Friday, May 30, 2008

Kazakh Cooking Experiment #3: Plov

I can't really claim plov as an experiment, since I've been working on getting it right for almost a year. Plov/pilaf/pilau is a rice-and-stuff dish with variations from Asia to South America. I have seen several Central Asian recipes -- fancy dishes with cumin (Uzbek) or apples or dried fruit (wedding plov?) -- but nothing that approximates the plov greatly anticipated and often served at local Kazakhstani expat gatherings. We have 'everyday plov,' a basic dish even my meat-and-potatoes father likes, of carrots, onions, rice & meat, with garlic flavoring. The original one-pot meal.

KZ folk are die-hard 'know it when you see it' cooks -- a handful of this, some of that, add until you have enough. If you don't have a KZ mom to guide you, it can be hard to get it right. Last summer, Kazakh cooks extraordinaire Yuriy and Tatiana (of Russian extraction) kindly wrote down for me a plov recipe with more-or-less proportions of ingredients. I've made, watched and adjusted it enough times to finally satisfy myself and the family, and now to share it with the world.

For me, the two main tricks are getting the meat tender and the carrots sweet (instead of tasting like boiled carrots). Don't skimp on the times. Plov takes a while, but needs relatively little tending. Though traditional KZ plov is made with mutton or lamb, I use beef-- if you've read my recipes before you know that neither Gulnara nor I like lamb (for the record, I think it tastes like dirt) -- but you are welcome to substitute lamb or mutton if you prefer.

A note about the oil -- I've seen heated discussions about what's appropriate to use. Corn oil is a definite no-no. Cottonseed and sunflower are preferred vegetable oils, though we use canola without the world ending. Traditionally, the fat used to brown the meat would be a lump of fat from a sheep's tail, melted. Just so you know.

If you have a Kazakh (or Kazakhstani) parent, disregard all this and make it the way you learned. If you don't, give this a try.

Kazakh Plov
(these are party sized-proportions -- be hungry, have folks over or halve everything but the garlic!)

1 cup (or more) vegetable oil
2 big (fist sized) onions, chopped
2-3 lbs. beef (chuck, or stew meat), cut into 1/2" - 1” pieces
2 lb. carrots, quartered and chopped into 1” pieces
(quick American trick: get "baby carrots" in a bag and slice each one in half)
2 lb long grain rice ( approx. 4 cups; basmati or “Uncle Ben’s" -- heresy, but it works)
1 large head garlic

A pot with thick walls and a lid (kazan, dutch oven or heavy 8 qt. soup pot; 4 qt. to halve recipe)


Heat oil in kazan over medium-high heat. Fry several pieces of the onion until burned at edges; discard onion (this releases onion flavour into the oil).

Add the meat. Cook until well browned on all sides. Add 1/2 to 1 cup water (enough to completely cover the meat by at least 1/2"), cover, and cook for 30 mins. (This step allows the meat to cook in the lower layer of boiling water, while keeping the oil in the pot for sauteeing the onions and carrots later. Don't skimp on the time, or the meat won't be tender.)

Uncover the kazan, and increase heat. Cook until water evaporates.

Add carrots. Lower heat to medium. Cook 5 min.

Add onion. Stir, and cook until carrots begin to caramelize (maybe slightly burned at edges, definitely turning sweet), maybe 5 - 10 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste (you can always add more later). Cook 5-7 min.

When the carrots taste right, add the rice and water.
(For 1 part of rice add 2 parts of water)

So for 2 lbs of rice (around 4 cups), you'll need 8 cups of water. Enough to cover everything in the kazan plus an inch or so.

Cover, turn heat to high. When water boils, stir once, reduce heat to low, place whole head of garlic on top of everything, and cook until water is absorbed and rice is plump and tender throughout (around 20 minutes, as usual for rice).


Nick & Mary Sue said...

Believe it or not we never had plov while we were in central or southeast KZ, but I'm looking forward to trying this recipe out - as well as lagman (loved that while we were in Almaty). Fortunately we still have our pasta machine. ;-) Thanks!

Mary Sue

Nyura said...

I don't remember seeing plov on a menu either -- I think it's one of those dishes you have to get at somebody's house. Like stew -- everybody's mother makes beef stew, but you don't ever see it at a restaurant.

Good luck, and let us know how your plov turns out!

LAY-ah said...

when i was in moscow, my cousins took me an uzbekistani restaurant and i fell in love with plov. i'm so excited to try to make this!

are there any other veggies besides carrots i can use?

you wouldn't happen to know of any restaurants in DC that make plov do you?

Nyura said...

I hope your plov turns out well! As far as I've ever seen, onions and carrots are the standard veggies in plov, though other Central Asian versions might include raisins, apples or even dried apricots. I remember a recipe in one of the first issues of Steppe magazine for a vegetarian plov (I think it's called Uzbek) but I can't find it now.

A Kazakh restaurant opened in Arlington, VA a few months ago called Cafe Assorti. You can find the address and several positive reviews if you search on the web. If you go, let us know what's good!

Anonymous said...

A suggestion on treatment of carrots - for authencity they need to be cut (by hand) into long thin pieces but not fluffy to give proper taste to plov