MORNING PLOV, LAGMAN, SUMALAK AND OTHER UZBEK DISHES

UZBEK DISHES

Uzbek Dishes include shashlyk (kebabs, often made with mutton and served with bread), plov (pilaf-style rice mixed with meat, onions and carrots and other things), mansi (steamed lamb dumplings, often served with minted sour cream), lagman (Chinese-style noodles), moshkichiri (bean and meat soup), dimlama (braised meat, potatoes, onions), barakabob (braised lamb), sheep fat, mutton and various parts of the sheep.

Other dishes include shurpa (chickpea soup), hunon (noodle roll filled with meat samsa (deep-fried pastries filled with meat and vegetables), spicy tomato soup, onion soup, pickled tomatoes and cucumbers, and cabbage or grape leaves stuffed with tomatoes and peppers and meat.

A typical meal in Uzbekistan consists lepyoshka (local flat bread, also known as nan), koreak salad (shredded vegetables in a spicy dressing), boursak, salt, nuts, potatoes, milk. There are a wide variety of breads: leavened and unleavened, and sprinkled with things like sesame, nutmeg, poppy seeds or raisins. Uzbeks are particularly fond of eating bread with grapes and plov. A wide variety of milk products from sheep, cows, goats, and camels are available, depemding on the place. These include cheeses, yoghurt, cottage cheese, aryan (yoghurt drink), curd (salty dried balls), and kaimak (sweet cream skimmed from fresh milk).

Famous Uzbek Dishes

According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “Shurpa and Mastava take an important place in Uzbek national cuisine. The basis of these dishes is the bouillon of fatty meat. Shurpa and Mastava are prepared from fresh or pre-fried meat, most often from fresh mutton. Important components are sliced carrots and onion rings, which are added fresh. Sometimes Shurpa is prepared with turnips or peas. In several areas potatoes, fresh tomatoes and sweet peppers are added. Shurpa is subdivided into Kaytnama (shurpa from fresh meat) and Kovurma (shurpa from fried meat). Kaytnama - shurpa is the most popular and has a gentle taste and aroma. The meat is cooked in large pieces, and the vegetables - whole or in large pieces. Cooking should be done on a slow fire and it is impossible to allow a vigorous boil. Mastava can be considered as a version of Shurpa. It is prepared, as a rule, from fried meat. The basic components are rice (pre-washed), which is put into a bouillon 25-30 minutes prior to being ready. In some areas, caraway seeds are added to the Shurpa 50-60 minutes prior to being ready, for a better taste. [Source:Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]

“Chuchvara is the most widespread national dish, sometimes seen under different names such as Varak-chuchvara (pel'meni). In all areas, Chuchvara is prepared with the same methods. The ingredients are flour, eggs, water and salt. The dough is mixed and left for 40-50 minutes to rise. For the stuffing, beef or mutton is cut in slices and finely cut with onions or passed through a meat grinder; cold water, pepper, salt, and thyme should be added and carefully mixed. The dough is unrolled in a layer 1-1.5 mm thick and cut into squares of 4x4 cm. A small drop of stuffing should be dropped onto a slice of dough, after which the corners are pinched and folded. When the ends are connected, it should form a half moon shape with a small hole in the middle. Chuchvara should be boiled in salt water or bouillon and served with "suzma" (sour milk), and seasoned with pepper, onion and tomato paste, with black pepper or sour cream. |~|

“After Plov, Manty is the most popular and favorite Uzbek dish. That is why in many regions Manty is served at the end of the meal. In the Fergana valley, Samarkand, Tashkent and Bukhara, Manty is one of the major components of the diet of the local population. In other places, it is prepared less often. Manty is prepared from water based dough, which is unrolled in layers 4-5 mm thick and cut in squares of 12x12 cm. Meat, vegetables or spices can make up the stuffing. Manty is steamed for 35-45 minutes in a special pot (kaskan). Manty is served with sour milk or sour cream. |~|

“Samsa is prepared in all areas of Uzbekistan with various fillings: meat, pumpkin, herbs, etc. Samsa is baked in a tandoor oven, as well as in gas ovens and on electric plates. For samsa, an ordinary stiff dough is mixed, left for 20-30 minutes, then unrolled in plaits and cut into pieces of 10-15 grams. It should not be thicker than 2-2.5 mm. The edges are thinner than the middle. The filling is put in the center, folded in the dough and baked at a high temperature. For the dough, the following ingredients are required: flour - 25 g, water - 105 g, salt - 6 g; for the filling - mutton or beef fillet - 150 g, fat - 35 g, onion- 250 g, caraway - 1 g, salt and pepper. |~|

“Naryn is a rather widespread Uzbek dish that is prepared in all areas of the Republic. Stiff dough is prepared from flour, eggs, salt and water, then left covered with a wet towel for 30-40 minutes. Afterwards the dough is unrolled in a thin layer, and cut into strips 5-7 mm wide. Covered with flour and laid in a pile, the noodles are cut. The noodles should then be boiled. Before serving, some bouillon is added to the noodles and topped with beef cut into fine slices and/or kazy (horse meat). For the preparation of the dough, the following ingredients are required: flour - 900 g, water - 90 g, salt - 6 g, and 1 egg. |~|

“Homemade noodle soups are also very popular in Uzbek national cuisine. Ugra is prepared on the basis of bouillon, milk or sour milk. Such kinds of soup are often prepared in the Bukhara, Kashkadarya, Samarkand and Tashkent regions and in the Fergana valley. Dough with water or milk, with the addition of butter or eggs, is mixed .In 30-40 minutes, the dough needs to be unrolled in thin layers, which are cut in strips 8-10 cm. wide, covered with flour, put in a pile and cut into noodles. The meat is cut into small cubes; the potatoes, carrots and onions are fried in a small quantity of fat, with the addition of fresh tomatoes. Fried vegetables are filled with cold water and boiled, the foam should be removed, and kidney beans and salt should be added. 12-15 minutes prior to readiness add heat and small portions of noodles.” |~|

Plov

Plov (rice mixed with meat, onions and carrots) is the most widespread and favorite dish of Uzbekistan. Similar to pilaf. It is said it was invented by Genghis Khan as quick, filling meals for his hordes.According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “Plov or Osh, the Uzbek version of "pilaff" ("pilav"), is the flagship of Uzbek cookery. It consists mainly of fried and boiled meat, onions, carrots and rice; with raisins, barberries, chickpeas, or fruit added for variation...“There are so many ways to cook plov; some say there are 200, and others, 1200. But the main ingredients, such as meat, rice, onions, carrots and oil, remain unchanged. Then, fantasy sets in: plov with quince, with Turkish peas, barberries, eggs and pomegranates. Classic plov can be light in color (sometimes called Samarkand plov) and dark (Fergana). The second one is heavier, but the taste! By the way, real men's plov can only be dark. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]

Plov is cooked during weekdays, weekends and holidays. “The main ingredients are rice, fat (oil), onions and carrots, as Plov can be cooked without meat as well. Ingredients for basic plov: 1) Beef - 750 grams; 2) Rice - 900 grams; 3) Fat tail of sheep - 300 grams (oil may be substituted); 4) Carrots - 900 grams (very thinly sliced); 5) Onion - 600 grams; 6) 3-4 pods of bitter red pepper; 7) 1-2 bulbs garlic; 8) Salt and Spices to taste. This kind of Plov has a saturated brown color. Bitter pepper in pods gives sharpness to the Plov and this is a specialty of the Tashkent region.|~|

“Cooking Plov: Melt the fat of the sheep's tail, cut into small cubes, remove fried pieces. Fry some bones, cleaned of meat, and the onions and pieces of carrot in this fat, the color becomes brownish, and the taste and aroma improve. 2) Cut an onion into rings, fry to a golden brown color. Then add meat cut into cubes and keep frying for 15-20 minutes. Add sliced carrots and brown with the meat until its mass decreases by 40-50 percent. 3Pour some water over these ingredients; add part of the salt, the whole pods of red hot peppers, garlic and spices and, after bringing to boil, keep over a slow fire until carrots are ready. Pierce the peppers in several places while boiling. |~|

“4) Sort the rice, wash well and steep with salt for 30-40 minutes. Then place it in a flat layer, pour hot water over it to a depth of 1.5-2 cm, add the rest of the salt and rapidly bring to a boil. Keep a strong fire until the whole liquid soaks into the rice. Then gather the Plov with a skimmer to the middle of the pot, pierce it in some places (with knife or spoon) to allow the steam to exit. Afterwards, put the lid on the pot until done, over a low fire. 5) Before serving, mix the plov carefully and shape on the dish, top with meat, meat bones, garlic and pepper pods. |~|

Plov: The Man’s Dish

According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “Uzbek men pride themselves on their ability to prepare the most unique and sumptuous plov. The oshpaz, or master chef, often cooks plov over an open flame, sometimes serving up to 1000 people from a Single cauldron on holidays or occasions such as weddings. It certainly takes years of practice with no room for failure to prepare a dish, at times, containing up to 100 kilograms of rice. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]

“ In Central Asia, if not every person, then every second can cook plov, some better, and some worse. But when it is necessary to feed a whole crowd of guests, for example at a wedding, you'd better call an oshpaz. The work of this master will cost a fortune and he essentially doesn't cook himself, but coordinates with his assistants. When an oshpaz goes to buy ingredients for plov, it is a comedy, in which every person is ready to come and see what will happen. I once witnessed how one oshpaz, surrounded by an army of his assistants, was choosing rice. He slowly moved from one seller to another in the market, holding a bit of rice, smelling it, saying something to himself, and then throwing it back. All the vendors were very nervous; they were hiding things under their tents and putting their best products on display. If an oshpaz buys rice at one place, it is the best advertisement they could wish for, and this seller will have success in trading for some time, it is important to remember that a good plov can be made only from recently harvested rice, if it's from last year, then you may only cook something that looks like plov.

“If you have never lived in Central Asia, I need to explain what "gap" means, it's translated from Uzbek as "talk", but it has a slang meaning - chat. However, in Central Asia this word is used to define a small friendly party held for any reason. A "gap" is an event for men and usually it takes place not in houses but in chaykhanas (tea houses) or some other place. Plov at a "gap" is cooked by the participants themselves and not by a master. |~|

“Some of my foreign friends who live in Uzbekistan recall how they cooked men's plov: while the person appointed as the chief cook was preparing the meat, all the others were cutting onions, carrots and Namangan radish. The secret of men's plov is: when the cook takes out the cracklings from the kazan, there is still a little bone left cooking in the kazan. This bone gives plov that noble yellow-brownish color and the taste of real men's food. Now everything is ready and we are ready to taste the plov. The cook has to accomplish some magic tricks and this is the most difficult moment. Firstly, because the others will be giving him vodka to drink and if he partakes he will spoil the plov. Secondly, all the drinking people are eager to steal a piece of onion or meat, and he is waving his Kapkir (skimmer) at them, yelling that no good plov can be prepared this way.” |~|

Morning Plov in Uzbekistan

One enduring custom in Uzbekistan is morning plov. The big plov is cooked for dozens, even hundreds, of guests when a child is born or a boy circumcised or to honor a man returning from the military service. It is also held in the early morning of a wedding day, when one turns the age of the Prophet (63 years old), after a funeral and many other major events. The day of the morning plov is fixed in advance and organizers give invitations to their relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors. [Source: orexca.com]

On the eve of plov ceremony there is a rite called ‘sabzi tugrar’, which means carrot chopping. Carrots are one of the main ingredients of plov along with rice and meat, Uzbeks say carrots give plov its rich taste. After carrots are chopped, refreshments are served, and the elderly distribute duties among men as only men may cook, serve and take part in the morning plov ceremony.

Morning plov is served right after the morning prayer — ‘bomdod namozi’ — that ends with the sunrise. As soon as the morning prayer is over, the first guests arrive. The table is served with non (bread), dried fruits, snacks and tea, and musicians play traditional Uzbek instruments such as the karnay –surnay to announce the start of the morning plov. Large dishes (lagan) of plov are served. One lagan is usually for two persons. Before the meal, guests read a blessing prayer for the hosts of the event and repeat it after the ceremony.

On the morning of memorial plov ceremony, other surahs from Koran are read, for the peace of the soul. There are no musicians and the table is served modestly. Morning plov is a relatively quick mass event, usually taking no more than an hour and a half. At the wedding plov organized by the bride’s side, the most honored guests are offered chapans (national gowns) by the groom’s side at the very end of the meal.

Enjoying Morning Plov

According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “"Oshi Nahor" - morning plov, is one of the elements of Central Asian family tradition. There are millions of guests invited, and the tables usually are set inside the house and not in the courtyard. The activity takes place from about 6 to 9 a.m. New guests are seated right away on free seats by young helpers. After three minutes you will see green tea at your table, and after another five, plov. However, if you refuse to come to the "oshi nahor" the hosts will think that you don't respect them; in the wedding season, you might receive a number of invitations for "oshi nahor" in a single day. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]

“Again, one of my American friends told me how he had four invitations. All of them were in different parts of the city. He started traveling from 5:30am and by eight he had already eaten 2 courses of plov. At the third helping of plov, he couldn't eat any more and just sat there quietly drinking tea. But someone noticed that he wasn't eating and told the master. The master appeared next to him. He was forced to eat. It was real torture for him to think about the fourth plov, but knowing Uzbek tradition and respecting the people who invited him, he finally acquiesced. He forced himself to eat the fourth plov. "I thought I would die, or that I even wouldn't be able to stand up and get to the car" - says Michael. But somehow he managed to get to the car and asked the driver to turn the air conditioner on. Slowly, he arrived at his work. During the day, one of his colleagues came in saying: It's my father's jubilee today and he is cooking lots of plov. Please, come to my place today! |~|

Lagman

Lagman is Chinese-style noodles cooked Central Asian style. Some say the dish originated among the Uzbeks. Others say the Uyghurs in Xinjiang (western China) invented it. According to Oriental Express Central Asia: There are two distinguished kinds of Lagman: Kesma lagman and Chuzma lagman (prepared more often). Kesma lagman has a more ancient history than chuzma lagman. Stiff dough is prepared from flour, eggs, water and salt; then left to rise for 30-40 minutes under a napkin. Then the dough is unrolled in layers 1.5-2 mm thick and with a diameter not less than 10-15 cm. The layers are put in pile, covered with flour and cut into noodles with sharp knife. Slightly stir up the noodles and boil in salt water. Before serving, a special sauce, which is prepared from meat, potatoes, carrots, onions and tomatoes, is added. These ingredients should be fried, with the addition of some water, and stewed to readiness. In the Fergana and Tashkent areas, Lagman is prepared with the addition of radish and red bitter pepper. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]

Regina, whose mother grew up in Soviet Central Asia, wrote in leelalicious.com: “It seems that lamb is usually used in Lagman, but beef is a common substitute. Traditionally, the noodles are handmade in a unique way of pulling the dough. I found this cool video here. But I always grew up with spaghetti, linguine or fettucine in Lagman. Fresh dough noodles are better than dry pasta. For the meat portion of this soup, use a cut with bone. Cooking the bone makes for such a flavorful broth. [Source: Regina leelalicious.com ^|^]

The specific vegetables for the soup seemed to be different in every single recipe I found. We always use carrots, potatoes, bell pepper, tomatoes and rutabaga. My mom says the rutabaga is just a substitute for a root vegetable that is very specific to Central Asia and usually found in Lagman. I’ve seen others use turnip, daikon or even a bunch of little radishes instead. The rutabaga makes for a sweeter soup as opposed to a radish-like veggie. Additionally, others also use celery, eggplant and whatever other vegetable they might have on hand. This really isn’t a strict recipe. Coriander seeds and star anise are the stars that flavor the broth. ^|^

“Traditionally a bowl of Lagman is served with a bunch of chopped cilantro, fresh minced garlic and fresh chili slices. The noodles are cooked separately, then placed in a deep bowl and topped with the vegetables and beef and as much broth as desired. Some like it drier, while others like a LOT of broth when eating soup. ^|^

Recipe for Lagman

Prep time: 20 minutes; Cook time: 50 minutes; Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes;. Yields six to eight servings. Ingredients: A) 1 pound beef, cut into small strips (don't discard any bones); B) ¼ cup vegetable oil; C) 1 large onion, chopped; D) 3 garlic cloves, minced; E) 2 large carrots, diced; F) 2 medium potatoes, dices; G) 1 cup diced rutabaga, turnip or daikon; H) 1 bell pepper, diced; I) 2 tomatoes, diced or 1 cup canned tomatoes; J) 1.5 tablespoons salt; K) 1 teaspoon paprika powder; L) 1 teaspoon coriander seeds; M) 1 teaspoon black pepper; N) ½ teaspoon chili flakes; O) 2 star anise pods; P) 3 quarts hot water; Q) 1 pound fresh noodles; R) cilantro or parsley for garnish. [Source: Regina leelalicious.com^|^

Instructions: 1) In a large soup pot with heavy bottom heat the oil on medium-high heat. Add the beef strips and cook uncovered for about 5 minutes until browned from all sides. Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook on medium until soft. 2) Add the other vegetables and saute for a few minutes. Add spices and fill hot/boiling water into the pot. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes until meat is tender and vegetables are soft. 3) Cook the noodles separately according to directions. Fill cooked noodles into deep bowls, top with soup and add coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley on top. ^|^

Sumalak

Sumalak based traditional foods eaten by ancient Turkish tribes and is the main dish — heart of the meal of friendship — of the holiday of Navruz. According to Makhmud Koshkari, a linguist who lived during the 11th century, Suma, which means swollen wheat, comes from an old Turkish word. The wheat is put in water until it begins to sprout. Then it is dried and crushed into a paste from which bread is made. The bread is eaten with Ugra Oshi.

According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “ Generally, Sumalak is cooked by women. They sit around the stove as it cooks, and talk, dance and tell tales while taking turns stirring the pot. The following are several traditions and superstitions concerning Sumalak: 1) Prayers are offered to the seven stones which are placed in the Sumalak, and agitated to keep it from burning. 2) Sumalak is offered to brides who have no children. 3) The bride wears an earring made of wheat grass in order to increase her fertility. 4) During the celebration of the Sumalak, unmarried girls must pray to the seven stars. 5) Old women plant new trees with young women who are not married. 6) The old women put a boy on the bride's knees, in order to increase her fertility. [Source:Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]

“How to Make Sumalak: Ingredients: 1 kilogram of wheat, 900 grams of oil, 4 kilos of white flour, 7 small stones, 3 buckets of water. Begin preparing seven to ten days in advance of the celebration. All participants in the making of the Sumalak must wash themselves carefully in advance of preparation. At the beginning of the seven to ten days, wash the wheat. Then put it in water on a plate, and let it sit for two or three days. Spread the seeds and cover them with gauze, and rinse it everyday three times with water. The wheat must be kept in a dark room at 16-18 degrees C (60-65 degrees F.). If the wheat is of light color, this may change. If the temperature is too low, the wheat will sprout slowly. If it is too warm the sprouts will wilt. To avoid mildew under the wheat you should tilt the table so the wheat isn't sitting in the water. With this treatment, after two days, it will begin to sprout. Remove the gauze from the sprouted wheat. Put it on a clean table and separate it according to size. The sprouts must be no longer than one and a half centimeters. |~|

“After seven days the sprouts will be 4-5 centimeters. They mustn't grow more than five centimeters. If they are larger, they will have a bitter taste when cooked. You will know it is ready when: you lift the sprouts they are tangled together and you crush them in your fingers and they crumble After seven days put the sprouts in a bowl, cut them in strips and crush them. Then put them through a meat grinder, and rinse through gauze three times, using the three buckets of water. All the sweet juices of the wheat will be in the water. Then squeeze the pulp to get out the remaining juices. The first bucket of water must look like milk. The second and the third will not be as white. |~|

“Put the first bucket of water in a pot, and then add 4 kilos of white flour. Stir, stir, stir until there are no lumps. Heat 900 grams of oil for each kilo of wheat. (Fry some dough in the oil to clarify it.) Add the oil to the wheat and turn on the heat. After it boils, add the second bucket of water, and after that water boils put in the third. The seven little stones in the bottom of the pot, as it is stirred, will keep the sumalak from burning. As it boils, it will thicken, but stir continually. It must boil for 13 or 14 hours. After 5 hours the color will begin to change. If it becomes too thick, add water. After this put it on medium heat and continue stirring. The Sumalak will be ready when it is thick. This usually happens after about 14 hours of stirring. There will be foam, the oil will have separated to the top, and the color will be a rich brown. Before partaking of the Sumalak, you should read the Koran, and stir it once more. An old man or an old woman must taste it, and then they will pass it on to friends. |~|

Legend of Sumalak

Long ago there was a woman who had two sons. Their names were Hasan and Husan. Because she was a widow and very poor, they had very little to eat, and her sons always cried from hunger. One day, their mother became very weary of their crying, and sorrowful that she had no food to give them. [Source: Dr. Oktyabr Dospanov, orexca.com |~|]

That evening, after they had gone to bed, she asked her neighbor for some wheat, and then took a pot from the cupboard into which she placed seven stones, poured water over the stones and stirred in the flour. Her sons heard the commotion, and thought their mother was cooking something delicious to eat. Reassured that they would soon have a good meal, they became quiet, closed their eyes and fell asleep. A little later their mother also slept. When she awoke in the early hours of the morning, she saw 30 angels standing around the pot. She rubbed her eyes, and when she opened them again, she saw them licking their fingers. |~|

In her delight, she woke up her sons. In their excitement they ran to the pot and found it filled with a most succulent porridge. From that time forth the boys were never hungry. The name of the meal was called Sumalak which, the Uzbek people say, means 30 angels. |~|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016


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