Author: Zohra FARACOVA Baku
The Azerbaijani people have an ancient custom: even a late gate-crasher should not be left outside the door, should be cordially met and treated to dinner. Whether or not the host is well-off, there is always a treat for the visitor.
The people of Azerbaijan have another quite ancient custom of never turning away from someone you have shared bread with - bread and salt are sacred in Azerbaijan.
One of the most ancient countries of the East, Azerbaijan is famous for its rich cuisine. The national cuisine includes nearly 2,000 hot dishes, snacks, sweets, tea and other beverages. But residents of this beautiful land go far beyond just cooking delicious dishes. Tables in Azerbaijanis are laid not only satisfy the stomach but also to delight the eye and soul and get aesthetic pleasure.
English traveler Anthony Jenkinson, who visited Azerbaijan as early as 1562, was struck by a variety of dishes served for dinner in the house of Shirvan ruler Abdulla Khan Ustadcli. "When it was dinner time, a tablecloth was spread out on the floor and meals started being served sequentially. According to my calculations, 140 different dishes were served. Then, new tablecloths were spread out and a further 150 dishes served. Thus, a total of 290 dishes were brought," the English visitor recalled.
Great Turkish 17th century traveler, geographer and scientist Ovliya ?elebi wrote that "thousands of people work in 12 taverns named after the 12 imams here (in Azerbaijan - Z.F.)." Among them he mentions people baking bread and pita, those cooking pilaf, piti, kebabs, halva, sweets, sorbets, tea, etc.
The Azerbaijani cuisine is closely linked with the history, language, customs and traditions of the people. The name, cooking techniques and products used in the dishes reflect the taste, lifestyle and disposition of the local population.
Most dishes and sweets of the Azerbaijani cuisine have several varieties. Sometimes even the same dish is cooked differently in every district of Azerbaijan. For example, the Azerbaijani cuisine has around 200 types of pilaf (rice dish) which is considered a "royal dish" of the national cuisine. Whatever the dearest and most distinguished guests may be treated to, pilaf is always served. There are also special rules for its serving it. Usually the pilaf is brought in a large metal or faience tray, covered with sarpush - a special hood to keep the dish warm. The names of pilaf varieties usually come from the sauces or products that flavor the dish. It may be a meat sauce with dried fruit, fried chicken, greens, etc. But there are exceptions. For example, the Shah pilaf does not indicate the contents of the dish. But the very word "Shah" is enough to guess that you are treated to a dish worthy of shahs.
An important place in the Azerbaijani cuisine belongs to meat dishes. Govurma, bozartma, soyutma are the adornment of any feast. But perhaps no treat is considered complete without the delicious Azerbaijani kebabs, or shishlik (from the Turkic word "shish" - a skewer). Tika kebab and lula kebab (in some regions also known as doyma kebab) made from lamb, chicken kebab, kebab from eggplants seasoned with fat tail, potato kebab, liver kebab, basdirma kebab from veal, fish kebab, etc. The numerous varieties of Azerbaijani kebabs will delight any epicure.
Another signature dish of the Azerbaijani cuisine is dolma, which has more than 30 varieties. The name of this dish comes from the word "doldurmaq", meaning to fill or stuff. To cook it, ground meat (veal, lamb, fish) is wrapped in leaves of grape, quince, beech, cabbage, rumex or spinach. There is another variety of dolma, where eggplants, Bulgarian pepper and tomatoes stuffed with forcemeat. But the most common type of dolma is yarpag dolmasi, which is made from the leaves of grape.
Another dish that has a unique recipe and taste is lavangi, which is mostly cooked in the southern regions of Azerbaijan - Lankaran, Astara, Lerik and Masalli. There are several types of lavangi - chicken, fish, eggplant, etc.
One of the meat dishes of the Azerbaijani cuisine that has a unique flavor is the Shaki piti. It is cooked in clay pots, which lends it a special taste and exotic look.
Farinaceous dish are very popular in some regions of Azerbaijan. The most common of them is gutabs (cakes made of thinly rolled dough with meat, herbs and other ingredients).
In some regions the gutabs dressed with greens are called kata. Large and thin circles are rolled out from hard dough. Half of the circle is covered with a mixture of chopped onions, feta cheese (motal), chopped satinflower, which is covered with the other half. The edges are wrapped and the gutabs are fried on saj (an iron disc where pita bread, thin tortillas, are baked) on both sides. Then a piece on butter is put over them and the dish is served. It is eaten with curdled milk. Instead of satinflower, kata can be dressed with young nettles, spinach leaves, beetroot leaves, a mixture of potatoes and onions, etc. Minced meat and potatoes are also used. But the most delicious is kata made from satinflower. Gutabs-kata have relatively large dimensions and are dressed with only herbs or vegetables. They are eaten both hot and cold.
It is also worth trying such national dishes as arzuman kuftasi, jiz-biz, yayma, firni, kufta-bozbash, parcha-bozbash, khingal, etc.
When cooking the dishes of the Azerbaijani cuisine, spices and herbs are widely used. Saffron, cumin, anise, bay leaf, mint, cilantro seeds, basil, thyme, dill, parsley, etc. impart the dish a unique taste.
People in Azerbaijan follow certain rules before starting a meal. First they serve freshly infused tea (sometimes with various herbs or spices). It helps prepare the stomach for food and establish communication between the guests. The food is served afterwards. As a rule, dovga (curdled milk with rice and herbs) is served in the end, which promotes good digestion.
A special place in the Azerbaijani cuisine belongs to salads such as Azerbaijan, Shaki, bahar, toyug salati, choban salati, etc. The mineral waters Turshsu, Istisu, Sirab, Badamli, etc. not only adorn the tables but are also good for your health.
Typically, lunch and dinner are completed with dessert - shakarbura, baklava, the Baku kurabie, the Karabakh kata, the Guba tikhma, the Lankaran kulcha, the Shamakhi mutakka, etc.
The uniqueness of the Azerbaijani cuisine is also linked to the diversity and quality of products the generous land of Azerbaijan is so rich in.
A feast is also one of the symbols of the family in Azerbaijan. According to the tradition, the table is laid only after the whole family is gathered at home. The elderly usually sit at the top and begin to eat first. It is inappropriate to touch food or leave the table before them. While at the table, talk as little as possible, and if a conversation starts, it can only be about something good and pleasant. Even if there are problems, they should not be discussed at the table.
First, rice is boiled in salted water. Meat is salted and peppered, and smeared with a sour plum jelly. The bottom and the walls of the cauldron are smeared with oil and covered with lavash (unleavened white bread as thin as paper). Thus, the bottom and the walls of a cauldron are covered with lavash, resulting in a kind of cauldron inside a cauldron. Next, the bottom of the cauldron is covered with boiled rice in a layer 5 cm thick. Placed over it are chestnuts, prunes and raisins, which are also covered with a 5-cm layer of rice. This is followed by a layer of meat, which is also covered with boiled rice and dried fruits. After adding the remainder of the rice, the edges of lavash are folded counterclockwise inside the cauldron and covered with five more layers of buttered lavash. The cauldron is covered with a lid and put into the oven. Every 40 minutes the cauldron is taken out and oil is added to the edges. It s cooked for three hours at a temperature of 1,3000 C. When lavash browns, the dish is removed from the oven, the oil is drained into a separate bowl and the cauldron is flipped on a large plate. It looks like a cake stuffed with rice, meat and dried fruit. Shah pilaf is cut like a pie.
Mutton - 330 grams, rump - 20 grams, onions - 20 grams, green onions - 40 grams, parsley and basil - 15 grams, flour - 45 grams, sumac - 3 grams, salt and pepper. The flesh of mutton is minced together with onions, salted and peppered, mixed and placed in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. The forcemeat is placed on a rod, giving it an oblong shape and put on a brazier with smoldering charcoal. The meat is then wrapped in lavash and served. Lula kebabs are served with sumac, sliced onions and roasted tomatoes.
Crushed walnuts - 100 grams, two medium-sized red onions, 1 tablespoon of melted butter, 3-4 tablespoons of lavashana (pastille from plum, dogwood, etc.), salt and pepper.
Walnuts should be carefully crushed. Onions are cleaned, cut and pressed, and wrapped in gauze. Then they fried in a pan without oil until they become quite soft. Then it is cooled. Lavashana is crumbled and covered with water to soften. It is then mixed and, if necessary, more water is added. Instead of dry lavashana you can also use plum pastille.
Walnuts, melted butter, salt, pepper and thin lavashana are mixed in one container. Wings and legs of a chicken carcass are cut off, the chicken is stuffed with the above mixture and sewn. It is pierced under the wings and legs. The remaining stuffing covers the chicken. The dish is cooked for an hour at 1800S.
Mutton - 100 grams, onions - 20 grams, lavashana - 15 grams or pomegranates - 20 grams, flour - 110 grams, melted butter - 30 grams, sumac - 3 grams, pepper - 0.1 grams, salt.
Stiff dough is made from flour and salt water. It is rolled out to 0.5-1 mm thick and circles the size of a small saucer are made in it. The stuffing is made of meat and onions with pomegranate seeds or lavashana. The mixture is placed on the ready dough circles which are then folded in the shape of a crescent. Gutabs are fried in butter and sprinkled with sumac before being served.
Mutton - 180 grams, rice - 30 grams, onions - 20 grams, fresh herbs (cilantro, dill and mint) - 15 grams, young leaves of grapes - 40 grams, curdled milk, sour milk - 20 grams, melted butter - 10 grams, salt, pepper, cinnamon.
Mutton is minced together with onions, adding rice, chopped herbs, salt, pepper and sometimes soaked peas. Fresh grape leaves are scalded with boiling water, while marinated ones are boiled until half cooked. The forcemeat is mixed and around 25 grams of meat is wrapped in every leaf. The wrapped leaves are placed in rows in a large cauldron and put on the stove, pouring water into it to the upper layer. Ready dolma is served with curdled milk in a separate bowl.
Boneless lamb - 163 grams, rump - 20 grams, rice - 15 grams, plum - 30 grams, peas - 25 grams, potatoes - 150 grams, onions - 18 grams, saffron - 0.1 grams, dried mint - 0.1 grams. Salt and pepper are added to taste. In the summer you can replace saffron with tomatoes (50 grams).
Each serving if piti has two to three 55-60-gram pieces of mutton. Peas are soaked in cold water for four to five hours. The meat and the peas are put in a special piti pot and cooked on low heat. Thirty minutes left for the dish to be cooked add potatoes, coarsely chopped onions, cherry plums, salt and saffron juice. Piti is usually served in the same pot. An empty plate called kasa (maskura), sumac and peeled onions are put alongside.