I love Palov. I love cooking it and I love eating eating it. Palov is a traditional dish from Central Asia prepared with lamb, onion, carrots, and rice. Although a recipe had resided on my shelf for years in Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman’s excellent cook book Please to the Table: The Russian Cook Book, I just seemed to skip over those pages every time I was looking for a recipe.
In 2006, Kate’s mother Klavdia, a good Russian mother and cook, was able to travel to the United States to see Kate graduate from the University of Texas at San Antonio. At my request, Kate extracted from her mother some of her favorite recipes, one of which was for plov, as palov is called in Russian. Unfortunately, the fate of this recipe was to also languish on the shelf.
Then, I heard an excellent essay on National Public Radio (NPR) that described the crackdown by the Tajik government on the preparation of palov. It seemed the government felt the people were spending too much money partying! Listening to the essay sent me to explore what all the fuss was over this palov.
I went first to Klavdia’s recipe. It’s not too difficult and is a good introduction to palov. One of the main differences between Klavida’s recipe and Bremzen’s is that Klavdia uses curry rather than cumin. I think the recipe in “Please to the Table” is probably a bit more authentic in terms of Uzbek cooking, but be warned it also involves a more complicated preparation.
When I went to Moscow in June of 2008, on the night of my arrival, Olga, Pavel, and I went to a Uzbek restaurant not too far from their apartment. I am happy to report that my own palov stacks up favorably.
I’m sure that there are as many palov recipes as there are palov cooks. Here are two to get you started.
3.5 cups carrots (matchstick)
2 small onions, chopped
2.5 cups rice
Corn oil (any oil without a smell)—enough to cover the bottom of the pan
1 lb lamb or beef
3 beef bullion cubes
Cut the meat into ½ inch cubes. Heat the oil in the pan. Once the oil is hot, sauté the meat till brown. Meanwhile, dissolve the bullion cubes in 2 cups water. Cook the meat until all the water/meat juice evaporates from the oil & meat mixture. Let the meat fry for two to three minutes longer and then add the carrots and onions. Mix in black pepper, salt, and 2 tbsp curry powder. Cook till the onion is transparent, and then add rice and water with dissolved beef bullion cubes. There should be ½ inch of water above the rice. If there is not enough water, add more. Turn the heat down to simmer and cover the pan. Cook until the rice is ready with all the water absorbed by the rice. Check on rice periodically to see if rice needs more water.
Kovurma Palov from Please to the Table: The Russian Cook Book
1/4 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup light vegetable oil
2 pounds lamb shoulder with some fat and just a few bones, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into thick strips
3 large onions, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup water
2 cups medium-grain rice, rinsed and drained
1 whole medium-size head garlic, outer layer of skin and stem removed
2 3/4 cups boiling water
1. Heat the oils in a large, heavy, preferably oval-bottomed casserole, over medium heat for about 7 minutes, until a light haze forms above it. Carefully add a lamb bone to the oil, let it brown on all sides, and remove.
2. Turn the heat up to high, add the lamb, and remaining bones and brown, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and onions, stir well, and cook over high heat, stirring, until the onions are slightly colored, about 10 minutes more. Stir in the hot and sweet paprika, turmeric, cumin seeds, and salt. Then add the 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 25 minutes.
3. Flatten the surface of the meat mixture with a large slotted spoon. Pour the rice evenly over the meat, and bury the garlic head in it. Flatten the surface of the rice.
4. Place a heavy plate over the rice and pour in the boiling water in a steady stream. (Placing a plate over the rice will ensure that the rice and meat will not mix while you pour in the water). Remove the plate carefully, turn the heat up to high, and let the water boil vigorously until it all oils off, about 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Gather the rice into a mound and make 6 or 7 holes in it with the back of a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot tightly and let the pilaf steam until the rice is tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for about 10 minutes.
6. To serve, spread the rice on a large serving platter and arrange the meat, vegetables, and garlic in a mound over it.