UZBEKISTAN: Navat

I was hoping to make navat – it’s rock candy flavoured with saffron and other spices, and frequently stirred into tea. It’s common all around Central Asia – I was in a Persian grocery and saw several boxes of it imported from Iran (where it’s called nabat), some with saffron, some just plain rock sugar. I’m using one of the few recipes in English that specifically focuses on how it’s made in Uzbekistan, and this recipe has not just saffron, but cardamom, rose and orange blossom water, and tarragon in the syrup.

It’s a messy recipe with all the sugar, of course, but I set up the sugared strings and made the syrup – it smelled wonderful and turned a beautiful deep red colour. I carefully ladled the hot syrup in, making sure not to splash the sugar off the strings, covered it with a tea towel, put it in a cool corner where it wouldn’t be disturbed, and waited.

I checked on it in the morning, and there were no crystals – little ones should start in a few hours. I poured the syrup back into the pot, brought it to a boil, added more sugar, and tried again. No crystals. I added even MORE sugar and a bit of honey, to the point where the syrup was thicker than maple syrup. Nothing. I tried a warm room, I tried a cold room, I changed the strings, I cursed, I checked rock candy how-to videos and old videos from Uzbekistan. Nothing.

I don’t know if I still didn’t have enough sugar (about 2kg of sugar went into a litre and a half of grape juice, then got boiled down), or if the temperature was wrong, or if the strings weren’t grippy enough, or if there was a preservative in the grape juice that prevented it (not likely, I got kosher 100% juice) or something in one of the spices, or if the culinary gods just said “not today”, but this was an abject failure.

The good news is that this syrup is still delicious – I jarred it and I’m going to be sharing it with friends. I have a feeling this will go great mixed into a rum punch or in place of honey.

As for actual navat itself, I went back to get a box of the Iranian saffron nabat. It’s very nice stirred into a cup of black tea.

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