AZERBAIJAN

The tricolour is similar to the earlier design used by the SSR. The blue symbolises the Turkish heritage, the red stands for progress and the green represents Isalm, which is the symbolises Islam.
COUNTRYAzerbaijan
DishesPlov & Qutab & Saffra-rice
Time Plov = 1hr , Qutab = 1hr
Effort 6-7 / 10
Rough cost £30 (the lamb was expensive)
COUNTRY Azerbaijan
Capital Baku
Population 10, 027, 874 (90th biggest)
Land mass 86, 600 km2 (112th largest)
Languages Azerbaijani (North + Iranian dialects)
ReligionsIslam (96%)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A cool fact about Azerbaijan is that out of the 11 climate zones, it has 9. This contributes to the fertility of the Azerbaijani soil and the cuisine incorporates lots of delicious vegetables and herbs.

Plov is the most reputed dish of Azerbaijan and is always served with saffron rice, as saffron is grown domestically on the Absheron Peninsula (where Baku, the capital, is). Fish is also a staple, thanks to the countries proximity to the Caspain Sea.

We had a lovely meal and it was the first we had been able to cook together at home since the 1st meal in Afghanistan. A lovely way to finish the A’s!

RECIPES

Plov

Plov seems to be a dish synonymous with pilaf or pilau. It is a rice dish, cooked with spices and served with meat or vegetables. The ‘stew’ can be cooked with the rice or cooked separately. I watched a few clips on YouTube and read several recipes – there are as many ways of making plov as there are people in Azerbaijan, it seems! The main similarity is that the serving of plov is a special occasion and should be done with flare and theatre. It is a dish found at celebrations and can contain sparklers and candles, just like a birthday cake. I made my own version inspired by my research and the dish turned out just fine. I include a fairly prescriptive recipe, but feel free to improvise.

INGREDIENTS (feeds 6)

  1.  1 kg of cubed lamb shoulder (leg is fine)
  2.  300g dried fruit – I used apricots, prunes and golden raisins
  3.  3 medium sized onions, sliced from root to tip
  4.  2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  5.  50g butter
  6.  Salt and pepper

Added vegetables are optional. I put in a couple of carrots and a leek because they needed using up. Vegetables also make your meat go further, making the dish cheaper to prepare. You could cook a purely vegetable stew and use olive oil, making this dish vegan.

METHOD

  • Take your sliced onions and fry in the butter until they are soft and sweet – about 10  minutes at a medium heat. Place in your stock pot.
  •  Remove the onions and use the same pan to brown the lamb cubes. Depending on the size of your pan you may have to do this in batches.
  •  Put the browned lamb, garlic, vegetables if using, and fruit into the stock pot with the onions and add enough water to just cover. Season with a good pinch of salt and 1/2tsp of pepper. Never fully season a dish until it is finished, as flavour develops during cooking.
  •  Bring to the boil, cover and lower to a gentle simmer for at least an hour, or until the lamb is meltingly soft and the sauce is rich and delicious. There is no reason this step cannot be done in advance or even the day before. A slow cooker would also be a good way of preparing this stew.
  •  To finish, you may need to cook off some of the liquid if the sauce is too thin and you may need to adjust the seasoning.
  •  Serve with a flourish on a large platter, resting on a colourful bed of buttery safflower rice.

Qutab (vegan)

These were absolutely lovely. One thing I will say is that make sure the dough is not too wet, so err on the side of dry when adding water. Also, I recommend adding spicy green peppers (we used pickled ones), as this really gives them a kick. Worked lovely heated up the next day with leftovers and some mango chutney!

INGREDIENTS

Dough

  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Filling

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped coriander
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped mint
  • 3 green peppers (spicy!), finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup of vegan cheese (I used violife cheddar), chopped up.

METHOD

  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and mix in the water with a wooden spoon, a little at a time, until a solid mass forms. It is important that the dough is not too wet and sticky, so go slowly with the water. Leave this to cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the oil and knead the dough on a floured worktop until the dough is soft and pliable. Cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, fry the onions and spring onions in some oil. Then mix this into a bowl with all the other ingredients.
  4. Now take the dough and divide it into balls of 100 grams each.
  5. Roll a ball into very thin circle on a floured worktop with a rolling pin, making sure it doesn’t stick.
  6. Evenly spread a heaped tbsp of filling onto one half of the circle. Then dab the edges with water and fold the other half of the dough over, sealing the edges. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
  7. Heat vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet and then keep it on a medium heat. Fry the qutab for around four minutes on each side. The dough should turn a nice brown colour and don’t worry about any black bits. The qutab should be flat and floppy.
  8. We kept them hot in the oven and then served with the Plov and the rice. They act as a delicious spoon-shovel type instrument!

Safflower Rice

There were many ways to cook the rice, but I am not very confident when it comes to cooking rice and so I sort of used the recipes as inspiration for doing it my own way…

I had never used safflower before but thought I would give it a go – much cheaper than saffron. Do use saffron if safflowers are hard to source. Or just use turmeric as it keeps the cost of the dish down – the colour is the main thing as you serve and a lot of the flavour comes from the butter, so it will not detract from the enjoyment of the dish, it will just taste different. 

INGREDIENTS

  •  800g Basmati rice
  •  100g butter
  •  Tbsp. turmeric
  •  Safflower petals

METHOD

  •  Soak the rice in cold water for ½ hr.
  •  Melt the butter and stir in the turmeric.
  •  Rinse the rice thoroughly, until the water is clear.
  •  Cover with water in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan and bring to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes.
  •  Strain the rice until almost all the water is removed and return to the pan, in layers! Add rice, pour on some turmeric butter, stir, sprinkle on safflower petals and the repeat in layers until all the rice is dressed.
  •  Take a damp tea towel, place over the pan, secure with the lid and return to the lowest heat. Make sure your tea towel is not touching the cooker!
  •  Cook like this for ½ hr. I really did not think it would work, but half an hour later I had perfect, bright yellow rice, fluffy and ready to serve. 
  •  You do end up with a crust on the bottom of the pan – this is good! Just peel it off and serve on the side. In some recipes, they make a crust on purpose with raw, soaked rice, flour and egg and plaster the bottom of the pan, making this crust into a biscuit that is eaten with the plov! I will be trying that next time.
çox sağ ol and see you in the Bahamas! M + B 

#azerbaijan #worldfood #plov #vegan #travel

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