried barberries to plov to impart a pleasantly tart flavor. For a fancy plov, try adding dried fruit like raisins, apricots or dried cherries.