The Uighurs share with their close cousins the Uzbeks a delicious pulao tradition. Pulao or pilaf is the name for a rice dish that is cooked together with flavorings, most often including meat, and water, to make a generous one-dish main course. It’s a dish of celebration, for rice is a luxury food in the oases of western China, while bread and noodles are the everyday foods.
The pulao idea seems to have spread out from the sophisticated cuisine of Persia (Iran), radiating east along the Silk Road and west into Arab-held lands (and eventually through the Arabs to Spain, where it became paella). It also traveled south into Afghanistan and eventually to the Indian Subcontinent with the Mogul invaders. Along the way, it was adapted to local conditions in interesting ways.
In Uighur hands, pulao is most often cooked in a q’azan, a wide shallow wok-like pan. We use a wide heavy pot or sometimes a very large wok. As with paella or risotto, the flavor base cooks first, in oil, then water is added to make a broth. Finally the rice is added and cooks in the broth, absorbing flavor, to make a wonderful backdrop for the chicken and pumpkin here. Serve with a salad or two.
Chicken-Quince Pulao: Quinces are a common fruit in the Silk Road oases in the autumn. They look like knobby yellow apples and are very hard. They have a delicious sweet-acid flavor when cooked and, when available, are often used in Uighur pulaos as a foil for the meat. You can include 1 or 2 small quinces, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks, instead of the pumpkin or in addition.