Festive Bukharan Purim Bread

Photo by PRODebraj Ghosh https://www.flickr.com/photos/debraj/

Photo by PRO Debraj Ghosh

Jews have lived in the Central Asian city of Bukhara since the reign of King David. One of their unique Purim specialties is an intricately decorated flatbread called Kulchi Ravghaniy. Flatbreads have been baked in Bukhara for over 12,000 years, and are described in one of the world’s oldest written stories, The Epic of Gilgamesh. In Bukhara bread symbolizes life. Jews celebrate the life of Queen Esther and the Jewish community by serving these festive loaves during the Purim feast. [Read more…]

Cooking in My Bukharian Cauldron

Sumalak being made in a Kazan.

— by Ronit Treatman

“First, fetch your cauldron,” the recipe instructed me. I have always wanted to prepare a dish that begins with these words! I legitimately get to, not because I am a witch, but because I am part Bukharian.

Bukhara is a city located on the Silk Road, in present-day Uzbekistan. Jews have lived there since the times of King David. One of the indispensable implements of a Bukharian kitchen is the kazan. A kazan is a type of cauldron or Dutch oven. It is used to prepare pilaf (rice in seasoned broth), one of Bukhara’s signature dishes.  

More after the jump.

Once the meal is cooked, the food packets are fished out with a stick. (Photo: David Treatman.)

Surprise! This is no witch’s brew! (Photo: David Treatman.)

My great grandmother Cassia owned a kazan. Hers was the last generation to use it in my family. She brought it with her to Palestine when she left Bukhara in 1914. We never cooked or ate Bukharian food when I was growing up, so I really wanted to learn about this part of my heritage.

The first thing I needed to do was purchase a kazan. I called several kosher restaurants and convenience stores in Little Bukhara in Queens, New York for advice. The people I spoke to became very emotional when I explained why I wanted a kazan, and an instant bond formed between us. They suggested that I come to New York to buy it in the neighborhood. In the end, I found what I was looking for on Amazon.

The kazan is ubiquitous throughout Central Asia and Russia. It is shaped like a wok, with two or four handles. Kazans were historically used by traders traveling along the Silk Road.

Before they set out on their journey, they (or their wives) would place uncooked basmati rice, raw pieces of beef or lamb, and chopped fresh vegetables and herbs in the center of a square piece of cotton cloth. The four corners of the cloth would be tied together to form a bundle.

This package was added to the rest of their provisions.  A member of the group would bring a kazan along. When the intrepid voyagers would stop to camp out at night, they would dig a trench in the ground. The men would scrounge around for some firewood, and light a fire in the excavated area. They would place the kazan over the fire, wedged between the two edges of the trench. Some of them would fill the pot with water from a nearby stream. The water would be brought to a boil.

According to Amnun Kimyagarov, author of Classic Central Asian (Bukharian) Jewish Cuisine and Customs, each person would draw a distinct mark on his cotton food bag. All the bags were placed in the pot. Once the meal was cooked, the food packets were fished out with a stick.

Sometimes, one person would get another’s bag by mistake. It was traditional to say “bakhshidam” in Buhkori (Judeo-Persian), with means, “I forgive the mistake.” All the fellow travelers would share the hot broth.  

My kazan arrived from Russia, packed in a box covered with Cyrillic writing. I decided to cook one of the most traditional Bukharian Jewish recipes, called Bakhshi Khaltagiy, or green pilaf in a bag.

Bakhshi Khaltagiy: Green Pilaf in a Bag
Adapted from Classic Central Asian (Bukharian) Jewish Cuisine and Customs by Amnun Kimyagarov, Ph.D.

  • 1 lb. beef chuck-eye steak, cubed
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 lb. fresh cilantro
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Cotton mesh cooking bag  

It is a delicious and nourishing Bukharian treat. (Photo: David Treatman.)
  1. Cut the meat into very small cubes (1/8 in.).
  2. Mince the cilantro finely.
  3. Place the meat, rice, and cilantro in a large bowl.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Fill 3/4 of a kazan or Dutch oven with water.
  6. Bring the water to a boil.
  7. Stuff the meat mixture into the cotton bag, leaving some room at the top.
  8. Tie the bag shut.
  9. Put the bag in the boiling water, making sure that it is completely immersed.
  10. Bring the water to a boil again.
  11. Lower the heat.
  12. Simmer for 3-4 hours, making sure that the bag is covered by water at all times.
  13. Taste the broth and correct the seasoning.

After three hours, I lifted the lid off my kazan and a tantalizing aroma arose with the steam. The pot was filled with a rich, dark broth. I pulled the cotton bag out with some tongs, cut it open with a sharp knife, and emptied its contents onto a serving platter. The meat and rice were flecked with specks of green from the cilantro. I spooned some of the filling into a soup bowl, and then ladled some hot broth on top of it. The potage melted in my mouth. This soup was no witch’s brew. It was a delicious and nourishing Bukharian treat.