phynedyning

Plov: Manly cooking

In Recipies on December 1, 2011 at 10:18 am

One of my “mates” in England shares my passion for home “cheffery” and we periodically trade recipes and tips.  Last week, she inquired what we would be having for our “Thanks Giving” (sic) feast.  I told her about the fruit-stuffed game hens and accompaniments.

Game hens are traditional feast foods in our home, as there is “just enough” meat on a bird for one person and because they can be prepared in a myriad of ways.  One of our favorite sides, a pilaf, typically accompanies the bird to the table.

“You make plov?” came my friend’s reply.

I was puzzled.  “Plov”?  The mystery was solved when I looked at my earlier response to my friend and found that my big fingers had typed “pilav”…the “v” being poorly designed to be adjacent to the “f” on keyboards.

I typed back, “No…pilaf.  But yes, all kind of the same as plov and risotto.”

A near email war erupted when a terse reply came back:  “They are NOT the same…”

Email leaves much to be desired when conveying thoughts.  So I fired back:  “Do you have a good plov recipe?”  England, being the center (centre) of a former empire drew immigrants (as do all empires) from throughout portions of the world it had conquered for “King (Queen) and Country”.  My friend probably had an acquaintance with family ties to Uzbekistan where plov has its roots.

She promised me a recipe and warned that plov was more of a main dish than a side.

Meanwhile, I did some reading up on “plov” and its distinctions from risotto and pilaf.

Plov is the Uzbek equivalent to manly, American grilling.  In Uzbekistan, women do not cook plov and every man there has his own “best” plov recipe.  My plov readings included some very humorous (according to Uzbek idiom) observations about male bonding over plov-making and one writer seriously suggested “Men cook plov because the kazan (traditional plov cooking vessel) is too heavy for the womens (sic) to carry.”

One of the universal signs of “good plov” is rice that is not clumpy.  “Clumps of rice are the sign of an amateur cook”, observed another Uzbek home chef.

A few days later, my friend sent me a couple of recipes for plov.  All of them contained meat (ox tail or goat) and I was hoping for a meatless version…it was right after Thanksgiving and followed by Shabbat…tables for both had included meat.  I wrote to express my gratitude for the recipes and inquired about a vegetarian plov recipe.

I quickly learned that sliced vegetables may be placed on top of the nearly cooked rice and allowed to steam gently before being tossed into the plov at service.  Sliced zucchini, sliced yellow squash, short green beans (a Persian favorite variation), or baby spinach may be used.  Instead of meat, toasted nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews, or pine nuts) can be substituted.

I looked in my pantry and found several small, individual bags of cashews left over from a recent road trip.  They were not quite “salty enough” for me and had languished next to my big bag of pine nuts and walnuts.

To my great delight, plov is a garlic-lover’s dream.  Authentic recipes call for an entire roasted head of garlic!  One of the plov-lover’s sites cautions, “These roasted garlics (sic) are prized by many Uzbek men when eating plov.  But be sure to blow out all bedroom lamps and remove small pets from a bedroom if you are fortunate enough to eat the whole garlic.”

WARNING:  This is not an official recipe for plov.  Please be generous and call it “plov-like”.

The above warning is 100% necessary.  For many, plov-making is a nearly religious activity by plov aficionados…in the same manner as grilling steaks for American men.

Thoroughly forewarned, we are now ready to make vegetarian plov.

You will need:

1/3 C canola oil

2 large onions, chopped

4 roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 14oz can, drained)

6-8 cloves garlic, pressed

2 large carrots, finely minced or coarsely grated

1 C (toasted) almonds, peanuts, cashews, or 1/2 C pine nuts)

4 C vegetable broth (or 3 ½ C if using canned tomatoes)

1 ½ C basmati rice

1 ¼ tsp ground coriander

pinch of saffron

1 ½ tsp ground cumin

12 oz baby spinach, stems cut (or other veggies as above)

salt and pepper

Place the rice in a large bowl and cover the rice with 3C cold water.  Allow the rice to soak for 30 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.  Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven (or kazan) over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the onion and garlic and “sweat” them in the hot oil for 3-5 minutes or until very soft and translucent.  Toss in the tomatoes and cook until the tomato flesh begins to paste.  Move the veggies to one side of the pot and add the cumin and coriander.  Fry the spices until they are very fragrant.  Using a fine drainer (tea strainer size mesh), drain the rice thoroughly and toss it into the pot; thoroughly coating the rice kernels with oil and veggie juice.  When the rice is well-colored, stir in the grated/minced carrot.  Pour in the stock and stir in the saffron.  Bring the mixture to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer.  Place the cover tightly on the kazan or Dutch oven and cook for about 15 minutes (until the rice is al dente firm, but almost fully cooked).  Without fluffing the rice, lay the spinach (or other vegetables) on top of the rice.  Cook (covered) until the spinach just wilts or the other veggies (if using) are just tender.  Remove the cover and fluff the rice, gently folding the vegetables (or spinach) into the rice.  Serve in festive bowls, generously garnished with toasted nuts.

My thanks to my “mate”, Kelly, for her generous gift of information about plov and how to make it.

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