A Fourth Generation Bukharian Plov Simmers in Haifa
Shared by Ruti Merom
Recipe Roots: Andijan, Uzbekistan > Haifa, Israel
In Ruti Merom’s childhood apartment in Haifa, the table was always covered with dishes from Uzbekistan. There was plov, a rice pilaf, and goshtgizhda, or savory meat filled pies for special occasions and Rosh Hashanah. For Friday lunch there was a stew called shola, made with rice, tomato paste, carrots, onions, red pepper, zucchini and meat, and baksh or rice infused and colored with bunches of cilantro, parsley, dill, and mint and finished with fried onions and minced meat for Shabbat dinner.
The child of immigrants from Uzbekistan, Ruti lived with both of her grandmothers who were passionate cooks, faithfully preparing these dishes from their home country almost three thousand miles away. In 1933, driven by a Zionist ideology and a lack of economic opportunity, Ruti’s parents illegally left Uzbekistan for Eretz Yisrael (British Mandate Palestine) traveling through Kabul in Afghanistan and Karachi, Pakistan then Basra in Iraq by boat, on to Baghdad, Damascus and finally to the border in the Golan Heights. When her family arrived in Haifa, they were one of three Bukharian (the ethnic minority of Jews who settled in Central Asia) families in the town, including Ruti’s uncle who had arrived years earlier.
As the Bukharian community in Downtown Haifa grew to 15 families, a synagogue and shared culture kept members close. Everyone was part of every family event, happy or sad, Ruti explained to us. In the 1950s and ‘60s, families started to move up the Carmel Mountain that Haifa is situated on. Ruti’s parents followed suit, living for a period over a vegetable shop they owned and later settling on Moriah Boulevard in a building they purchased. With her parents no longer working downstairs, it became Ruti’s job to catch the bus and deliver lunch to her parents at the shop. Her grandmothers would stack three pots atop one another and bind them together with a handle for her journey.
Bukharian recipes weren’t just for meals at home or at the store, though. Ruti recalls a family camping trip to Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea in the early 1980s with her sister-in-law and her cousin Tamara. The family started to crave goshtgizhda, the Bukharian meat pies, which Ruti’s family calls gushgeishda. To satisfy the group, someone drove to Jericho to buy the ingredients and Tamara rolled out the dough with a broom stick on a small stool to make the dish, much to everyone’s delight.
While they were surrounded by Bukharian cooking, neither Ruti nor her mother took to the kitchen, but a few of the recipes managed to be passed down. When Ruti married, her mother-in-law taught her the basics, but it was her mother who taught her the family plov recipe (which the Merom’s pronounce “plow”). In Uzbekistan, the grandmothers made it with lamb, but in Israel, her mother made it with beef and Ruti makes it with chicken or turkey. A piece of meat, rice, and carrots should fit into each spoonful for the perfect bite, she explains.
This past year, Ruti passed along the plov recipe to the next generation, her daughter and two daughters-in-law, some of whom still live in the building Ruti’s parents purchased on Moriah Boulevard. Her daughters like to cook even less than she does, Ruti admits, but four generations into life in Israel, the family ensures that the pots of plov continue to simmer on Carmel Mountain.
Ruti Merom's Bukharian Plov
Total time: 1 ½ - 2 hours
3 cups basmati rice
½ cup canola oil
4 large onions, chopped
3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into quarters
3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 lbs. carrots, julienned
1. Place the rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Set aside to soak.
2.Heat the oil in a large 8 qt. stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 6-8 minutes.
3. Add the chicken thighs and salt and cook turning the pieces over, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the carrots. Cover and steam for 15-20 minutes, stirring once or twice.
5. Mix again and flatten the carrot, chicken, onion mixture evenly. Lower the heat slightly and cook, covered, 10 more minutes. Flatten again, packing down the carrot, chicken, onion mixture in preparation for adding the rice.
6. Drain the rice and rinse with cold water. Boil 6 cups of water (in a kettle or in a pot). Spread the rice over the mixture in the pot, flattening it to evenly cover the layer of onion, chicken, and carrots. Carefully poor the boiled water into the pot through a large slotted spoon positioned above the rice (to avoid craters in the rice) to cover by ½ “ of water (you will probably not need the entire 6 cups of water - it will depend on the amount of liquid that has accumulated in the pot).
7. Turn the heat up to high, cover the pot and bring to a visible boil. Once boiling, move your pot to the smallest burner on your stove and simmer on the lowest possible heat, covered, about 20 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed.
8. Lightly scrape and aerate the rice with the slotted spoon, being careful not to disturb the level below it. Using a chopstick, create as many shafts in the rice as possible by sticking the chopstick into the rice until it reaches the bottom of the pot and making a circular motion with it. Cover and cook for 20 more minutes.
9. Repeat the scraping and the shaft making in the rice. If you still hear or feel liquid, continue to cook in increments of 5 minutes until the rice is done and all the liquid has been absorbed. When the rice is ready (you can taste to check), turn off the heat and let rest covered for at least 20 minutes.
10. Serve hot! You can either serve on a large platter or on individual plates, starting with a bed of rice and then the carrot, onion, chicken mixture on top. Keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Ruti Merom's Bukharian Goshtgizhda
Time: 45 minutes active + 3 hours inactive (dough rising + baking)
For the dough:
1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast (2 packets)
1 cup lukewarm water, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ⅓ lb. all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for work surface
½ cup olive oil, plus more for oiling
2 teaspoons salt
For the filling:
1 lb. onions (about 3 large), finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 ⅓ lb. ground beef (mixed with 3 ounces of lamb fat - optional)*
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 egg, whisked
*Typically the beef chuck for this recipe is chopped finely by hand. Ruti has her butcher grind it for her coarsely, a request you can make of your local butcher. Regular ground beef can be substituted as well. Mixing lamb fat with the ground meat is also common in the preparation of this dish, but optional.
1. Mix the yeast, ¼ cup of the water and the sugar, in a small bowl and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbles form and it doubles in volume.
2. Start the filling: Place the chopped onion, mixed with the salt, in a colander, and set aside for 30 minutes to allow for the onion to release its liquid.
3. Make the dough: place the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the yeast mixture in. Add the oil and the remaining ¾ cups of water. Mix on medium for about 4 minutes or until the dough is evenly combined. Then, add the salt and continue the kneading until soft and smooth, 4 more minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead by hand until you have a uniform round ball of dough. Lightly oil the bowl of the stand mixer and the dough itself and place it in the bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
5. Make the filling: squeeze as much liquid as you can from the onion and place it in a medium bowl. Add the meat. With dry hands, crush the cumin seeds between your palms while adding them to the bowl. Knead the meat and onion mixture together until evenly combined, cover, and set aside to rest.
6. When the dough has risen, knead by hand again on the work surface, divide into four equaly parts with a knife or dough cutter, gently flour and return to the bowl. Cover and let rest again for 10 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
8. Take one portion of the dough and roll it out on the work surface until thin and even, about ⅕” thick. Be patient as the dough will be very elastic and it might take some persistence to get it to the right thinness.
9. Cut 5” diameter circles (with a custom cutter or a bowl) in the rolled dough. Place a heaping spoonful of filling in the middle of each circle. Making sure your fingers are dry, take the rim of the circle, close it in half over the filling and pinch the dough together at the seam gathering it into a little pouch on the underside of the pocket. Twist the gathered dough to form a small knot (similar to a dumpling). Place it knot side down on the baking sheet, pressing down gently to flatten a bit. Continue with the other circles (leaving about an inch between them - they don’t rise much at this stage). Gather the leftover dough and place it back in the covered bowl to rest. Repeat with the remaining dough portions. Gather the leftovers and reroll until all the dough has been used.
10. Brush the pockets with the whisked egg, and place the first sheet into the oven. Bake until browned, 35-40 minutes (Ruti always bakes the first tray while rolling and stuffing the second tray).
11. Let cool before serving. The baking creates an air pocket between the dough and the filling that is perfect to fill with Tahini sauce or vegetable salad (though it’s really delicious without any additions at all).
You can assemble everything ahead of time, and keep in the fridge for a day, or in the freezer for longer. Heat slowly in a 250°F oven.