Pilaf is an oriental dish. It is cooked in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Crimean Tatars here in Ukraine.

But the most famous one is the Uzbek pilaf which has many varieties: with or without meat, with dried fruits, peas, quince, wheat, or chickpeas. Ferghana-style Uzbek pilaf is considered by many as a golden standard.

My grandfather is from the Caucasus. That’s why I have a strong craving for all oriental dishes. So, let’s move on to my favourite pilaf recipe.

What’s important for pilaf:

Meat. Don’t take the meat of a very young lamb. The back of the shank with a little fat would be perfect. This part releases a lot of collagen, and the pulp has a rich meat flavour. If there is cartilage or bones in the meat, don’t remove them, just leave them. If your piece of lamb is low in fat, ask the seller for some more. There usually would be some trimmings after butchering the carcass.

Tableware. Pilaf is cooked in a metal, non-enamelled dish – ideally in a cast-iron cauldron with a thick bottom. If it’s not available, choose a deep frying pan or the thick-bottomed pot.

Rice. Devzira is considered the best rice for pilaf. It is a long-grain, shallow-polished rice that absorbs liquid very well. Next comes Chungara and affordable Basmati that I use; Basmati Parboiled rice would be a perfect choice. You can select any kind of rice you like or have on hand. If the rice is unparboiled, it’s important to rinse it well. And if the rice is very starchy, it must be washed and then soaked in warm water for 30 minutes to make it less sticky.

Spices for pilaf. Take a ready-made mix. It should include barberries, cumin, turmeric, hot pepper, sometimes saffron, paprika, fenugreek, sumac, anise, and coriander.

The main steps of cooking pilaf are as follows:

Step 1. Rendering and heating the fat. Pilaf is cooked using a mixture of seed oil and animal fat. Ideally, it should be a fat tail – an adipose deposit in the tail area of a fat-tailed sheep breed. But trimmings of regular lamb fat are fine too.

Step 2. Cooking zirvak. It is a mixture of meat, carrots, and onions.

Step 3. Putting in the rice and cook until almost done.

Step 4. Cooking pilaf under the lid until done.

Uzbek Pilaf with Lamb


15-20 minutes 1,5-2,5 hours 4 servings

INGREDIENTS (serves 3-4)

  • 19 oz (550 g) lamb meat
  • 2 oz (50 g) lamb fat, the fat tail is ideal
  • 2 onions (12 oz, 350g)
  • 10 oz (300 g) carrots
  • 12 oz (350 g) rice
  • 2.5 tsp spices for pilaf
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 1 hot pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil for frying
  • Salt


If you are using unparboiled rice, rinse it and soak it in warm water for 30 minutes. Drain water from rice.

Step 1. Rendering and heating the fat.

  1. Cut the lamb fat and meat. The larger the pieces, the longer the lamb will stew.
  2. Put only fat in a cauldron or thick-bottomed pot, and melt the fat over low heat for 5-7 minutes.
  1. Take out the greaves with a slotted spoon.
  2. Pour in 2 tbsp of oil for frying and heat for 3 more minutes.

Step 2. Cooking zirvak

  1. Add meat to the pot. Fry for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Cut carrots into strips. Cut the onion coarsely. Add vegetables to meat and stir-fry for 20 minutes.
  1. Add half of the spices and cook for another 5 minutes.
  1. Pour in 1 ¾ cup (400 ml) of water and add 3 large pinches of salt. Cook under a lid until the meat is tender. (It took me 1 hour 20 minutes).

Step 3. Putting in the rice and cooking until done.

  1. Put the rice into a pot and flatten with a spoon.
  1. Pour in 1 ¾ cup (400 ml) of boiling water very carefully. The water level should be 1-1.5 cm above the rice. Put some salt on top of the rice (about 3-4 pinches of salt and add the rest of the spices). But don’t mix anything!
  2. Remove the top skin from the garlic and cut off the roots. Dip garlic heads and whole hot peppers in the rice. Cook in an open pot over low heat for about 25-30 minutes.
  1. Taste the rice. It shouldn’t be crunchy but almost done. Make a hole with a spoon or stick and see if there is water at the bottom.
  2. If the rice is still crispy and there is no water at the bottom, pour in 3-5 tbsp of water around the edges and cook for another 5 minutes. If there is too much water, poke a few holes in the rice so that water evaporates faster.

Step 4. Cooking pilaf under the lid until done.

  1. Cover the rice tightly with a lid or foil and place the pot on the lowest heat. Wait for 10-15 minutes.
  1. Remove the pepper so that it doesn’t break and all the spiciness doesn’t come out. Gently mix rice with zirvak. Let it stand uncovered for about 5-10 minutes before serving.

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I'm Alona Bogdanova – cookbooks writer from Ukraine. I create and photograph gourmet, approachable and exciting recipes for every day.

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