There are several different national versions of ‘pilaf,’ a rice dish. This is the Ukrainian version. I first had it at Natasha’s and I wanted the recipe, but she couldn’t give it to me because she didn’t have one – she just sort of threw it together instinctively. Not to be deterred, I searched around for a recipe and I watched her do it again for good measure. Here’s my take on it. Like many of recipes I seem to gravitate to, timing is everything here. And, it really needs to be served with a big salad.

¼ c sunflower seed oil
1 large onion, chopped
1½ lb stew beef (or lamb), cut into bite-sized chunks
15-20 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 lb carrots, shredded medium fine
2½ tsp salt (at least – season to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1½ c rice, uncooked
1½ c hot water

Do all of your chopping ahead of time so the ingredients are ready to add. In a large pot with with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil (it seems like a lot, but you need it) over medium-high heat. Drop in one piece of onion. When onion is black, remove it with a fork. Your oil is hot enough to cook with now.

Add meat to oil. It will spit, so be careful, but do not reduce heat! Allow meat to brown in oil, stirring frequently, for about 4-5 minutes. Now add garlic cloves* and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Next, add onion and cook for 3 minutes (or until translucent) and, finally, add carrots. Stir mixture frequently.

When carrots just begin to become tender and a little of the color begins to fade, add salt and cumin and stir just to mix in. Next add rice and hot water and turn heat to high. Make sure water completely covers other ingredients, plus about ½ inch extra. Stir just to combine, bring to a boil and cover with vented lid (best is a glass lid). You want to not have to stir the plov (although some stoves make this impossible), but you need to know when all the liquid has cooked off – at high heat, about 10 minutes. When liquid is cooked off, add another 1/2 cup cold water, turn heat to lowest setting, cover with un-vented lid and allow to cook for another 20 minutes.

*It sounds like an awful lot of garlic, I know. But if you add whole cloves – not even cutting off the bottoms – they have a mild, slightly sweet flavor. You can always reduce the amount if you’re really garlic-sensitive, but the flavor is so mild that I don’t think it’s necessary.