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On A Cloud of Nine

(by Zilola Melieva)

Talking to my mom while cooking is my favorite thing; it even helps to make food more delicious.

I am from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Most of the Uzbek people come from the Muslim culture, although there are differences from other Muslim countries. Twice a year, we have an Eid holiday—a festival to mark the breaking of the Ramadan fast. Each Eid Eve, we need to do a general cleaning up at home and prepare certain foods: various sweets as well as plov, our national dish of rice that has hundreds of variations. (An old saying goes: There are as many kinds of plov as there are cities in the Muslim world.) On this evening, if you visit an Uzbek family, you’ll notice the aroma of plov on the streets of the neighborhood. The most interesting part of this tradition is that people exchange some portion of the plov they make with their neighbors and relatives. So on each table, you may see small portions of various plovs gathered from the people who shared their food.

One Eid Eve when I was 22 years old, my mom said, “It is time for you to prepare plov. Let’s show your ability in cooking for your family and friends.” I got nervous because it’s usually the mother’s job to prepare the plov, and it was not for an ordinary day. I knew how to make plov, but never for a special holiday. I said this to my mom, but she refused my excuse. “You will see,” she said, “this day will become a treasured memory for you.”

Encouraging me to have confidence in myself is typical of my mom. She never shows weakness and always strives to overcome life’s barriers with huge strength—like when my grandfather passed away, she did not forget to take care of us even though she was full of pain. When I decided to leave my family and my country to study in Europe, she supported me chasing my dreams. I had second thoughts as my flight got close, but her words helped me get on the plane: “We trust in you.”

Despite my nervousness about making the plov, I started cleaning the necessary vegetables—onions and both orange and yellow carrots, cut into thin slices. As I worked, I asked a question: “Mom, why do we share some portion of plov on this day?”

“There have always been people who do not have enough to eat,” she explained. “They may be too shy to ask for help. So genuine and generous people found an interesting way to give them food. They started leaving some portion of their food for the needy on Eid Eve. Over the years, the tradition expanded to share food with neighbors and relatives. Plov was considered to be very fancy food in those days, and it keeps you full so you do not get hungry again so fast.”

As we talked, I prepared a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers called achichuk to go with the plov, but I started being nervous again when it was time to open the lid of the pot, worrying if my plov would be good. I asked my mom to taste it. She kept silent as she was chewing, and I waited impatiently for a compliment. Finally, she said, “I am proud of you. Not only did you make delicious food, but you took this responsibility to your heart. Sharing kindness in the things you do for others helps you to feel happiness and self-recognition. This means a lot. Never lose this manner.”

And yes, I was on a cloud of nine. We had a great Eid Eve that day. And I’ve never forgotten that moment with my mom.


Zilola Melieva is an artist, creative writer, and MBA graduate who lives in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. She can be found at Backstage and Instagram.


1 c. dried chickpeas

3/4 c. vegetable oil

5 c. onions, peeled and sliced

1 1/2 lb. beef or mutton, cut into large cubes

4 c. yellow or orange carrots, peeled and sliced into matchsticks

salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 c. dried barberries (or substitute dried cranberries)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 c. raw long-grain rice, rinsed in salty water and drained

2 T. zira (or substitute cumin seed)

Soak chickpeas in salted water for 7 – 8 hours before continuing with recipe.

Heat oil in a large pot, and fry onions until golden, about 5 – 7 minutes

Add meat and sauté until browned.

Add carrots.

Pour water just to cover the ingredients.

Add salt, pepper, barberries, chickpeas, and garlic to the pot.

Cook until water bubbles, then lower heat to simmer, cover, and cook until carrots and meat are tender.

Add rice and zira on top of the pot, and season generously with salt.

Add 1 c. boiling water

Increase heat until water boils away and rice is cooked al dente.

Reduce heat to very low, cover pot, and steam for 20 minutes.

Remove garlic cloves.

To serve, place rice on plate, topped with carrots and meat.

Serves 6.


2 cucumbers, half-peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium white onion, peeled and thinly sliced

3 medium tomatoes, sliced

pinch of salt

optional: red pepper flakes

4 – 5 leaves of basil

Combine cucumbers, onion, tomatoes, and salt, adding red pepper if you prefer a spicy salad.

Serve, topping each portion with a leaf of basil.


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