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Carrie's Kitchen: In the mood for Uzbek food? Try these recipes

A chef stirs plov, Uzbekistan's national dish, at a cafe owned by Nurshod Asymov in central Tashkent.
A chef stirs plov, Uzbekistan's national dish, at a cafe owned by Nurshod Asymov in central Tashkent. (YANA DLUGY / AFP/Getty Images)

It's going to be a while before we really start seeing spring vegetables, so I thought I'd talk about a type of ethnic food I got to experience this winter that you may not be familiar with: Uzbek food.

If you can't picture where Uzbek food comes from, it's from Uzbekistan, in central Asia and part of the former Soviet Union. It's kind of due north of Afghanistan, though Turkmenistan covers most of the border between the two countries.

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How, you're probably wondering, did I come by trying Uzbek food? Well, we went to a wedding rehearsal dinner for some dear friends back in January. The groom had spent some time in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and can speak Russian, though sadly has very little opportunity to use his Russian now that he lives in Washington, D.C.

The bride had planned the rehearsal dinner and came up with the idea of going to Silk Road Choyhona in Gaithersburg because Uzbek food is sort of the Russian equivalent of Americans going out for Mexican: the food is seen as fun and casual and from a neighboring country. The groom helped pick the menu for our evening and conversed with the servers in Russian throughout the night.

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I don't think any of the 20-plus diners had sampled Uzbek food before, except for the groom, but we had an amazing dinner that night, plentifully served in a family style, and my husband and another wedding guest loaded up to-go boxes with delectable leftovers to tide them over on the next day until the wedding dinner.

The food was sort of a cross between Russian food and Mediterranean food. There were these great dumplings (kind of like pierogis) but with lamb in some and pumpkin in others. I tried looking up these recipes, but they took a lot of steps and so I decided not to reproduce that recipe here. But lamb is very big in their food, so I did include a recipe for "shashlik of mutton," or lamb kebabs. My husband had ordered the lamb kebabs at the restaurant and they were great. I would have regretted my choice of the chicken kebabs except that I was already pretty full by the time we got to the main course.

Although my husband did eat his whole order of lamb kebabs, his favorite dish of the night was a sort of carrot salad that the Uzbeks refer to as "Korean carrots." However, the groom informed us this is not a Korean dish at all, but a Russian dish that they call Korean. When I looked up "Uzbek carrot salad," sure enough I found a recipe called "Russian 'Korean' salad," and I made it to share at my family's Easter this year.

This recipe was a little spicier than I expected by using the full teaspoon of cayenne pepper, so if you are sensitive to spice, try a half teaspoon at first. Overall, the flavor is very garlicky and earthy from a large amount of ground coriander, and gets some kick from the cayenne. My husband said he liked this spicy version even better than the ones he raved over at the restaurant.

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And finally, a recipe for Ukrainian borscht, because the groom said the version served at the restaurant was very similar to what he remembered having in Ukraine. Apparently borscht is to Asia as chili is to America: every region has its own style and they can vary greatly. This version had all different kinds of vegetables, most notably beets and cabbage, and the color was very orangey-pink-red versus the creamy magenta version that I usually see in magazines with borscht recipes. Sour cream was served on the side in case you wanted to add it, but it was not used in the production of the soup. It was really good, and quite filling.

I hope you will be enticed by these recipes to give Uzbek food a try!

Shashlik of mutton

2.2 pounds mutton

7 ounces lard

2-3 onions

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons coriander

1 teaspoon black or red pepper

2 tablespoons vinegar

The flesh of mutton and lard of tail should be cut into slices of ½ ounce each, add salt, pepper, coriander and chopped onion. Drizzle with vinegar. Mix it well. For better marinated mutton, put it in an enamel bowl, press it with plate and put on the plate a heavy cargo, cover it with gauze and put it in a cold place for a few hours (from four to 24).

Then string on skewers with six pieces, the last piece being of lard. Fry it over burning coals, at first on the one side, then on another side to release the juice and a golden brown color. To evenly fry the meat, wave a fan from time to time to increase the heat. If the fat lard runs off and forms a flame, sprinkle coals with water mixed with white vinegar.

Before serving, put shashlik into a lagan (big plate). Garnish with white onion rings.

Russian “Korean” salad

7 medium-sized carrots, grated into long, thin strands (or shredded if you don't have a way to make strands)

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced into a fine paste

1 medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons ground coriander

4 tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive oil)

3 tablespoons white vinegar (do not substitute any other vinegar)

1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon honey or 1½ teaspoons of sugar

In a small pan, over medium heat, sauté the onion in one tablespoon of oil until soft; remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix everything together with your hands; adjust seasonings as needed.

Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate for four to five hours before serving. Kept covered and refrigerated, leftover salad remains good for 24 hours.

Source: shesimmers.com

Traditional Ukrainian borscht

1 cup of diced celery

1 cup diced onions

1 cup of chopped cabbage

2 cloves of garlic, grated or pressed

1 tablespoon of butter (for sautéing onions and celery)

8 cups water or broth

1 can diced tomatoes

2 or 3 medium to large sized peeled beets (half grated and half diced)

1 or 2 medium carrots, grated

1 medium potato, diced

½ cup of fresh dill weed

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional ingredients: Green beans, peas, beet greens and shredded pork or pork sausage

Sauté the onions, celery and cabbage with the butter until soft and translucent. Then add the can of diced tomatoes and the garlic as well as all of the water or broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium heat.

Peel the beets, carrots and potato. Then dice half the beets and grate the other half. Grate all the carrots. Dice the potato. Add all of these ingredients to the broth. If you would like to add any other optional vegetables (ie. beans, peas, beet greens, etc.) do so now.

Allow soup to simmer on medium until diced beets and potatoes are soft (test them with a fork or by biting into them!). Remove soup from heat.

Stir in chopped fresh dill weed and salt and pepper. Serve hot with a scoop of sour cream and a slice of bread and butter (rye bread is best).

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Carrie Ann Knauer writes from Westminster. Contact her at carrie.knauer@gmail.com.

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