Good food on big plates: Uzbek lagman

If you’re reading this blog post, you’ve quite possibly also read our ‘About’ page, which explains the ‘Good Food on Bad Plates’ philosophy: namely, that we’re more about substance than style (you’ve probably also garnered this from our photography), and that we don’t care what sort of crockery we eat off as long as the food is good. This has perhaps never been as apt as when we made lagman, a signature dish from Uzbekistan. Keep reading to find out why.

Lagman is essentially a noodle soup, made unique by the inclusion of black cumin, a spice we weren’t aware of until last week and one that doesn’t resemble regular cumin (in flavour, at least) in the slightest. Traditionally, lagman would also use hand-stretched noodles, but the recipe we consulted said that store-bought was fine, so we have to admit that we took the easy route with our version.

Like the Afghan kabuli pulao we made last week, this is quite a time-consuming dish, but aside from cutting up the meat and vegetables, it’s not very labour-intensive. You just need to be prepared to sit and wait for it to cook, getting hungrier and hungrier as the lovely aromas waft around the house!

Lagman

Ingredients
500g lamb, cut into small pieces (we used neck fillet)
2 tbsp cooking oil
3 large onions, sliced into thin rounds
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick julienne
2 tomatoes, cubed
1 celery stalk, sliced into thick julienne
1 cup daikon/mooli (this was half a large daikon for us), cut into 1cm cubes
1 pepper (preferably red), cut into 1 inch strips
1 bunch of spring onions, cut into 1 inch pieces
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp black cumin (also known as kala jeera or kali jiri)
2-3 whole dried chillies
1-2 star anise
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
A few handfuls of chopped coriander and flat leaf parsley
400g udon or egg noodles (we had this over two nights and tried each type of noodle – they both worked)
2 litres water

Method
1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot and sauté the onion until golden.
2. Add the meat pieces and brown them well.
3. Add the black cumin and dried chillies and stir for a minute or so.
4. Add the carrots and let them soften.
5. Stir in the tomatoes and cook down for about 5 minutes.
6. Pour in the water and add the star anise and bay leaves. Simmer for 40 minutes, removing scum if necessary.
7. Add the daikon, celery and salt to taste and cook for 10 minutes.
8. Add the red pepper.
9. When the daikon softens, add the spring onions, garlic and herbs. Correct seasoning if necessary and remove from the heat.
10. If you are using dried noodles, cook them according to packet instructions. If using fresh noodles, put them in your serving bowl and spoon the hot soup over the top (if possible, remove the chilli, bay and star anise before doing so). Serve garnished with extra coriander and parsley.
Serves 4 generously

698a Lagman ingredients compressed

699a Cooking lamb and onions compressed

700a Starting to cook lagman compressed

701a Lagman in pot compressed

702a Lagman compressed

Firstly, things we did differently from the original recipe:
– It said to cut the lamb into ‘hazelnut sized pieces’ but this seemed very small so we made them a bit bigger than that (probably more like two hazelnuts).
– It also recommended frying off some lamb bones with the meat, but we didn’t have any. It would undoubtedly add some more meaty flavour if you did have some.
– The tomatoes were supposed to be peeled and deseeded, but this is one of Miranda’s most loathed cooking tasks, so the skin and seeds remained.
– The daikon was supposed to be cut into 1 inch cubes. We did this, but it took forever to soften, so we ended up fishing it out of the pot and cutting it in half during the cook – so 1 cm cubes would be a good place to start.
– We’d run out of red peppers so used a yellow one.
– We substituted the called-for Chinese chives, which we couldn’t find, with spring onions (an entirely acceptable substitute).

With all of that, you’d think we’d have ended up with something completely removed from the original dish, but we feel like it was still along the right lines. Despite the fact that it was little more than boiled lamb and vegetables, it had a great flavour, and was very filling. We are now interested to see what else we can use black cumin for, now that we’ve had our eyes opened to its existence!

As for the crockery business: well, we realised that the bulk of the noodles meant there was no way we were going to get them to fit in either of our normal soup bowls along with enough of the lagman soup to sufficiently cook them before we ate them – not even our slightly bigger bowls that we use when we’re extra hungry. Our solution? We ate our respective portions out of a mixing bowl and a salad bowl. They’re not ‘bad’ plates by any means – the salad bowl in particular was a lovely wedding present – but they weren’t exactly designed to hold individual servings of soup. Oh well – at least we’re still maintaining our ethos!

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