Plov (or pilau) needs no introduction. Originating in India and Persia, this fragrant meat and rice dish became widespread in central Asia and the Caucasus and has myriad variations.
The type of plov popular in Russia is of the Kazakh and Uzbek varieties. Coming from a city that is only a five-hour drive away from Kazakhstan (a distance that by Russian standards means “just around the corner”), I’ve been lucky to try some of the most wonderful plovs made with authentic fragrant Asian spices.
The preparation of plov is a sacred ceremony, albeit a sexist one, as traditionally only men are allowed to make it. However, the plov I remember the most was made by my aunt, in a giant cast-iron kazan (the traditional cookware for this dish) on an open fire.
The best part of the dish for me is the indescribably rich and sweet garlic that is cooked whole in the very middle of the kazan.
If you can make plov on an open fire, please do, but this recipe works just fine for an indoor kitchen using a cast-iron casserole dish.
500g rice – traditionally devzira, but arborio or basmati can be used instead
100ml mild vegetable oil
800g diced boneless lamb shoulder
2 large onions, thinly sliced into semi-circles
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into batons
1 large garlic bulb
2tsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
1tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed
½tsp chilli powder
½tsp freshly ground black pepper
1tbs dried barberries
A few saffron threads
1tbs salt, or more to taste
Wash the rice under tepid water until the water runs clear of starch, then soak in warm water while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Heat up the oil in a cast-iron casserole dish and fry the lamb over a medium heat until it’s golden on all sides, stirring occasionally. This should take 10-15 minutes.
Add the onions and carrots and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover with boiling water so that the meat and vegetables are fully submerged – the exact volume of water depends on the size of your casserole.
Place the garlic bulb in the middle of the casserole and add the rest of the spices, the barberries and the salt. Do not cover, but bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to a minimum and simmer for 30-40 minutes. This rich golden stock is called zirak, in which the rice will be cooked at the next stage.
Drain the rice and add to the casserole in a layer on top, without mixing the contents of the casserole dish. Gently submerge the rice in the zirak using a flat slotted spoon. If there isn’t enough liquid, top it up with more boiling water so that the rice is covered with at least 1cm of liquid. You can also add more salt at this stage.
Firmly close the lid and cook over a low heat for 25-30 minutes.
If you notice that the plov is only bubbling away in the centre, gently push the rice from the edges towards the middle. Serve upside down on a platter of seasonal vegetables and soft herbs.