Osh Savo, Ossvo, Ussvo, Shavo, Oshi Sabo. Whatever you call it, the long-cooked Shabbos (Shabbat) stew some refer to as “Bukharan cholent” most likely predates the cholents of Western and Eastern Europe by centuries.
The Bukharan Jews represent one of the most ancient of the exiled Jewish groups, dating their arrival in Central Asia to the 8th century BCE. Most of the Bukharan (also, Bukharian, Bukhari), Jews from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan have emigrated to Israel and Queens, New York bringing with them their distinctive culture, cuisine and language.
My neighbor Yanna and her husband bring a spot of Bukharan culture to the primarily European Jewish community in Brooklyn where we live. Hospitality is an enormous part of that culture. Although all Jews love guests (we look to the Biblical Abraham as our role model), the Bukharans seem to live for guests (though family comes first). On Friday nights after the Shabbos dinner, many Bukharans serve tea and cakes to family and friends, sitting around the table talking until late. Yanna, a young mother, is always cooking and baking and incredible fragrances drift into the hall from her apartment.
Bukhori, their language, is also called Judeo-Tajik, and is a blend of Persian (Tajik), Hebrew, Arabic, and Uzbek. Some younger Bukharan Jews don’t speak more than a few words in Bukhori. Since they lived in the former Soviet Union, Bukharans both young and old speak Russian as well as the language of wherever they’ve settled. Here in New York, that means English. That’s a good thing—otherwise I’d never have wrangled this recipe out of Yanna!
Yanna’s a cook after my own heart. When I asked her for the recipe she said, “First you take your lamb bones. Then you take your rice.” I fiddled with it a bit and came up with some measurements. In all honesty, I like the idea of ossvo (exotic, ancient, steeped in spiritual tradition) more than I like the reality of ossvo. It is a bit too fatty for my tastes. It reminds me of plov, a dish another Jewish friend from Uzbekistan (he’s non Bukharan), holds to be the standard for culinary perfection. It too contains lamb (or even better, he says, mutton) with all its fat.
My husband however, loves ossvo and always asks me to make it instead of cholent, which I really should do more often.
Ossvo is a very nourishing, warming stew, ideal for a cold winter day. Lamb is one of the “cleanest” meats—it is usually pastured (it grazes on grass ) so it isn’t fed soy or corn or other products. Grass-fed beef, goat, and lamb is very rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an important nutrient missing from modern diets. (Eggs from pastured chickens is another good source, as are some mushrooms.) If you like the Ossvo but don’t like the fat, prepare it up until the point where cilantro is added, cool it slightly, and refrigerate overnight. Then, skim off the hardened fat and place it on the stove overnight.
HJC’s Ossvo (Adapted from Yanna’s recipe )
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic (optional, Yanna’s recipe doesn’t call for garlic)
vegetable oil (I omitted this, but Yanna browns her onions in the oil)
1 1/2-2 pounds lamb neck or stew, on the bone if possible
1/2 pound additional lamb bones (optional)
6-8 cups good chicken, veal, or lamb stock or water (Yanna uses chix-style soup mix)
1 12 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups brown rice, washed, sorted (I use Lundberg’s Golden Rose but basmati or Persian rice is more traditional)
2 teaspoons each, cumin, paprika (optional, I added the spices because the ossvo was bland to my taste)
4-6 prunes, pitted
1 cup fresh cranberries (washed, sorted) (In Bukhara, they use fresh barberries which aren’t available in Brooklyn)
1 green apple, peeled and diced
1 or 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (optional)
2 large potatoes, washed, peeled, quartered.
1/2 to 1 cup cilantro (wash, check for insects, and chop) (optional, my husband doesn’t like cilantro so I leave it out)
In a heavy pot (cast iron is ideal), cook the lamb until browned on all sides. Remove the lamb, leaving the fat behind. Sauté the onion in the fat from the lamb until golden. If there isn’t enough fat, add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil. Add the garlic if using and cook until lightly golden. Add the stock or water, tomatoes, rice, salt, pepper and spices. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then lower to a simmer. Stir in the prunes, cranberries, apple, carrots if using and potatoes. Place on a flame tamer for an hour, and taste for seasoning. Add cilantro if using and additional water to cover, if needed. Place on hotplate or blech and keep overnight until Shabbos lunch. A chewy-crispy crust called tadigi usually forms in the bottom of the pan, make sure you give everyone a taste of the tadigi.