20 October 2012


Almost every part of the world has some sort of meat and rice dish.  Pilafs are common throughout the middle east, jambalaya is popular among Cajuns and pulao and biryani are well-known dishes from South Asia.    

But most places that various pilafs seem to originate from are regions where rice is grown.  So why is plov so popular in Russia?  Rice doesn't grow well in the cold, northern climates.  Actually, plov comes from the southern republics that used to be part of the Soviet Union.  Apparently, the first documentation of how plov should be properly made is found among the medical texts written by the 'Father of Modern Medicine', Abu Ali Ibn Sina.  Ibn Sina was a tenth century Persian scholar who was born in what is now Uzbekistan.  So it's understandable why Russians consider plov to be an Uzbek dish!  To this day, Uzbekistan is famed for its various types of plov, which is quite possibly the most famous part of their cuisine.  Each region of Uzbekistan has its own variation of plov, and each family has its own unique recipe.

Traditionally, plov is a dish that is prepared by the men in the family.  Yes, the women do know how to do it, and may be quite good at it.  But normally, the plov cooking is reserved for the men.  Sounds good to me!  Also, the pot that plov is made in is of vital importance.  The best pot for it is a heavy cast iron dutch oven - the bigger the better!  Ours is a 7 quart pot, and it seems to do quite well.  For this recipe, I would not recommend using a pot that is any smaller than that, as ours is filled to the brim.

In following that tradition, the plov in our house is made by my husband and brother.  And they do a wonderful job!  Soslan has taken a pretty basic plov recipe and added a few things to make it his own, including adding chick peas and jalapenos.

815 g or 1 3/4 lbs medium grain rice
10 large carrots, julienned
3 large onions, halved and sliced
1500 g or 3 1/2 lbs well-marbled chuck roast or lamb shoulder (lamb is traditional, but sometimes hard to find or cost-prohibitive)
1 15-oz can chick peas
Olive oil
1.7 L hot water, plus extra to cover the rice
1/4 C barberries
2 pkg plov spices
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
3-4 whole dried cayenne peppers (or 2 tbsp crushed red pepper)
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 wholegarlic heads (outer papery layers removed)
4 whole jalapenos

So the first step is to get all the carrots and onions cut up.  This is the most tedious job, and it's nice to get it done.  If you notice on the picture, nothing is cut very thin.  This is because of the long cooking time.  Cut the carrot and onion strips long and just thick enough that they will still be visible in the finished dish.

Next, remove any excess fat from around the meat.  Cut into large (approximately 2-3 inch) chunks and set aside.
Ok, now that the prep is out of the way, heat about 1/4 cup of oil over medium high heat in the dutch oven.  When the oil begins to shimmer, add all the onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until they brown and begin to caramelize at the edges.  None of the normal translucent stuff here!  We want them really brown.  Add more oil if necessary to keep them from burning before they get to this step.

Remove the onions from the hot oil using a slotted spoon.  We will use the now onion-flavored oil to brown the meat in the next step.

Now add the meat to the hot oil.  Be careful, as it probably will splatter some.  Stir occasionally, until the meat is browned on all sides.

When the meat has browned nicely, reduce the heat to medium low and spread the carrots over the meat.  

Cover the pot and let the carrots steam for about 10 minutes.  While that is cooking, bring your water to boil.

This steaming step helps to prevent the carrots breaking.  If you were to stir in crisp, raw carrots with the heavier meat, the chances of the julienned strips snapping in half is much higher.

When the carrots are slightly softened, stir them into the meat and add salt (more or less to taste), barberries, coriander seeds, spices, dried chilies, jalapenos, browned onions and garlic heads.  Long list, but it all has to go in now!  Add water to cover, stir gently and put the lid on.  Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic and jalapenos to a shallow bowl or plate.  Add the chick peas now (despite what you see on the pictures - we forgot to put them in at this stage and layered them over the rice, but it really works better to stir them into the meat mixture before the rice is added).

Now for the rice!  Rinse the rice to remove some of the starch.

Spread it evenly over the stew-y part of the plov.  It's fine if some of the liquid from underneath soaks through to the top.

Next, nestle the garlic head and jalapenos gently into the rice.  Only the tops of the garlic should be visible.

Now we need to pour hot water very gently over the rice to cover it by about 1 cm or 1/2 inch.   I have been told that some Uzbek families use a special slotted spoon to disperse the water evenly as they pour it.  I've never seen Soslan go to that length, but he does pour it gently and evenly.  If you want to try the slotted spoon method, by all means go for it - just be careful!

Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for about 30 minutes (and just like any time that you are cooking rice, resist the temptation to take a peek - the steam created inside the pot helps to cook the rice evenly).

After 30 minutes, check the rice.  If the top grains are done, the plov should be done.

Remove the garlic and jalapenos.

Only now can the rice be stirred into the meat.  Do this carefully, since the pot is very full and the contents very hot!

Transfer the plov to a serving platter, top with the garlic heads and jalapenos and serve!  Plov is usually accompanied by flatbread and a simple salad of sliced tomatoes, onions and sunflower oil.

16 October 2012

Greek Stew

Hi everybody!  Sorry for the long break in posts - the past few months have been crazy (as many of you know already) and I haven't had much time to devote to blogging.

The first recipe to be posted after such a long hiatus is one of the last meat dishes that I made in Houston. My mom used to make it often when I was growing up, and it's one of my favourite dishes to prepare for when we have friends come over for dinner.  I would imagine that you could actually make this a vegetable stew if you for any reason aren't eating meat.

  • 2-3 lbs boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1.5-2 inch cubes
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic (optional)
  • semi-sweet or dry red wine
  • 3 medium zucchini
  • 2-3 medium celery ribs
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 lb small red potatoes
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 15 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 lb green beans (frozen is fine)
  • salt and black pepper
The first step is to heat a small amount of olive oil in a deep pot or dutch oven.  Brown the beef cubes in batches to ensure that they get nice and brown on all sides.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the meat to a bowl and set aside for now.

Toss the onions directly into the same oil that you used for the beef (add a little more if necessary to prevent burning).  Saute the onions until soft and add the garlic, stirring just until you can really smell the garlic.

Now add a generous amount of red wine.  I think I used an Australian Shiraz, but any dry red wine that you like to drink will work.  By generous amount, I estimate that I usually use about a cup.  Maybe a little more.  If you do decide not to use wine, or to use less, you will need to compensate for that by using some other liquid as a substitute, since the wine and juice from the canned tomatoes are the only added liquids in this recipe.  I would try a little V-8 vegetable juice and maybe a splash of no-sugar-added red grape juice, to get the deep color and hint of grape flavor.

* For those that are concerned about alcohol levels in the stew, I have read that the longer a dish with alcohol is baked or simmered, the lower the levels of alcohol in the finished dish (but some alcohol will remain regardless).  However, I am not a doctor or anyone remotely qualified to tell you that it's ok to cook with alcohol if you have been told not to. In my current situation, I tend to reduce the amount of wine that I add (maybe by half) and increase the cooking time somewhat.  I have also read that during pregnancy it's best to save these types of dishes for occasional treats, rather than an everyday thing.  Just to be safe.

Next.  Halve the zucchinis and slice them about 1/4 inch thick.  Same goes for the carrots.
Slice the celery about 1/4 inch thick as well and quarter the potatoes.

The potatoes and carrots will take longer than the celery or zucchini to cook, so add those to the onions and wine now.  Stir well and let that cook, covered, for about 5-7 minutes.

Next we add the dried spices.  Cloves (I usually count them so that if I decide to take them out at the end of cooking time, I know if I've missed any), cinnamon sticks (they give a much more subtle flavor than just adding ground cinnamon), oregano and bay leaves, which I seem to have forgotten in this picture.  Drop it all in and stir well.

Next, add the zucchini and celery.  Let those steam a minute on top of the potatoes while you get the tomatoes opened up and ready to pour in.

Pour the undrained tomatoes into the pot with the vegetables and stir well.  This is a good time to add some salt and pepper, before you put the undercooked meat back in.

Next, add the meat and their juices (this is why you needed a bowl to put them in, not a plate!) back to the pot.  Stir everything together.

Isn't that pretty and colorful?

Cover that and let it simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes.  This will help everything to release their juices.
Stir in the tomato paste.

Next, add in half of the parsley.  I tend to add in the half that has the stems, so that the stems have plenty of time to release their flavor and get tender.  I realize that some cooks avoid using the parsley stems because they can be a little tougher, but I don't like to waste.  And I do like the taste and, honestly, even the crunchier texture.  But to each their own.
Stir well, cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.  This is another reason why it's perfect for serving to guests.  The 45 minutes allow you plenty of time to clean up the dishes used up to this point, straighten whatever else needs straightening, put on a pot of rice (my family is from Louisiana - how could we not serve a stew over rice?!).  Or you could always just set the timer and take a nap...

When you wake up, your stew should look something like this:

At which point, you can add the green beans.  Stir gently, bring back to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Then cover it again, set the timer for 30 minutes and get back to your nap.  A well-rested cook is a happy one.

When the 30 minutes are up, your stew should be done.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste and add the reserved parsley.  Serve over rice or egg noodles, or even by itself with fresh, crusty French bread on the side.

19 June 2012

Beans with Kale

This dish, pinto beans with kale, is sort of like lobio.  Except that I've never heard of Georgians or Ossetians throwing greens (aside from copious amounts of herbs) into their beans.  So we'll say that it's lobio with a Mediterranean/Italian twist.  Sort of.

In any case, it's another go-to meal that can be thrown together quickly and everybody in my family loves.  The best way to make it would be with dried beans, of course, but I more often than not just use canned pinto beans.  Doing that shaves off a lot of time, and I can have this on the table in under 30 minutes.

You will need:
  • 6 16oz cans pinto beans
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • about 1 Tbsp dried summer savory or sage (I measured it in my hand, so you might have to eyeball this one and then adjust the spices later)
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 bunches of kale
  • salt and pepper, to taste

First things first.  Chop an onion and saute it in some olive oil in a dutch oven or other such large pot.

Then slice your garlic (or mince it, if you don't like to see large pieces of garlic in your food).  Add to the pot when the onions are getting soft.  Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Measure out a palmful of summer savory or sage.  Toss that and the whole cloves in the pot and stir for a few seconds.

 Next, add the undrained beans.  If you are watching your sodium intake, you can drain them first and replace the liquid with water.  Don't cover the beans entirely with water, though, or they will be too soupy.
 Stir well and let that simmer while you work on the kale. 

First, wash well and drain.  I used two varieties of kale just to make it prettier, but if all you can find is green kale, that's perfectly acceptable too.

Then remove the tough stem.  Cut the kale into 1 inch thick strips and set aside.

 It looks like a mountain, but it will cook down in the beans.  I promise.

 Back to the beans!  Now that the kale is ready, it's time to puree some of the beans.  I used an immersion blender, but lacking that, a potato masher works well too.  If you are adventurous, you could try putting half of the beans into a regular blender, but I'm not a fan of transferring hot substances to a blender or food processor.  Especially with Bulldozer and a cat underfoot.

Next, add the kale to the pot.  You could mix it in little by little.  Or you could do like me and impatiently dump the whole bowl in and then mix.  It works either way.

See?  Lovely.
Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with creamy feta crumbled on top and crusty bread on the side for a delicious and quick supper.

18 June 2012

Uzbek Noodle Soup - Lagman

Lagman is an Uzbek dish that is quite similar to Asian noodle soups.  It was possibly brought to Uzbekistan by the Dungans, or Chinese Muslims that settled in the area.  It's popular throughout Central Asia.  When I lived in Moscow, I had a friend that had grown up in Tashkent.  She used to make lagman for us sometimes, and it was one of the tastiest soups I had tried there.  Her recipe was simpler (I don't remember the eggplant in her version), but the basic flavors are about the same.  I would imagine, though, that recipes would vary by region or even family.

This particular recipe is adapted from Anya Von Bremzen's Please to the Table.

You will need:
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb boneless lamb shoulder or beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thick strips or cubed
  • 1 eggplant, cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup diced daikon (I didn't have that, so I omitted it)
  • 3 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium green chilies
  • 2 medium boiling potatoes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 3/4 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1/2 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 to 6 cups lamb or beef stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • medium handful cilantro, chopped
  • small handful parsley, chopped
  • homemade noodles 1 box fettuccine noodles (who has time to make homemade noodles??) 

In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers.  Add the meat (in multiple batches, if necessary - the meat will not brown nicely if it's crowded together) and brown well on all sides.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions, carrots and eggplant to the Dutch oven (in the same oil that the meat browned in), and brown, stirring for 7 to 8 minutes.

Isn't that pretty?  The original recipe said to peel the eggplant, but I forgot to.  I think this actually makes it prettier, and the skin was so tender that I can't see any reason to go to the extra lengths of peeling it.

Next step.  Add the tomatoes and peppers (and daikon, if using).  Stir and continue to cook over medium heat until the ingredients soften a bit and are pretty.  That should take about 10-12 minutes.

Add the potatoes and cook about 3 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Time to add spices!  Add the coriander seeds, peppercorns, cumin, paprikas and bay leaves. Cook for a couple more minutes.

Stir in the meat and any juices that are sitting in the bottom of the bowl.

Pour in 5 cups of stock.  When I got started making this soup, I was under the distinct impression that I had a carton of beef stock in the pantry.  I think the monster that lives under the shelf drank it.

So all I had was chicken stock, and it worked decently.  I'm sure a homemade beef stock would be infinitely better, but oh well.

Bring it to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer, covered, until the meat is tender.  That should be somewhere around 45 minutes.  Check after 30 minutes to see if you need to add the last cup of stock.  Remove the bay leaves.

Stir in the garlic.  Feel free to add more than two measly cloves, if you like it to be garlicky.  We do!

Add the vinegar, parsley and cilantro, reserving a little for a garnish.

Remove from heat and let stand about 10 minutes before serving.
When I made this, we were so hungry by the time it was done that nobody wanted to wait another 10 minutes for it to stand or for noodles (bad time management on my part, I know).  So this was how we ate it.  It does work quite well as a soup by itself!  Crusty rye bread, or lavash if you have it, makes a good accompaniment. 

The next day (and yes, this soup is equally great or possible better the next day, after the flavors have time to mingle), I did boil some noodles and we had it the (more or less) authentic way.  Honestly, I like it either way.  So try both and let me know what you think!