Sunday, March 18, 2012

Uzbek Plov -- Central Asian Rice Pilaf

The Turkish word for a seasoned rice cooked with oil, pilaf, which in turn originated from the Persian word pollow, is transliterated as "plov" [ploff] from the word used in southern Russia and the Central Asian and Caucasus regions influenced by Russia. But regardless of the pronunciation of the word or the non-Latin alphabet in which it's written, the rice dishes are generally delightful.

Here's the recipe I've been working on for an upcoming cooking class at the Buford Highway Farmers market, where I've been teaching since January. The menu is to be dishes from along the ancient Silk Road. It's the sort of food Marco Polo, the merchant from Venice who with his uncle traveled that overland route, by horse or by camel, from the Middle East to Western China.

The Uzbek people are of Turkik origin, once horsemen and herders, and inhabit parts of northern Afghanistan and the modern state of Uzbekistan. Cities that inspired my dreams of the exotic when I was young, like Samarkand and Bukhara, are Uzbek.

This region is fairly dry, and vegetables are fewer than is wetter areas. But carrots are plentiful, having originated there. And almonds, pistachios, walnuts, grapes, apricots, melons and pomegranates abound. Typical of plovs from the region, this one has carrots, along with almonds and golden raisins. Unlike pilafs from the Middle East, where olive oil is plentiful, the plov below depends on butter and vegetable oil.

And unlike some of the heavy pilafs, like ones I ate in Afghanistan, this does not have lamb fat as the oil. Fat-tailed sheep are uncommon here and, besides, that fat makes the rice simply too greasy and rich for Western tastes.

Uzbek-style Rice Pilaf (Plov) with Carrots

2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons butter plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 small onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
8 whole cloves
8 whole peppercorns
2 carrots, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Rinse and drain the rice twice. Set out on a dish towel to dry while doing the next steps.

Heat the butter and oil together to medium temperature. Briefly fry the slivered almonds, stirring very frequently, until golden. Lift the from the butter with slotted spoon. Add raisins and stir and fry 15 seconds. Lift out and add to almonds.

Fry sliced onions, stirring frequently, until medium golden color. Lift out to a different bowl.

Add and fry whole spices half a minute. Add carrots. Stir and fry until they just start to brown. Add rice. Stir and fry 2 minutes. Rice should become opaque, like broken marble.

Add salt, sugar, water, and lemon juice. Stir briefly.

Bring to boil. Without stirring, cover and simmer over lowest heat 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes.

Open rice. Add raisins, almonds and half the fried onions. Fluff gently but thoroughly to mix in the additions. Cover and let sit 5 minutes.

Serve on platter, heaped up in a mound. Sprinkle with remaining fried onions.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Persian Braised Lamb with Green Beans

In preparation for my May cooking class at Buford Highway Farmers Market, featuring dishes from along the ancient Silk Road, I developed and tested a recipe for a lamb stew, essentially a "koresh."

Lamb is the favorite meat in that area of the world. Unfortunately it is now expensive here, indeed a luxury item. Apparently that is because of the large and growing population of Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and Arabs in this country, who amplify the earlier demand for lamb of the Irish and Greek communities.

The dish I wanted to do had to have the fruity, sour overtones of pomegranate "molasses." Here's my effort, which will be one of the dishes at my May cooking class.

Pomegranate molasses is available at Middle Eastern and some Indian grocery stores plus at other gourmet and international stores.

The recipe serves four generously, along with a rice dish. Persian cuisine is not accompanied by alcohol, so I am not recommending any particular wine or beer with this one. Limeade or lemonade or iced mild tea would go well.

Persian Braised Lamb with Green Beans and Pomegranate Sauce

1 pound lean lamb from leg or shoulder, in 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons clarified butter or 1 tablespoon each of butter and vegetable oil
1 medium onion onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 cloves garlic
4 whole cardamoms
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups water
1 pound green beans, tips removed, cut in 2-inch lengths
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
1 teaspoon pomegranate syrup ("molasses")

Fry cut lamb in the butter or butter and oil, turning frequently and allowing it to brown all over.

Add onion and stir and fry until onion has caramelized. Add garlic and cardamoms. Stir and fry gently 2 minutes. Stir in ground spices for 1 minute. Add water.

Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender, 20 to 40 minutes depending on the cut. Add a little water as necessary to maintain some gravy.

Add green beans and salt. Simmer, covered, stirred occasionally, until beans are tender. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Stir in pomegranate molasses. Simmer 1 minute. Check salt one last time and add some if necessary.

Serve with rice pilaf or rice chelow. Accompany with yogurt.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

This Texas chicken-spinach enchilada has attitude

You may love the place or hate it, but Texas won’t go away. And most Texans don’t give an armadillo’s rear-end what you think. Similar to how we described the Army back when I was in it, there’s the right way, the wrong way and the Texas way.

A friend from the Dallas area, now an Atlantan, professes to dislike cooking. She certainly dislikes being fussy in the kitchen. But her “go-to” entertainment dish, a Mexican-influenced, old family recipe, makes Pat seem quite a chef. Her ingredients include prepared foods. Now, I haven’t done the “take a can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup” routine recently, but I will for this dish.

These spicy chicken and spinach enchiladas are based on Pat’s recipe, but I modified the ingredients somewhat and added spinach, wine and nutmeg.

Enchiladas, a mainstay at Tex-Mex restaurants, and traditional in real Mexico, are simply tortillas wrapped around a filling and covered with chile sauce. The name is the past participle of the Spanish verb enchilar, meaning “to add chile pepper to.”

Classical Mexican enchiladas were made with corn tortillas. Some modern versions, including in Texas, use flour tortillas. Pat’s dish is what in Mexico might be called “Enchiladas Suizas,” or “Swiss-style” enchiladas, indicating milk and cheese rather than red or green sauce.

Beer would be the drink for a dish like this. But for wine, something fragrant and crisp with a little acidity would stand up to the richness of the cheese and sauce. And if the full jalapeño amount is used, which I would, something slightly sweet would help. The dish pairs well with a Riesling — not too sweet — or an Albariño, Viognier or Chardonnay.

The recipe serves five. Serve with rice cooked with chicken broth.

Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas

1 rotisserie chicken (save bones and skin for broth)

11⁄4 teaspoons salt plus more for sauce

1⁄4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen leaf spinach

1 (2-ounce or 4-ounce) can diced jalapeño peppers

10 (8-inch — fajita size) flour tortillas

1 (101⁄2-ounce) can Campbell’s condensed cream of chicken soup

1 can unsalted chicken broth (see method, below) or water

1 cup milk

1⁄2 cup sour cream plus more for serving

1⁄4 cup white wine

1⁄2 pound grated white cheddar cheese

Cut meat off chicken. Reserve skin and bones. Pull meat apart into long pieces. Mix salt, nutmeg and pepper and sprinkle chicken evenly. Toss to mix.

In a pot, boil chicken skin and bones with 2 quarts water for 20 minutes. Skim off foam and excess fat. Strain broth. Use some in recipe, the remainder for cooking rice.

Defrost spinach in microwave (or overnight in refrigerator). Partially squeeze out juice.

Drain jalapeños.

Lightly oil large casserole dish. Set oven for 350 degrees.

Lay tortillas out on flat surface. Place chicken down the middle of each. Distribute spinach over chicken. Sprinkle evenly with jalapeños. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Roll up tortillas and arrange in a single layer in casserole, seam side down.

In bowl, whisk together condensed soup, broth or water, milk, sour cream, wine plus 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Spoon mixture evenly over enchiladas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake until thoroughly heated, bubbling and beginning to turn golden on top, 25 to 30 minutes.

Accompany with sour cream.

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