Friday, June 24, 2011

PLOV THE NATIONAL DISH OF ALL CENTRAL ASIA



Plov also called poloپلو , polao, pilau, pilav, pilaff, or pulao in its adopted languages (Turkish, Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Marathi, Uzbek, Turkmen, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Pashto, Persian, Armenian etc.) and in Greek (Pilafi-Πιλαφί).

The English term pilaf is borrowed directly from Turkish, which in turn comes from (Classical) Persian پلو, Urdu pulao (پلاؤ) and Hindi pulav (पुलाव), and ultimately derives from Sanskrit pulaka (पुलाक)


The basis ingredients of Plov are rice, carrots, meat and onion cooked in a seasoned broth (zirvak). In some cases, the rice attain a brown color by being stirred with bits of burned onion, as well as a large mix of spices. Depending on the local cuisine, it may also contain a variety of other vegetables (incl. carrot, onion, potato and garlic).

Plov is the king of Central Asian cuisine, served during a wedding feast, to celebrate the arrival of honorable guests, at crowded major celebrations as well as within the family circle. No celebration be it happy or sad, can be regarded as being complete without plov.

In Uzbekistan alone there are more than fifty main varieties of plov. The recipe for plov has been handed down, from generation to generation for well over two thousand years.

Whilst day to day cooking is carried out by women, plov like shaslik is often cooked by men. Just as in Australia with our BBQ) men claim to be best at making real plov.

The process of cooking plov is complex. To make good plov it is necessary to use a large cast iron bowl with a and thick-bottomed round base callede a Kazan, and a set of sharp knives and a special metal skimmer.

Often it is cooked over a pit outside the house. The cook will have a number of assistants to help peel and chop onion and shred carrot. The best sort of carrot for plov should be of a light yellow colour, not the the carrot of Australia, North America or Europe that is always orange-red in colour.

For a good plov it is important that the rice be first steeped in water and washed thoroughly. The Kazan with an ample amount of sheep fat or vegetable oil is preheated (until white smoke appears). .

Then the process of preparing zirvak, the basis of plov, starts. First onion is fried in the boiling oil, then the pieces of chopped meat are added.

Depending on the recipe, mutton, goat's meat, beef or in some parts even horse meat is used for making plov. The meat is fried until a tender reddish crust appears.

After that the carrot is added and slightly fried. The next step is to pour water into the bowl and stew it over the fire (by this time charcoal embers).

The prepared zirvak, seasoned with salt, ground paprika or capsicum, cumin seeds is cooked until transparent and presenting a bouquet of aromas of the fried mixture of onion, meat and carrot.

And then comes the most crucial part of the plov cooking process - adding the rice.

It should be mentioned that rice as the basic product of irrigated agriculture has been cultivated in Central Asia since ancient times. And there is no better rice for Plov than that grown in Karakalpakstan. The delta of the Amu darya has a long traditon of growing quality rice. in his work "Geography", the ancient Greek historian and geographer 'Strabon' indicated that the 'Saka and Massagete' tribes, inhabiting lands to the east of the Caspian Sea, "sow a pearly grain of quality".

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, using a special wooden stick, the cook will puncture the rice mass in some spots and add water through these apertures.

Plov is considered to be best when the rice is crumbly and its grains are soft but don't stick to one another. The final steep is to gather the rice in the centre in the shape of a hill, then covered with a special ceramic lid, or with a big large deep plate, the fire should at this stage be as low as possible to keep the plov hot but not to burn.

The experienced plov cook identifies the 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 always served to the table on large (deep) traditional ceramic dishes. The rice is placed on the dish in the form of an attractive hill, and pieces of meat are put on top of it. All this is sprinkled with finely cut greens.

The recipe for plov has travelled far and wide. Taken by merchants and traveler, along the Great Silk Road in ancient times . While undergoing some modification due to local tastes and available ingredients it has become a popular dish among many eastern peoples, from Xinjiang (China) to Azerbaijan and from Khazakhstan to north India.

There are many folk parables and legends about the healing and nourishing qualities of plov. Plov has long been considered to be a healthy food. Indeed, plov is highly nourishing, and an easily digested food with a balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Salads made with fresh or pickled vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, horseradish, radish, onion, pomegranate grains or sour grape, all supplemented with greens, coriander, parsley and dill, garlic, and basil leaves are generally always served with plov.

Salads not only enrichthe plov with vitamins but also provide better digestion of what is after all a rather fatty dish.

Further there must always be tea on the table (black tea is a favourite in Karakalpakstan but in other parts of Uzbekistan green tea is more common) and of course a pile of nan (flat unleven bread).