UZBEKISTAN: Plov with wild black cumin

Plov (also known as osh) is Uzbekistan’s national dish and eaten all around Central Asia – it’s a great big rice pilaf with meat and onion and carrots. There are countless varieties – I saw a really tasty looking one with quince I may try if I can find the fruit – but right now I just wanted to make a “default plov”.

I checked several Uzbek plov recipes and they had many elements in common – browned beef or lamb, onion, julienned carrots, chickpeas, cumin and coriander, using intact whole heads of garlic, and layering the rice on top of broth to let it cook. I based mine off this recipe from Video Culinary (text version here) – though they didn’t include chickpeas, so I added a drained can at the same step as the garlic, before layering on the rice. I followed the rest of her technique to the letter, including the mound of rice with steam holes at the end.

Every recipe I found also has HUGE quantities – I cut the recipe down to 1/3 of the quantities called for (I only cut down the spices and garlic by a half) and it still filled a big dutch oven. That makes sense, as plov is a very social dish – it’s common at special events and is meant to feed crowds.

I also added a special ingredient – whole wild black cumin seeds from Uzbekistan! Épices de Cru / Spice Trekkers sources it – they’re great for high end spices; I also got my Chilean merquén from them. I had already used regular ground cumin with the other spices at the start of the dish, but I wanted to really get that lovely cumin flavour, so after making the rice layer, I gave it a generous sprinkle of cumin seeds before I let it cook.

This plov turned out AMAZING. It was a lot of work but WOW, it is worth it! The rice was perfectly fluffy and had absorbed all the good flavours, the meat was tender, and the chickpeas weren’t mushy. The carrot added extra flavour and colour and the cumin seeds made it feel like restaurant pilaf.

The best part was the garlic. I was worried the whole bulb technique wouldn’t be effective, especially that late in the recipe, but I was wrong, you could absolutely taste lots of good garlic flavour. The cloves had cooked inside their skins, and I could gently squeeze them out and use them as a topping to make it extra garlicky!

This is recipe is going in my win column (I needed a win after the navat failure) and I should use it for dinner parties – this is like a week’s worth of meals!

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