Magic in the pot: Communal meals with individual approaches
Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Our family is huge. Unfortunately, we don't get to gather very often these days, as everyone flew out of the parents' nest, but there were times when five kids, two parents and grandmother lived all together in a small Soviet apartment. I have no idea how our parents did this, but here we all are.
There are many fond memories of family times on Sundays when everyone was home all day and not at work or at school. This was a time for a special meal and sometimes mom would make this magic of stew cooked in the clay pots. First of all, eating from the clay pot is super exciting. Plus, the flavours somehow become very special and unique when simple ingredients are cooked with this method. Beyond, this was very practical, as there were as many tastes as there were people.
By cooking individual portions of stew, mom would make sure that each one of us gets exactly what they like and, most importantly, don't get the ingredients they don't like. She is a saint!
Just like us, the pots have shaped individual character over the years...Some are different in the shade of glaze; others, in the way they chipped here and there and so on. This individuality makes it easier for everyone to identify their own pot. But, if you have brand new ones, there are ways of marking each one, I'll show you how it's done.
Last year, I visited my parents and we recreated the old and favourite classic. There were four pots fewer than we normally had growing up, but I hope one day we will be counting these in dozens. The traditional contents are lamb fat, meat (lamb or beef), onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic. This is the base. You can also add bell peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant. If your family is anything like ours, there will be people who eat bell peppers but don't stand cabbage; people who like cabbage but steer clear of eggplant, etc., etc. Individual configuration is the solution.
If you are not in Central Asia, getting your hands on lamb fat is hard, so get some fatty stew meat instead.
You can also make the dish vegan, just use olive oil and all the vegetables. You can use mushrooms in place of meat. The vegan version is also very delicious!
For the spices, we use classic cumin and coriander. Nothing should stop you from using rosemary. If you like it spicy, add chilli peppers.
In this case, I had lamb fat and some scraps of lamb. Vegans, skip this. Just add all the layers of vegetables, salt each layer, add spices, olive oil and some water, then go to "Step 5".
Use plenty of onions. They will release their juices and the meat will cook tender.
Potatoes and carrots are added. Don't forget to salt each layer a bit.
Garlic, tomato, bell pepper. Individual configuration! Don't forget to salt each of the layers (but don't overdo) and add those spices.
Cabbage for all, but one. The eggplant season was not around yet when I was making this.
Uzbekistan is one of the few countries where people still eat seasonally (for now).
You will need basic bread dough (yeast, salt, flour, water).
Cover each pot with a layer of dough. You can also just use the lids, but with the dough lid, it is much more fun, isn't it? Add a tiny bit of water to each pot before closing the lid.
To identify which pot belongs to whom, you can use sesame seeds or pieces of vegetables to mark the lids. If you are way into it, you can cut first letters of the names of the eaters out of the dough and 'glue' them on top with water. Whatever you do, put the pots into a cold oven and then turn in on.
Cook on medium heat for 1.5 - 2 hours. You will know it's done when the bread lid cooks and the delicious smell knocks you off your feet.
Cut out the lid. Eat it with the stew! Serve with lots of green herbs, such as coriander, dill, parsley, green onion, etc. The pot retains heat for a long time, be careful. Enjoy!