Recipe: Gulnisa’s Polu

Gulnisa’s Polu
Recipe written by Elise Anderson and [redacted] based on the method used by Gulnisa Nazarova of Bloomington, IN
Servings: enough to feed a small army (~12 people); the recipe halves and quarters perfectly
Time: anywhere between 2 and 3 hours total, including prep and cooking

Polu served with labneh and sey salat (a vinegary salad, here made of tomatoes, red onions, Anaheim peppers, salt, and red wine vinegar); photo by Elise Anderson
Polu for a crowd accompanied by hard-boiled eggs; photo by Elise Anderson

Polu, a dish of rice, carrots, and lamb, is one of my favorite Uyghur foods to eat–and the dish I have mastered best from all of the Uyghur food I have attempted to cook thus far. I’ve found polu to be a crowd-pleaser, delicious to even the pickiest of American eaters. It’s a real time commitment to cook, but I promise it’s worth it.

The taste and appearance of polu can vary widely based on who makes it. Many people in East Turkistan and throughout the rest of Central Asia like to add dried fruit into the mix for a salty-sweet flavor. I personally prefer my polu to be super savory, though. What I’m giving you is a recipe for “qara polu,” which literally means “black polu,” with “black” referring to the dark color of the rice in the final dish. This qara polu, full of onion, garlic, and cumin, is something of a Uyghur-Uzbek hybrid.

Ingredients
2–3 large white or yellow onions, sliced (yellow onions make for a deeper “black” color)
3 lbs (1.5 kilos) carrots, peeled and sliced into sticks (see below for technique tip)
1 1/4 c. (300 ml) oil (I prefer lighter oils like canola or vegetable, but choose what you want here!)
2 lbs (~1 kg) lamb (other meats are also fine, but lamb is the best here!)
3 lbs (~1.4 kg) short or medium grain sushi rice (Nishiki and Rice Select brands best)
6 1/3 c. (1.5 L) water, plus water for rinsing rice
2 bulbs garlic
3 tbsp salt
2+ tbsp whole cumin seeds

Instructions
Prep your vegetables
Note: Prep your onions and carrots before you start cooking anything! The onions are simple: because they will cook away, size and shape do not matter. The carrots take more time and technique. If possible, use large carrots like the kind you find in grocery-store bulk bins or at Asian supermarkets; larger carrots are easier to cut into sticks. Peel the carrots, then place two (or even three) next to one another, and cut on a diagonal across the carrots to make medallions. Now go back and chop across the medallions, cutting into sticks. This is MUCH faster than any other way I know, which is especially important if you are cutting 3 pounds of carrots in one go.

Start cooking
Add oil to pot and heat over medium-high heat. Once oil is heated, cook onions until they begin to caramelize. Add meat and stir vigorously, cooking until onions start to disappear (but do NOT let them burn). Add carrots, lower heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until carrots soften and begin to turn a deep orange.

Meanwhile, rise rice vigorously in cold water and drain AT LEAST three times (more if very starchy), then soak in water for at least 15 minutes. I usually start this process while cooking down the onions and carrots, and let the rice soak for a long time. The goal is to get rid of as much starch as possible.

Remove outer layers of garlic paper and wash off any dirt from the bulbs. Cut around bottom of bulbs to expose garlic, but try not to loosen cloves.

After the carrots have taken on a deep color, add water, salt, and cumin to pot; increase heat and bring to boil. When water reaches boiling, add garlic heads, making sure to submerge them. Cover pot and boil for 10 minutes. After boiling, remove garlic and meat, and set aside.

Drain rice and add to pot, layering rice on top of carrots, but do not mix the rice and carrots! Raise heat to highest setting and let water cook off until the liquid level is slightly below the top of the rice. At this point, use a spatula to gently pull rice away from the sides of the pot and heap toward the middle, creating room for expansion. Remember: do not mix the rice and carrot layers! 

Use chopsticks or another long kitchen tool to make holes in rice leading to the bottom of the pot (these holes allow for steaming and expansion). Place cooked meat and garlic on top of the rice. (At this point, you could also technically add anything. Think chickpeas, raisins, sliced potato, other veggies: anything you want to steam along with the polu!)

Cover pot, reduce heat to medium-low (if cooking on electric) or low (if cooking on a stronger gas flame), and cook for 30 minutes. While the polu is cooking, I usually like to prepare add-ons, including boiled eggs; a vinegary salad of tomatoes, red onion, and Anaheim peppers in red wine vinegar and salt; and full-fat Greek yogurt or labneh.

Remove garlic, peppers, and meat; cut meat into bite size pieces. Stir rice vigorously to distribute carrots evenly throughout. Serve rice on a platter, placing meat and whole garlic heads (which are now roasted and completely delicious!), and any other add-ons you have steamed on top.

Liu Xiaobo Fellowship at the CECC

I’m very pleased to share that I just finished my first week of work as a Liu Xiaobo Fellow at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), a U.S. government commission tasked with monitoring the status of human rights and rule of law in China.

As a Fellow, I’m drawing on my language and area knowledge to assist CECC staff with news monitoring, research, and analysis connected to the Commission mandate. Moving to federal work in human rights and law is a bit of a change for me given my academic background, but I’m thrilled to be doing work that allows me to be deeply involved in the U.S. and global responses to China’s escalating rights abuses.

Introducing Dr. Elise Marie Anderson!

On the morning of May 8, 2019, I successfully defended my dissertation, titled Imperfect Perfection: Uyghur Muqam and Practices of Cultural Renovation in the PRC, meaning that I am now Dr. Anderson.

Me (center) with members of my committee: (from L) Dr. Javier León; Dr. Gardner Bovingdon, Co-chair; Dr. Sue Tuohy, Co-chair; Dr. Kathryn Graber; and Dr. Lynn Hooker. Not pictured: Dr. Ruth Stone.

Several days before my defense, on Friday, May 3, I walked in IU’s graduate commencement and received my doctoral hood. The pomp and circumstance of the ceremony were a lovely way to cap off my very long tenure as a graduate student.

A happy Doctor (of Philosophy) posing in front of IU’s iconic Sample Gates

The successful conferral of my degree would never have happened without the guidance, support, and cooperation of hundreds of people around the world over the past decade-plus. My deepest thanks to all who have been part of my long and winding intellectual journey.

Persian/Central Asian New Year Celebration at IU-Bloomington

The Indiana University Navruz Students Association, of which I have been President since 2016, is pleased to announce that we will once again be hosting a celebration of the Persian/Central Asian New Year on the IUB campus on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The evening will include a dinner, concert, and dance party, all of which are free and open to the public.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
6:00pm Doors open
6:30pm Dinner begins
7:00pm Concert begins
7:45pm Dancing begins

Sincerest thanks to all of our event sponsors at IU, including:
Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center 
Islamic Studies Program 
Turkish Flagship Program 
Pan Asia Institute 
Center for the Study of Global Change 
Russian and East European Institute
Department of Central Eurasian Studies 
Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures 

Lotus Lineup Lowdown

I’m pleased to share that I’m going to be co-delivering the Lotus Lineup Lowdown, an introduction to Bloomington’s Lotus World Music Festival, from 12:00 to 1:00pm on Friday, September 15. Douglas D. Peach will be co-presenting alongside me. Hope to see all you Bloomingtonians there!

525,600 Minutes

A full year has passed since I moved back to Bloomington, Indiana. In celebration of the past year and anticipation of that to come, I’ve made a number of changes to this site. In addition to editing pre-existing pages, I’ve also added new sections to detail my teaching, performance, and outreach/brokerage activities.

Much has transpired in my professional life in the past 525,600-plus minutes. Shortly after moving back to Bloomington I began the difficult but rewarding process of overhauling my dissertation, which I had begun writing while still in the field but which long suffered from my physical and mental distance from American academia. My time back at IU has been very fruitful in terms of writing: I have completed most of a first draft and am on track to defend and graduate by May 2018.

On the publication front, a textbook chapter about dastan (oral epic poetry) that I co-authored with Rahile Dawut–who was my advisor during my affiliation at Xinjiang University in 2012-13 and who remains a dear mentor and friend–was published in the Music of Central Asia textbook. Additionally, a short article I co-authored with my friend and fellow Xinjiang studies scholar Darren Byler on the broad topic of popular music in Uyghur society appeared in Pop Culture in Asia and Oceania 

The past year also afforded me numerous opportunities to present my research to a variety of audiences. I gave papers at the Third International Uyghur Studies Conference in Zvenigorod, Moscow, Russia (October 2016); the annual meeting of the Central Eurasian Studies Society in Princeton, NJ (November 2016); and the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology in Washington, D.C. (November 2016). I also delivered an hour-long lecture as part of the University of Arkansas Middle East Studies Center’s speaker series in April 2017 (special thanks to Dr. Kelly Hammond for the invitation!), and in May 2017 I was one of five participants in a collaborative reading workshop on the Tarikh-i Hamidi funded by Henry Luce/ACLS and organized by Dr. Eric Schluessel at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Additionally, I assumed a number of new volunteer and outreach responsibilities over the past year. In September 2016 I took advantage of modernist poet Tahir Hamut’s brief visit to the Midwest to organize a bilingual (Uyghur-English) poetry reading with him on the IU campus. In March 2017 I took charge of organizing a concert and reception for the IU celebration of Navruz (the Persian and Central Asian New Year); I also worked with local businesses to organize a separate off-campus dance night in celebration of the same holiday. Throughout the year I did my best to stay active as a performer and educator of Uyghur music traditions, as well, sharing bits of the Uyghur dutar, folksong, and muqam repertoires with audiences at a number of concerts and events around the IU campus.

Life has been busy with non-research work, as well. Last July I began working at the Indiana University GradGrants Center, where I have delivered numerous workshops and presentations on grant-writing in addition to working one-on-one with scores of graduate students from across the various disciplines at IU to refine proposals for grants from NSF, Fulbright-Hays, SSRC, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, and various other funding agencies. I have also continued to grow my freelance business, teaching Uyghur intensively to a private student over the past year and taking on occasional jobs in editing, grant-writing, and translation. A number of my personal translation projects remain in various stages of completion, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them through to the publication stage.

I’m excited to see what the coming year holds and hope to be around here more often to share news from my professional life in real-ish time. Here’s to the next 525,600 minutes.

Site Updates

After months of silence, I’ve decided to make a few changes around these parts. I’ve already updated my site design and layout; additionally, I am planning to make some other adjustments and add new content/pages over the coming weeks, inshallah. Please bear with me!

“Making Music in Kashgar” Published in IAUNRC Newsletter

The Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center at Indiana University, a center near and dear to my heart for all the support it has offered me throughout my graduate career, recently published a short travelogue of mine in its Spring 2016 newsletter. Check out “Making Music in Kashgar” to read about a lovely experience I had attempting to play Uyghur music with a hobbyist tämburist in Kashgar back in 2014.

Review Published on Dissertation Reviews

A review I wrote in 2015 about my 2014 experience conducting research in a Uyghur music collection at an archive in Stockholm, Sweden has just gone live on Dissertation Reviews as part of their “Fresh From the Archives” and “Performance Studies” series. Please give the review a read and consider arranging research with the collection if you’re interested in Uyghur music and/or diaspora groups.

In the past I have also written about the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum for the site.