Sunday, July 11, 2010

Flavors of Uzbekistan

Being vegetarian, I was a bit worried about what I would be able to eat in Uzbekistan. I had heard and read that the Uzbek cuisine is centered around mutton, rice, potato and bread. I didn't think that the concept of vegetarianism even existed in Uzbekistan, so I mentally prepared myself to just eat whatever fruits I could find there.

Tough luck! There were no fruits besides cherries!!! I was so disappointed, especially as many pictures of Uzbekistan showed people carrying or eating watermelons! What deception!!!

Still, the guide made a lot of effort in arranging vegetarian food and I did get to try some authentic Uzbek dishes. I must also admit they were not too bad!

I want to start off by writing about Uzbekistan's national dish, Plov. Plov is a dish made in Central and parts of South Asia and is made up of rice, carrots, onions, chickpeas and mutton. What gives it its flavor is the very aromatic cumin seeds. We had the great opportunity to visit a family in Bukhara and they prepared a vegetarian Plov for us. I was especially thrilled as they were going to show us each step of the cooking process.

There are various ways of making Plov in different regions of the country. In Bukhara, each layer of ingredients is cooked separately and is not mixed at any time during the cooking process. That way, each item retains its flavor.

Ingredients for Plov:

- potatoes cut in medium sized chunks
- grated carrot
- soaked chickpeas
- raisins
- soaked rice
- cumin seeds
- butter

1. The first step is to heat a large copper pot on high flame. Once the pot is hot enough, add butter, the potato chunks and grated carrot. Let them cook until they are soft.

2. Add the chickpeas and raisins on top. Do not mix with the potatoes and carrots. Again, leave to cook until they are soft. Add the cumin seeds to this mix.

3. Now, add the soaked rice on top. Keep filling the pot with water until the water level is just above the rice. The rice should simmer. If water is fully absorbed but the rice is not fully cooked yet, add more water.

4. Cover the pot and leave the mixture to cook for about 40 minutes.

5. Once the time is up, stop the flame and gently mix all ingredients together.

6. The Plov is ready to be served!

Although Plov doesn't have many spices, I loved it for its mild flavor. The cumin seeds added so much flavor and I really enjoyed eating this dish. The combination of the vegetables, pulses and spices was just perfect.YUMMY!!!

Besides Plov, I also got to try Manti. This dish is a type of dumpling with mutton as its filling. The dumpling is usually made with sheep's tail fat, but I was assured that we were being served vegetarian Manti. The vegetarian version consisted of pumpkin and cumin seeds filling. I also enjoyed this dish, although the whole time I really prayed that it indeed was a 100% vegetarian!

One other traditional dish I tried was green pasta with pumpkins. I don't remember its actual name, but this is what it looked like and is from the Khiva region:

I hope you enjoyed learning about some of Uzbekistan's traditional dishes. I was definitely surprised by the vegetarian cuisine and can assure all vegetarians that there are some things we can actually enjoy in Uzbekistan! Do let me know how your Plov turns out when you try it! I am yet to try!


Ravipa said...

Plov is actually Pulav - dont know which one came first. Did you think of this possibility?

Unknown said...

Yes, that's the first thing that came to my mind. Turns out there are various ways of making this dish with different ingredients. Honestly, the Indian pulao wins hands down.

Anonymous said...

You must have been there at the wrong time of year for the melons. In season they are sold in all the markets and on the roadsides everywhere. At least from Tashkent to Karshi they are.

Unknown said...

@Anonymous: Yes, I found out while I was there that it wasn't the fruit season at all. I believe September is the time to go for fruit lovers:).

DVD said...

This looks actually pretty good... And quite easy to make ! Maybe it is time to go to the kitchen...


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