Samarkand sits in Uzbekistan along the ancient Silk Road, where travelers and merchants once hawked their wares from China to the Mediterranean Sea. Food and travel writer Caroline Eden uses the Russian nesting dolls matryoshka as a metaphor to describe the Uzbeki cuisine of this region: as soon as you unveil one culinary tradition, another reveals itself. Eden’s new book, which she wrote with Eleanor Ford, is “Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus.”
Plov is a quintessential Uzbeki dish “with as many variants as there are people who cook it.” Most recipes call for layering beef or lamb with vegetables, rice and warm spices. The ingredients are steamed in a lidded kazan and the plov is then served on a large communal platter. Eden says the hearty flavors and the act of sharing the spiced plov can bring people together on the coldest of days.
If you find yourself captivated by the thought of wandering the backstreets and bazaars of Uzbekistan, like we do, join Eden for a food-focused tour in March. For more info, click here.
You’ll need a good, heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid to make plov. In Uzbekistan, a cast-iron kazan is used. A large cast-iron casserole makes the perfect substitute.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed
1¼ pounds stew beef, diced
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
⅔ cup clarified butter or sunflower oil
4 onions, cut into wedges
2 bay leaves
4 yellow + 2 orange carrots (or use 6 orange), cut into thick matchsticks
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp paprika
12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 hard-boiled quail’s eggs, peeled
Soak the rinsed rice in a large bowl of cold water.
Brown the beef: Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the clarified butter in a kazan until hot and foaming. Brown the beef over medium–high heat in batches if necessary, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion wedges to the leftover butter.
Assemble the plov: Cook the onions until soft and golden, stirring occasionally. Return the beef to the pan with any collected juices, the bay leaves and a small cupful of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down very low. Cover the pan, and gently simmer for 1 hour until the meat is tender. Spread the carrot matchsticks over the beef, but don’t stir as you want to keep the layers separate. Scatter with the spices, cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Now, drain the rice and layer it on top of the carrots. Bury the whole garlic cloves in the rice.
Cook the plov: Flatten the surface of the rice using the back of a spoon. Season very generously with salt and slowly pour in enough boiling water to just cover the surface of the rice. Increase the heat to a boil and leave the pan uncovered so that the water will evaporate.
Once the liquid has cooked off, make six holes in the rice using the handle of a wooden spoon. This will help the steam to escape. Cover the pan and cook at a low simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat without removing the lid and leave the dish to steam undisturbed for another 10 minutes. If the rice isn’t fully cooked, add a splash more boiling water and cover again. Repeat as needed.
To serve: Serve the layers in reverse, first spooning the rice onto the platter, followed by the carrots and finally the tender chunks of meat on the top. Arrange the hard-boiled quail’s eggs in a circle around the edge of the plov. A juicy tomato salad is the perfect accompaniment.