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Uzbek Plov

Uzbek plov

Plov is the king of Uzbek cuisine. Plov is served during a wedding feast and to celebrate the arrival of honorable guest, at the crowded jubilee celebrations and in the family circle. Neither a friendly dinner nor funeral repast can do without plov. Dishes made of rice are known almost in every country of the East, but the Uzbek plov, recipe of which was created in the ancient times, can be called the masterpiece of culinary art. There are a lot of folk parables and legends about healing and nourishing qualities of plov.

Uzbek people believe that the very name for plov - "osh-polov" conceals the first letters of the names of the dish basic ingredients: onion, carrot, meat, oil, salt, water and rice.Plov has always been the favorite dish in Uzbekistan. A few centuries ago plov was cooked in rich families almost every day; well-to-do people ate it once a week, every Friday's eve. For the poor people plov was an infrequent dish which was served only during big holidays. In Uzbek family, as is the case with many countries, food is cooked by woman, but it is man who is reputed to possess the skills of making real festive plov.

There are more than fifty varieties of plov in Uzbek cuisine: with meat or chicken, peas or potato; cooked in the steam or in sheep fat; Khorezmian or Samarkand variant, with quince or garlic. The ancient recipes of plov with quails and raisins, or plov made of rice of waxy ripeness have been preserved unchanged since the 10th -12th centuries, whereas some techniques of making "classical plov" are thousand-year old.

The process of cooking festive plov looks like a sacred action. To make a good plov it is necessary first of all to use cast iron bowl with round bottom and a set of sharp knives for peeling, cutting and chopping the dish ingredients (meat and vegetables), as well as special metal skimmers - kaftgirs.

Usually a team of cook's mates peel and chop onion, shred carrot. The best sort of carrot for plov should be of light-yellow colour, not the usual orange-red one. Rice is to be washed thoroughly and sometimes it is steeped in water. In the well heated bowl (till white smoke appears) sheep fat or vegetable oil is heated up, and then the process of preparing zirvak, the basis of plov, starts. After onion is fried in the boiling oil, the pieces of meat should be added. Depending on the recipe, mutton, goat's meat, beef or even horse's meat in the form of special sausage kazi is used for making plov. Meat is fried till tender reddish crust appears. After that carrot should be added, which is then slightly fried. The next step in making plov is to pour water into the bowl and stew it on small fire. The prepared zirvak, seasoned with salt, ground paprika or capsicum, cumin seeds and dried barberry, should be transparent and present the whole taste bouquet of fried mixture of onion, meat and carrot.

Uzbek plov

And then comes the crucial moment of plov cooking process - rice adding. It should be mentioned that rice as the basic product of irrigated agriculture was cultivated in Central Asia since the ancient times. Famous American researcher of Great Silk Road Rafael Pampelly, who discovered near the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, ancient culture of Anau dating back to the 4th - 3rd millennium B.C., found fragments of ancient table wear ornamented with grains of wheat, rice and barley. As it was estimated by archeologists, rice was successfully cultivated in the Fergana valley, in the lower reaches of the Zeravshan, Amu Darya and Sir darya rivers. In his work "Geography" the ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabon indicated that 'Saka and Massagete tribes inhabiting lands to the east of the Caspian Sea sow pearly grain'.

The best variety of rice for plov is devzira - a local sort created by folk selection over many centuries. It is known from historical chronicles that in the 10th -11th centuries in the epoch of the Samanids plov made of devzira sort of rice was served at the court feasts.

This variety of rice is cultivated in the Fergana valley mainly on farmers' individual plots of land because it is considered to be of low yield capacity and is not good to be grown on big areas. But devzira rice low yield capacity is compensated by excellent quality of plov. The oblong ribbed grains of pinkish color have high water absorbing property, contain less starch, but exceed other rice varieties in vitamin B2 and choline content. Dry rice devzira crunches in the handful, powdering palms with tender pink pollen.

Another local variety of rice appropriate for making plov is bugdaygurunch. Its big white grains with nacreous shade should be steeped in warm salty water for one-two hours before being cooked.

A layer of rice is placed on top of the meat and carrot, flattened and then covered with water. The right quantity of water is defined in a simple way: water should cover the rice at the height of the first joint of the cook's forefinger. When the water in the bowl evaporates, with special wooden stick the cook punctures the rice mass in some spots and adds water into these apertures.

Uzbek plov

Plov is considered to be good if rice is crumbly and its grains are soft but don't stick to one another. To bring plov to readiness the rice in the bowl is gathered in the center in a form of a hill and then covered with a special ceramic lid - damtavok, or with a big deep plate, and the fire is put to minimum. The experienced cook identifies readiness of plov by slightly striking the wall of the bowl with the skimmer. If the moisture has not evaporated completely, some hissing can be heard, if the dish is ready the bowl gives a clunk. Plov is served to the table on big ceramic or faience dishes. Rice is put in the form of attractive hill, and pieces of meat are put on top of it. All this is sprinkled with finely cut green. In the ancient times during a wedding feast plov was served to every guest individually on flat bread -lepeshka.

The recipe of Uzbek plov was handed over not only from generation to generation, but from merchant to merchant, from traveler to traveler on the Great Silk Road. While undergoing some modification due to local tastes and available ingredients it has become a popular dish among all eastern peoples from Xinjiang (China) to Azerbaijan.

From time immemorial plov was considered to be healthy food. Indeed, plov is highly nourishing, easily digested food with balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats and protein and can be successfully used in treatment of anemia, tuberculosis and general exhaustion.

Following centuries-old traditions, in Uzbekistan plov is served mainly in the evening, for dinner. The indispensable additions to the plov are salads with fresh or pickled vegetables, fruit and berries: tomatoes, cucumbers, black radish, red radish and onion, pomegranate grains, sour grape, cherry, strawberry supplemented with greens, coriander, parsley and dill, garlic, and basil leaves. Such salads not only enrich plov with vitamins but also provide better digestion of this rather fat dish.

Uzbek plov

And of course there should be tea on the table. Black tea is a preferred variety of tea in Tashkent, whereas in other provinces of Uzbekistan people usually drink green tea (kok choi). The specific tea-making ritual is strictly observed in every Uzbek family. First the hostess would swill the porcelain teapot with boiling water, with a special spoon she would then put in it some dry tea, and at last she would throw some boiling water over the tea pot. In a few minutes teapot and small porcelain tea cups (pialas) are served on the table. Before starting to offer tea to the guest it should be poured into teacup three times, each time being poured back into the tea pot; they say it helps to reveal the taste and aroma of the beverage. A respected guest would be served with the tea poured in the teacup at one third of its volume. This amount of tea in the cup is enough only for a few gulps, but thus the guest would avoid burning his fingers while holding the cup without the handle. With tea the hostess would offer crystallized sugar - navat, some honey and sweets. If pancakes are the most characteristic dish of Russian cuisine, galushkas are typical for Ukrainian cuisine, and onion soup is considered to be the traditional soup of the French, the national character of the Uzbek people can be best perceived through tasting Uzbek plov.

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