Sunday, November 1, 2009


The first thing we figured out in our week of looking up food from Azerbaijan, is that the country's preferred adjective is Azeri. We also discovered that their pop radio stations streaming on the internet really love to play Celine Dion. Mostly, we determined that they have amazing food. Our only sources for recipe inspiration were this wonderful blog from an Azeri woman living in California, and Please to the Table, a mighty book of Soviet recipes published just before the superpower's breakup. Apparently Azeri food was wildly popular with the Soviets and after our dinner we understand why. Seriously, Azerbaijan proved to be a sleeper hit of a cuisine for us. The flavors were unique, strong, and delicious.

Amy and I were very dubious about the food as we researched recipes. We had never before had Azeri food. And there were no Azeri restaurants to test our palates at in Chicago. Many of the flavor pairings seemed too sweet or too strong. But, in the end, it all worked. And all in attendance ate very well!

Eggplant Rolls

Anybody who's eaten at a lot of Italian restaurants is probably familiar with eggplant involtini. This Azeri preparation isn't too different, and we found it was fantastic to serve at room temperature.

3 large eggplants
Paprika Mayonnaise (Add 2 tsp paprika to 1 cup mayonnaise)(preferably homemade)
1 cup crushed walnuts
1 cup chopped parsley
Olive oil

1. Cut eggplants lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices, sprinkle slices with salt, and set aside for 20 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 450 f. Drizzle eggplant slices on each side with olive oil and bake 20 minutes, flipping slices halfway through. Remove when eggplant is browned. Set aside to cool.
3. Spread mayonnaise on each slice, then sprinkle walnuts and parsley over each slice.
4. Starting at the thinner end of each slice, tightly roll the eggplant and fasten with toothpicks.
5. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

Pepper and Pickle Salad

October has now ended and the vegetables are getting more and more scarce at the local markets. Fortunately bell peppers were available in large quantities, and pickles never go bad. We made this Azeri salad as our goodbye to harvest season.

3 bell peppers seeded and cut into thin strips(we had orange and yellow, but red and green work as well)
1 cucumber roughly chopped
2 medium sized dill pickles (4-5 inches long) minced
2 cups pickled buttoncap mushrooms cut in half
2 medium onions thinly sliced
2 carrots cut into thin strips
1/2 packed cup fresh dill
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Add everything else. Toss together and set aside for at least an hour before serving. This can also be made the night before!

Dried Fruit and Saffron Pilaf: Plov

I had no idea pilafs could be such a centerpiece in a meal. The Azeris take their rice very seriously and this pilaf is a great example of this.

2.5 cups Basmati rice
2 sticks butter (don't worry this makes a lot of rice)
1/2 tsp saffron
4 eggs beaten
Dried fruit (we used Apricots and golden raisins)
1/2 cup freshly chopped mint
1 tsp salt

1. Rinse the rice well to remove starch and soak for 30 minutes.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil soaked rice for 8 minutes.
3. Rinse and drain cooked rice.
4. Remove 1 cup rice and combine with beaten eggs and a bit of salt.
5. Heat a large casserole over medium heat and add 1/2 stick butter. When butter melts add the egg and rice mixture and gently heat for five minutes.
6. Add half the rice and another half stick of butter cut up.
7. Add the rest of the rice and yet another half stick of butter.
8. Cover the rice and set heat very low. Stir the mixture gently making sure not to break the egg crust at the bottom every 10 minutes for 30 minutes.
9. Melt the remaining butter and combine with saffron. Add 1 cup finished rice.
10. Put the rest of the rice on a large platter. Sprinkle yellow rice on top of the white. Add the dried fruit and mint and crumble the egg crust over the top.
11. Serve with lots of stew.

Lamb, Pomegranate, and Hazelnut Stew

So complex yet so easy to make. This went great with the pilaf.

2 lbs lamb cut into 1.5 inch cubes
2 cups shelled hazelnuts
1.5 cups crushed walnuts
2 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 tsp dried mint
1.5 cups chicken stock
1 stick cinnamon
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup corn oil
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped mint

1. Heat oil in deep casserole over medium heat. Add onions and sugar and cook ten minutes until the onions have turned translucent.
2. Add the lamb and turmeric and cook a further ten minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients except the mint and hazelnut. Stir, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Cook for a further two hours. All of this can be done the day before.
4. 30 minutes before serving gently reheat the stew over low heat with the hazelnuts. Garnish with mint before serving.

Rose Water and Saffron Sherbet

Gotta be honest with this one. Most of us thought this stuff tasted like a cup of perfume, but a few loved it. I'm sure this matches a lot of peoples' tastes, but I won't be making it again. I must say I still have yet to find a Central Asian dessert I like. Generally I just don't have a sweet enough tooth.

3 cups sugar
2 cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup rosewater
1/2 tsp crushed saffron
Water and ice for serving

1. Combine sugar and water and boil over high heat for 10 minutes until a thick syrup is formed.
2. Add the rosewater, saffron, and lemon. Stir and set aside during the meal.
3. At the end of the meal combine with equal parts water and a few ice cubes in serving cups.
4. Drink slowly as a dessert.

I love food that challenges my taste buds with new combinations of flavors that somehow work together. Azerbaijan's cuisine did exactly that. The meal was unlike any other I've ever made, and I look forward to making much more in the future. Due to the holiday weekend we had to schedule the dinner for a Thursday evening and were a bit more rushed in putting the meal together. Fortunately nearly all of the food kept well and could be made Wednesday night. This gave us plenty of time to drink and socialize while we waited for the pilaf to cook. Also none of the food needed any fancy plating and we were able to simply put it out buffet style in huge family portions. I will definitely be entertaining with mighty pilafs next time I'm in a pinch!

Dominica is next! Afiyæt oslun!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tom it's Nolan, Sam Roberts' friend from college. Question:
    Do you all eat on that small table too? Perhaps it's time to heed the advice of King Arthur, "big tables are awesome." (Photo evidence: