Sep 232019
 

Today is Kyrgyz Language Day, a celebration initiated by the government of Kyrgyzstan to encourage use of the language in the aftermath of Soviet occupation when there was a concerted effort to replace local languages in nations within the Soviet Union with Russian. I gave an account of Kyrgyzstan in this post http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kyrgyzstan/ when I was there last year for the World Nomad Games – another government effort to promote Kyrgyz national and ethnic identity.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia. Kyrgyz is a member of the Kyrgyz–Kipchak subgroup of the Kypchak languages and modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kazakh and Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz was originally written in Turkic runes, gradually replaced by a Perso-Arabic alphabet (in use until 1928 in USSR, still in use in China). Between 1928 and 1940 a Latin-script alphabet, the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, was used. In 1940 due to general Soviet policy, a Cyrillic alphabet eventually became common and has remained so to this day, though some Kyrgyz still use the Arabic alphabet. When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyzstanis to switch to the Latin script, which is still common in some small pockets of the countryside, and to make the Latin script the country’s official national script (using a version closer to the Turkish alphabet rather than the original alphabet of 1928–40). Although the plan has not yet been implemented, it remains in occasional discussion.

The first people certainly known by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz people were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late 8th  century. By the time of the destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 CE, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic, and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs, the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe, and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location. In the period of tsarist administration (1876–1917), the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz “black Kyrgyz” (alternatively known as “The Great Kyrgyz”).

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of president Akayev’s staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for “Kyrgyzification” of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. However, in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz, marking a reversal of the earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev. Nowadays, Russian remains the dominant language in the main cities, such as Bishkek, while Kyrgyz continues losing ground, especially among the younger generations.

I gave a recipe for Beshbarmak in the post I cited. Now I will turn to plov or paloo (палоо), a rice based dish, versions of which can be found all over Asia. The Kyrgyz version of plov has meat and carrots with dried fruits and nuts occasionally added, as in some other Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan. Carrots are not commonly used to make plov other than in Central Asia. Carrots and meat dominate in Kyrgyz plov. The Central Asian plov is almost always cooked with fatty chunks of meat and bones. Generally red meat is used (mutton or beef) but chicken plov is also found. Small warning: getting plov right takes decades of experience. Simpler to take a trip to Bishkek, where wonderful plov is plentiful.  I was instructed by a local cook.

For authentic Kyrgyz plov the variety of rice used is probably difficult to find in Europe. The rice is colored brick red, when you wash it the water turns red and streaks of red remain on the rice, even after cooking. The rice is thicker than long grain. Its thickness is comparable to calrose/arborio but longer and not as starchy. The rice remains firm even after cooking.

This recipe is more about proportions than absolute quantities.  That is, the ingredients are for ONE (generous portion, that is, 1 part meat, 1 part carrots, and two parts rice, by weight. Typically, plov is made in giant batches to feed an army.  The rice used is grown locally and has a special red tinge.  Good luck finding it outside of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz Plov

Ingredients

100-150 grams beef or mutton cut into 2cm cubes
1 large carrot, cut into strips
½ medium sized onion, peeled and diced
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
50ml rice, thoroughly washed
75 ml water
2 tablespoons oil
salt

Instructions

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a large cooking pot. Add the meat, carrots, onion and salt to taste and cook until the meat has browned, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the water and garlic, cover, and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the rice and cook covered until the rice is done, about 25-30 minutes. Writing the last instruction is simple; getting it right is not.

Serve a large ‘mountain’ of plov scattered with chunks of meaty bones and a whole bulb of steamed garlic sitting on top

Apr 092019
 

Today is the birthday (1336) of Timur (Persian: تیمور‎ Temūr, Chagatai: Temür), historically known as Amir Timur and Tamerlane (Persian: تيمور لنگ‎ Temūr(-i) Lang, “Timur the Lame”), the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia, and the first ruler in the Timurid dynasty. It is not normally my custom to celebrate brutal conquerors, and I am not going to spend much time on his bloody exploits. I’ll give a brief potted history, and then turn to the fact that he was the focus of so many works of stage and literature from soon after his death to the present day – with the ever-lingering question hovering: WHY?

Timur was born in Transoxiana (in modern-day Uzbekistan), speaking Chagatai as his native language, and by the age of 34 had gained control of the western Chagatai Khanate. From that base, he led military campaigns across Western, South and Central Asia, the Caucasus and southern Russia, and emerged as the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate. From these conquests, he founded the Timurid Empire, but this empire fragmented shortly after his death. Timur was the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe, and his empire set the stage for the rise of the more structured and lasting Gunpowder Empires in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Timur envisioned the restoration of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan (d. 1227) even though he was not ethnically related to, nor a descendant of, Genghis Khan. For example he justified his Iranian, Mamluk, and Ottoman campaigns as a re-imposition of legitimate Mongol control over lands taken by usurpers. To legitimize his conquests, Timur relied on Islamic symbols and language, referred to himself as the “Sword of Islam”, and patronized educational and religious institutions. Timur also decisively defeated the Christian Knights Hospitaller at the Siege of Smyrna, styling himself a ghazi (holy warrior). By the end of his reign, Timur had gained complete control over all the remnants of the Chagatai Khanate, the Ilkhanate, and the Golden Horde, and even attempted to restore the Yuan dynasty in China. Timur’s armies were inclusively multi-ethnic and were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which his campaigns laid to waste. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population at the time.

Timur was the grandfather of the Timurid sultan, astronomer and mathematician Ulugh Beg (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ulugh-beg/ ), who ruled Central Asia from 1411 to 1449, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur (1483–1530), founder of the Mughal Empire, which ruled parts of South Asia for over three centuries, from 1526 until 1857. Timur was a great patron of art and architecture, and interacted with intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ibn-khaldoun/ ) and Hafiz-i Abru.

Literary versions of the life of Timur abound. Tamburlaine the Great, written by Christopher Marlowe (1587) was a milestone in Elizabethan drama, breaking new ground with its use of blank verse, strong passions, and larger-than-life characters. It could well have been one of the first London plays that Shakespeare saw (and was influenced by). Marlowe’s play was successful enough to prompt the writing of a sequel. Marlowe was not concerned about historical accuracy, and portrayed Timur as a Scythian shepherd who rose to great heights, and mostly invented the events in his life. Still, the theme was popular for a time.

The 18th century saw numerous musical productions, including Tamerlano (1724), an opera by George Frideric Handel, in Italian, based on the 1675 play Tamerlan ou la mort de Bajazet by Jacques Pradon; Bajazet (1735), an opera by Antonio Vivaldi that portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur; and Il gran Tamerlano (1772): opera by Josef Mysliveček that also portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur.

Tamerlane (1827) is the first published poem of Edgar Allan Poe. It is epic in length, but mostly concerns Timur’s abandonment of his first love, a peasant girl, in favor of conquest and fame. On his deathbed he laments trading an empire for a broken heart. In the 20th century we have Tamerlane, an historical novel by Harold Lamb, Lord of Samarkand by Robert E. Howard, and Tamerlan, a novel in Spanish by Colombian writer Enrique Serrano. Into the 21st century we have Tamburlaine: Shadow of God, a BBC Radio 3 play by John Fletcher, broadcast 2008, a fictitious account of a meeting between Tamburlaine, Ibn Khaldun, and Hafez.

It is said that Timur’s favorite food was plov (i.e. pilaf) and nowadays you can easily get a dish called (something like) Timur’s plov in many parts of Central Asia. I was invited to an impromptu cooking class in Kyrgyzstan to make a version, and was happy to primarily take photos and taste the result (rather than spend holiday time peeling and chopping vegetables). The good part of the lesson was that the local cook had an enormous vessel for cooking the plov that looked like a giant cast iron wok over a wood fire.  The quantities here are not quite banquet sized, but the recipe will feed 10 royally. This is not a complex plov, as many are, with cascades of ingredients, but perfectly basic. It is not, however, easy to make unless you know what you are doing. After the recipe I will give a video.  You will see that the experience comes in when it comes to adding liquid to cook the rice.

Timur’s Plov

Ingredients

1 kg rice, thoroughly washed in cold running water
500 gm lamb, cut in chunks
1 kg carrots, peeled and cut into strips
4 onions, peeled and sliced
vegetable oil
salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper

Instructions

Heat some oil in a cauldron until a little smoke appears. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they take on a little color. Add the meat and continue the browning process. Finally add the carrots and continue to cook until they are browned a little. Add water to cover plus salt, cumin, and cayenne to taste, bring to a boil, and cook for about 45 minutes.

Add the rice plus more water to come slightly above the surface of rice. The amount of water is critical. Cook uncovered until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, and then cover and cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes.

Sep 052013
 

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Today is the birthday (973) of Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī ( ابوریحان بیرونی‎‎), commonly called Al-Biruni in English.  He was a Muslim, Persian scholar who made contributions to a wide range of subjects including astronomy, mathematics, physics, history, geography, and cultural anthropology. A crater on the moon is named in his honor.

Al-Biruni

Al-Biruni was born in the outer district of Kath, the capital of the Afrighid dynasty of Khwarezm (or Chorasmia), now in Uzbekistan. The word Biruni means “from the outer-district” in Persian, and so this became his nisba (sobriquet of affiliation): ” Al-Bīrūnī” = “the Birunian.” His first twenty-five years were spent in Khwarezm where he studied fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), theology, grammar, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and other sciences. His native language was the Iranian dialect, Khwarezmian, which is now extinct and about which very little is known. Al-Biruni wrote in Arabic, and was also conversant with Persian, Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Berber.

He was sympathetic to the Afrighids, who were overthrown by the rival dynasty of Ma’munids in 995. He left his homeland for Bukhara, then under the Samanid ruler Mansur II the son of Nuh. There he corresponded with Avicenna (Ibn Sina), famed polymath, and some of these letters are extant. In 998, he went to the court of the Ziyarid amir of Tabaristan, Shams al-Mo’ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir. There he wrote his first important work, al-Athar al-Baqqiya ‘an al-Qorun al-Khaliyya (literally: “The remaining traces of past centuries” and translated as “Chronology of ancient nations” or “Vestiges of the Past”) on historical and scientific chronology, probably around 1000, though he later made some amendments. Accepting the fall of the Afrighids at the hands of the Ma’munids, he made peace with the latter who then ruled Khwarezm. Their court at Gorganj (also in Khwarezm) was gaining fame for its gathering of brilliant scientists.

Folio92 verso of the Al-Biruni Chronology of the World.

In 1017, Mahmud of Ghazni conquered Rey (now part of Tehran). Most scholars, including al-Biruni, were taken to Ghazna, the capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty. Al-Biruni was made court astrologer and accompanied Mahmud on his invasions into India, living there for a few years. Al-Biruni became acquainted with the culture and history India. During this time he wrote the Kitab ta’rikh al-Hind “(Book of Indian History”), finishing it around 1030.

95 of 146 books known to have been written by al-Biruni were devoted to astronomy, mathematics, and related subjects like mathematical geography (geodesy). Al- Biruni’s major work on astrology is primarily an astronomical and mathematical text. Only the last chapter concerns astrological prognostication. His endorsement of astrology is limited; in fact he condemns horary astrology as ‘sorcery’. In discussing speculation by other Muslim writers on the possible motion of the Earth, al-Biruni acknowledged that he could neither prove nor disprove it, but commented favorably on the idea that the Earth rotates. He wrote an extensive commentary on Indian astronomy in the Kitab ta’rikh al-Hind, in which he claims to have resolved the matter of Earth’s rotation in a work on astronomy that is no longer extant, his Miftah-ilm-alhai’a (“Key to Astronomy”).

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He carried on a lengthy and sometimes heated, correspondence with Ibn Sina (Avicenna), in which al-Biruni repeatedly attacks Aristotle’s celestial physics. He argues that by simple experiment a vacuum can be shown to exist; he is “amazed” by the weakness of Aristotle’s argument against elliptical orbits on the basis that they would create a vacuum; and he attacks the immutability of the celestial spheres. In his major extant astronomical work, the Mas’ud Canon, Al-Biruni uses his observational data to disprove Ptolemy’s theory of the immobile solar apogee which assumes the earth does not move. Al-Biruni’s eclipse data were used by Richard Dunthorne in 1749 to help determine the acceleration of the moon, and his observational data have entered the larger astronomical historical record, still used today in geophysics and astronomy.

Al-Biruni is one of the most important Muslim authorities on the history of religion. He was a pioneer in the study of comparative religion. He studied Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other religions. He treated religions dispassionately, striving to understand them on their own terms rather than trying to prove them wrong. His underlying concept was that all cultures are at least distant relatives of all other cultures because they are all human constructs and that all humanity was united at one point in distant history. Al-Biruni was disgusted by scholars who failed to use primary sources in their treatment of Hindu religion. He found contemporary sources on Hinduism to be both insufficient and dishonest. Guided by a sense of ethics and a desire to learn, he sought to explain the religious behavior of different groups in their own contexts.  As such he is a significant historical figure in the use of cultural relativism and avoidance of ethnocentrism in anthropology.

albiruni world map

Al-Biruni’s fame as an Indologist rests primarily on two texts. He wrote an encyclopedic work on India called Tarikh Al-Hind (“History of India”) in which he explores nearly every aspect of Indian life, including religion, history, geography, geology, science, and mathematics. He explores religion within a rich cultural context and expresses his objective with simple eloquence:

“I shall not produce the arguments of our antagonists in order to refute such of them, as I believe to be in the wrong. My book is nothing but a simple historic record of facts. I shall place before the reader the theories of the Hindus exactly as they are, and I shall mention in connection with them similar theories of the Greeks in order to show the relationship existing between them.”

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An example of al-Biruni’s analysis is his summary of why many Hindus hate Muslims. He explains that Hinduism and Islam are totally different from each other, but that this is not the issue at stake.  Hindus in 11th century India had suffered through waves of destructive attacks on many of their cities, and Islamic armies had taken numerous Hindu slaves to Persia.  It was this militarism and not religious principles, according to Al-Biruni, that contributed to Hindus becoming suspicious of all foreigners, not just Muslims. Hindus considered Muslims violent and impure, and did not want to share anything with him. It was all about politics. Religious ideology had nothing to do with the conflict.

Over time, al-Biruni won the welcome of Hindu scholars. He collected books and studied with these Hindu scholars to become fluent in Sanskrit, and translate into Arabic the mathematics, science, medicine, astronomy and other fields of arts as practiced in 11th century India. He was convinced by the arguments offered by Indian scholars who believed earth must be ellipsoid shape with a yet to be discovered continent at earth’s south pole, and that earth’s rotation around the sun is the only way to fully explain the difference in daylight hours by latitude, the seasons, and earth’s relative positions with moon and stars. Al-Biruni was also critical of Indian scribes who he believed carelessly corrupted Indian documents while making copies of older documents. Al-Biruni’s translations as well as his own original contributions reached Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, where they were actively sought.

Al-Biruni_5 Al-Biruni_4

While others were killing each one another over religious differences, al-Biruni, though Muslim, had a remarkable ability to engage Hindus in peaceful dialogue. Like Ibn Khaldoun (click here), who came 3 centuries after him, his researches were all guided by laudable principles we would do well to follow: use primary sources whenever possible, check everything against other sources or through experiment, and do not bring your own biases to any investigation.

Al-Biruni’s birthplace is now in Uzbekistan.  Uzbek cuisine is quite similar to the cuisines of Eurasia in general – rice pilaf, kebabs, stuffed vegetables.  Here is a pilaf I like (plov in Uzbek).  Naturally its main ingredient is rice, but the use of greens suffuses the whole dish with a special savor. My technique is not quite the traditional one but I like the results. Traditionally you brown the lamb and onions then add the greens for a quick sauté. Finally you add the rice and liquid and leave it all to steam, covered.  My experience has been that the 20 minutes or so it takes to cook the rice is not enough to make the lamb tender.  So I precook the lamb before adding the greens and rice. You can use any rice, but I prefer basmati for this dish. A tender cut of lamb such as leg is best. You may also use beef instead.

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Uzbek Plov with Greens

Ingredients:

8 tbsps clarified butter
10 ½ oz (300 g) tender lamb, cut in big chunks
2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
12 oz (350 g) chopped spinach,
1 bunch of fresh coriander finely chopped
2 ½ cups of rice
salt to taste
1 tbsp of ground coriander
1 tsp of fresh ground pepper or to taste
6 cups light stock

Instructions:

Heat 2 tbsps of the butter over medium high heat in a Dutch oven.

Sauté  the onions until translucent and set aside.

Brown the meat.  Add the stock and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the meat from the stock and set aside. Pour off the stock and reserve.

While the meat is cooking thoroughly rinse the rice until the water runs clear.

Rinse the spinach and drain, but leave water clinging to the leaves.

Clean out the Dutch oven, return to the stove and add the remaining butter.  Heat over medium heat. Add the onions and meat to heat through.

Turn the heat to medium low and stir in the spinach and cilantro.  Then add the rice and stir to mix.

Add one cup of stock, turn the heat to high, and let it boil.  Add salt and spices.

Observe how much liquid is in the pot.  It should cover the rice by a little less than an inch (2 cm). Add more stock if there is not enough.

Let the pot boil until all the liquid is evaporated.    When all water is evaporated, mix only the top of pilaf. Set the heat on low, cover with a lid and cook for about 20 min.

Open up the lid after 20 min and again mix only the top of the pilaf. Check to see if the rice is cooked. If not, cover and cook until done.

Uncover and mix all the ingredients together. Serve on a large platter with a salad of your choice (tomatoes and onions are traditional).

Serves 6

May 282013
 

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan rug

Today is Republic Day in Azerbaijan celebrating the first successful attempt to establish a democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic ( Azərbaycan Xalq Cümhuriyyəti) was founded by the Azerbaijani National Council in Tiflis on 28 May 1918 after the overthrow of the Russian Tsar.  Independence was short lived, however. In 1920 Lenin ordered the Red Army to take over the country because Russia needed Azerbaijan’s oil reserves.  Among the important accomplishments of the brief period of independence was the extension of the right to vote to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men. In this regard Azerbaijan also preceded the United Kingdom and the United States. Azerbaijan regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but then had a lengthy conflict with Armenia, which gained independence at the same time and then invaded Azerbaijan in a bloody land grab.

Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region, located at the junction of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, a region usually known as Eurasia. It is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. It has three main geographic zones: the Caspian Sea; the Greater Caucasus mountain range covering about 40% of the nation; and  extensive flatlands at the country’s center .

If you had to use a single word to describe Azerbaijan it would have to be “diverse”  — climates that range from semi-arid desert to mountainous tundra with everything in between, extraordinary biodiversity of both plants and animals, one main language, Azerbaijani (Azeri), and 12 minority languages spoken in select regions spanning both the Altaic and Indo-European language families,  cultural influences coming from both Europe and Asian sources such as Persia (Iran), Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia, as well as from ancient conquerors including Scythians and Greeks, five major regional rug  weaving styles with infinite sub-styles (see picture) whose roots stretch back to antiquity, and more. Yet all these influences have synthesized into a recognizable and distinct culture.

Nowhere are the diverse cultural influences and geographic zones more evident than in Azerbaijani cuisine.   Azerbaijani cuisine features dozens of styles of soupy stews each varying according to cook’s choice, some with a base of yogurt. As is common in Eurasian cooking there is a wide variety of shashlik (kebabs), including lamb, beef, chicken, and fish, frequently sold by street vendors with small wood grills. Sturgeon, plentiful in the Caspian Sea, is often skewered and grilled, served with a tart pomegranate sauce called narsharab. Dried fruits and walnuts are used in many dishes. The traditional condiments are salt, black pepper, sumac, and especially saffron, which is grown domestically on the Absheron Peninsula. Other flavorings include  mint, cilantro, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leek, chives, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress. The Caspian Sea is fished for sturgeon, Caspian salmon, Caspian kutum (a firm white fish) , sardines, grey mullet, and others. Black caviar from the Caspian Sea is one of Azerbaijan’s best known delicacies, sold worldwide.

One of the most reputed dishes of Azerbaijani cuisine is plov (pilaf) which contains saffron rice layered with other ingredients, quite distinct from Uzbek and Iranian plovs. Azerbaijani cuisine has a kaleidoscope of versions of plov from the various regions of the country, some using meats like chicken and lamb, others with dried fruits, or a combination of both. This recipe comes from Baku (the capital).  It can be eaten by itself or with meat shashlik. The ingredient Alu Bukhara is a tart plum that counteracts the sweetness of the other fruits.  You can find it online, or substitute tart cherries. Many cooks in Azerbaijan make a scorched layer on the bottom of the rice pot called a gazmakh, which is much loved. This may simply be the scorched rice itself or a separate layer of ingredients such as thinly sliced potatoes or flatbread. Here I use a mix of rice, yogurt, and egg.  Basmati rice is best because of its rich flavor, but plain rice will do.

Shirin Plov (Plov with Apricots, Dates and Saffron)

Ingredients:

2 cups long grained basmati (or plain long grained rice)
½ cup cooked and peeled chestnuts
¼ cup dried alu bukhara (or tart cherries)
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup pitted dates
6 tblsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp powdered saffron in 3 teaspoons of rosewater
2 tbsp yogurt
1 egg

Instructions:

Place the raw rice in a colander and run it under cold water until it runs clear. This is a vital step to prevent the rice being sticky.  Soak the washed rice for about 30 minutes in cold water with a pinch of salt.

In a large, heavy gauge pot boil enough salted water to cook the rice. When the water comes to a full boil drain the rice and add it to the pot. Bring the water back to a rolling boil. Stir the rice from time to time and let it boil for about 5 minutes. Test it. The rice should be soft but not fully cooked. It will be steamed later to cook it through. Err on the side of underdone. Drain the rice and rinse it under cold water.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and toss the fruit in it. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. The fruit should absorb the flavor of the butter and swell, but do not overcook it. The fruit should remain firm. Set aside.

Mix ½ cup of cooked rice, 1 tbsp of melted butter, 2 tbsp of yogurt, 1 egg and a pinch of salt. Spread the mixture over the bottom of the rice pot. Then alternate layers of rice and fruit, finishing with a layer of rice.

Pour 3 tbsp of melted butter and the saffron flavored rose water over the top of the rice.

Place a tea towel over the pot and place the lid tightly on top.  Fold the corners of the towel over the lid to prevent them from burning.

Put the pot on a high-medium flame for about 5 minutes and then reduce it to as low as possible. Leave the rice to steam for about 30 minutes.

Serve on a large platter for guests to help themselves.

Serves 4-6 (with side dishes of meat)