Azerbaijan

Clarified Butter

Ghee

Serves: 10
Cooking Time: 30 minutes-1 hour, as you wish
Note: You can buy industrially produced ghee for convenience or make your own. The flavor of your ghee will vary depending on the flavor of cream that was used to make the butter and how long you cook the butter. The longer you simmer it, the stronger and nuttier the flavor. 
Perfect with: Azerbaijani yellow rice, Azerbaijani beef, Indian roti

Ingredients

  • 1 stick butter

Equipment

  • small pot
  • serving spoon for skimming
  • cereal bowl

Instructions

1. Put a stick of butter in a pan on medium low. Let cook until the butter turns a clear amber color underneath a thin layer of solids on top. Be careful to not let any solids that drop to the bottom burn by adjusting your heat level a little lower.

2. Let the butter and solids cook for a while on the lowest setting to let the flavor of caramelizing milk solids (on the bottom) enter the fat. Scoop the solids off the top (discard) and pour clear butter into a bowl, not including the solids that sank to the bottom. 

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Azerbaijani Beef With Chestnuts and Sour Plums

Turshu Kourma

As Zemfira and Tarlan Ahmadov from Baku, Azerbaijan, showed Lindsay Sterling in Portland, Maine. Photos by Tiffany Converse.

Cooking Time: 2 hours
Serves: 4-6
Note: Persian dried golden prunes, also known as sour plums, are can be found at Middle Eastern markets. They do have pits so warn your guests. Great substitutes that are pit-free and taste great are dried apricots sliced in half, dried cherries, or dried cranberries. The cherries are my favorite because their flavor is both sweet and sour like the original golden prunes.

Note: She served this with yellow rice, a fresh vegetable platter, and pickled vegetables. 

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cubed beef (stew meat)
  • 2 onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp ghee 
  • 1 cup Persian sour plums (substitute dried cherries, apricots, or cranberries)
  • about 40 fresh chestnuts from produce department 
  • or 20 prepared (peeled and cooked) chestnuts from a jar or Cryovac-ed

Equipment

  • large pot
  • knife
  • cutting board
  • 2 large saute pans, at least one with lid 
  • medium saute pan
  • mixing spoon
  • medium bowl
  • large bowl
  • spoon
  • strainer and pot or slotted spoon
  • 1 tsp (or eyeball it)

Instructions

1. If using prepared chestnuts you can skip this step. If using fresh chestnuts, make an "x" with a knife in the base of each chestnut, and then boil for five-seven minutes. Preferably sit with a loved one as you two then peel off the hard shells and dark skins together.

2. Cook beef cubes covered in salted water for an hour and a half or 15 minutes in a pressure cooker.

3. Soak dried fruit in a dish of water (wash any salt off sour prunes if there is any). 

4. Remove beef from broth with a slotted spoon or strain beef, reserving the both.

5. In large saute pan (with lid) on medium heat, saute onions nearly covered in oil and sprinkled generously with turmeric, until they cook down to half their original size.

6. In another large saute pan, saute meat on high heat in a small amount of oil for about ten minutes to brown the sides. Remove meat and put the meat in with the onions on medium-low.

7. Strain the dried fruit. In the large saute pan you used to saute the meat, saute the dried fruit in a teaspoon of ghee for five minutes on medium, and then add the fruit to the with the meat and onions.

8. In the same pan you used to saute the dried fruit, add another teaspoon of ghee and sautee the chestnuts until they're golden. Add the chestnuts to the onions and beef.

9. Now continue to cook all the ingredients together on medium-low for about 45 minutes mostly with lid on, occasionally turning the contents gently, and adding spoonfulls of beef broth here and there to keep everything moist and together but not saucy.

The Ahmadovs (right and center) share their favorite dishes from Azerbaijan.

Serve beef and chestnuts with Azerbaijani yellow rice, fresh vegetable platter, and pickled vegetables if you wish. 

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Azerbaijani Cornish Hen

As Zemfira Ahmadov, from Baku Azerbaijan, taught Lindsay Sterling in Portland, Maine. Photos by Matt Boutet.

Serves: 10 with many other dishes present, 6 as a main dish
Cooking Time: 1 hr
Note:
Perfect with:
Azerbaijani yellow rice, fresh vegetable platter, pickled vegetable platter

Ingredients

  • 1 cornish hen
  • 2 onions
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 cup ghee
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tomato
  • 8 eggs
  • pinch citric acid (optional)

Instructions

1. Remove any parts from the cavity of the cornish hen. Cut hen into bone-in pieces: wings, legs, breasts, thigh. Trim off any excess fat and the very wing tips and discard. Slice each breast piece across twice so you have three smaller pieces, about the size of a leg or wing. Place in a large soup pot on high with about 1/4 cup water.

2. Slice the onions into 1/4" thick moons, and add to pot with 1/2 cup ghee, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp turmeric, and 1/4 tsp fresh cracked pepper. Lower heat to 8 out of 10, and cover with lid.

3. Let cook, stirring once in a while, until onions are almost disintegrated. Turn down heat or add a little water if contents threaten to burn. Cut off tomato skin with paring knife, cut out and discard stem, dice flesh and add to pot. Let cook ten minutes more.

4. Scramble 8 eggs in separate bowl. Stir in a pinch of citric acid if you wish (it's super sour, literally a pinch will do), and then pour eggs into the pot with the chicken. Stir and let cook just until egg solidifies. Spoon hen and egg mixture into a serving dish and serve with platter of yellow rice. You may warn guests that there are bones in the cornish hen dish.

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Azerbaijani Caramel

Halva

As Afet Nadirova from Baku, Azerbaijan, taught Lindsay Sterling in South Portland, Maine.

Serves: about 30

Cooking Time: about 1 hr 

Ingredients

  • 3 sticks butter
  • 2-3 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

Accompaniments:

  • fresh grapes
  • fresh strawberries
  • fresh blackberries  
  • Earl Gray tea
  • cardamon
  • 1 lemon, sliced

Instructions

1. In a 6 quart soup pot, mix sugar and water and heat until the sugar dissolves and you have simple syrup. Remove from heat.

2. In a large saute pan with at least 2-inch high sides, melt the butter. Turn to low heat (setting 3 out of 10). Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and flour mixture is a thick dough that looks like maple sugar candy, roux, or peanut butter cookie dough.

3. Continue to mash the mixture with the back of the spoon, and stir around for about 50 minutes.

4. When the mixture turns from a dry dough to a thick paste with a wet shimmer to it, add a pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp turmeric, and keep stirring.

5. Put a pot of water on for tea. 

6. When the color of the mixture has darkened to a deep caramel, remove from stove and put the pan on a trivet on the counter. (This should be just shy of an hour after starting)

7. Steep earl gray tea with cardamom pods. 

8. Pour the simple syrup into the butter and flour mixture, stirring as vigorously as you can with the spoon without splashing. Use enough of the simple syrup to make a thick paste that's between a liquid and a solid.

9. Fill salad plates with large spoonfuls that spread out to the edges of the plate. Decorate the top of the halva by imprinting the tip of the spoon repeatedly, making a decoration of three columns of indents. 

10. Serve plates of halva to guests along with an assortment of other chocolates and pastries, fresh fruit, and Earl Grey tea steeped with cardamom.

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Azerbaijani Yellow Rice

Pilaf

As Zemfira Ahmadov, from Baku, Azerbaijan, taught Lindsay Sterling in Portland, ME.

Serves: 10
Cooking Time: 1/2 hour active, 2 hours total
Note: The rice has a wonderful scent, flavor, and texture - individualized and firm - not soft or mushy. 
Perfect with: meat dishes such as Azerbaijani cornish hen, or Azerbaijani beef.

Ingredients

  • 3 c. basmati rice
  • large tortilla or potato sliced into 1/4 inch planks
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/3 c. ghee (a little less than a stick of butter's worth)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Equipment

  • large pot with tightly fitting lid
  • clean cloth towel
  • strainer
  • small plate
  • large serving platter

Instruction

1. Cover rice generously with water in a large bowl and massage rice to aid rinsing off white powder. Strain. Boil rice as you would pasta, for 8 minutes, and strain. It should be slightly uncooked and not yet fragrant or flavorful. Strain and let dry for 5-10 min.

2. Melt ghee in microwave or stovetop. Oil the bottom of a large pot and fit large tortilla in the bottom of the pot. With a small bowl or dessert plate take some of the rice out of the strainer and sprinkle it into the tortilla. Repeat, making a mountain of fluffed rice in the tortilla with the mountain peak in the middle of the pot.

3. Once you have a mountain of fluffed rice in the pot, sprinkle turmeric all over the top like the mountain is dusted with yellow snow.

4. Pour melted ghee in a small stream over the surface area of the rice mountain with a small drizzle as possible.

5. Cover the opening of the pot with two layers of paper towels or a clean cloth towel. Seal the lid over the towel, which keeps condensation from dripping back down into the rice. Fold edges of towel on top of lid so they don't dangle by any fire. Cook on low, setting 4 out of 10, for 1 1/2 hours.

6. Use a small dessert or salad plate to lift the rice out of the pot and toss the rice lightly onto a platter. The goal is for the rice to be fluffed onto the platter. 

 

 

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Azerbaijani Lamb Soup

Khamrashy

As Zemfira and Tarlan Ahmadov from Baku, Azerbaijan, showed Lindsay Sterling in Portland, Maine. 

Serves: 10 as a first course
Cooking Time: 2 hours
Perfect with: Azerbaijani beef with chestnutsyellow rice, fresh vegetable platter, and a small bowl of pickled vegetables

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground lamb (preferably not super lean)
  • 1/2 tsp salt + more to taste
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • water
  • dash turmeric
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black eyed peas or kidney beans (if using canned, use 1 can strained and rinsed)
  • dried mint
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Instructions

1. Make lamb meatballs. Fine dice half an onion, mix into ground lamb with a little salt, and form meatballs that are about the diameter of a quarter. Simmer the meatballs gently in water (which becomes the broth of your soup) for forty minutes, discarding foam or oils that rise to the top with a spoon.

2. Make fresh pasta by hand. It's easy once you know how to do it. In a large mixing bowl make a well in 3 cups flour and fill it with one egg. Mix the egg with your pointer finger around and around faster than meets the eye. Then once the egg is mixed start widening the circle you're drawing with your finger to incorporate flour from the edges of the well. As you do this, pour water slowly from a cup into the egg mixture, allowing you to continue mixing your wet whirl into the dry flour around it until you have a dry dough that is soft and pliable. Continue folding the dough on top of itself so that it's uniform.

3. Split the dough into three equal sized balls. Make them nice and round by pulling the edges of each ball and pressing them into the bottom of it. Let the three balls rest in the center of the flour bowl, covered with a cloth for twenty minutes.

4. On a clear table or counter top, pat one of the balls of dough into a circle. Then roll it out with a rolling pin into a large thin sheet. You'll need to sprinkle flour liberally on the dough as you are rolling it out.  Also, intermittently lift the sheet off the counter and flour the other side.

5. Once you have a nice big thin sheet about the thickness of a piece of construction paper, fold the outside edges of the sheet into the middle, and then fold the shape in half making the crease where the edges are. Now you have a really long rectangle. Shorten the rectangle by folding it in half again.

6. Cut across this packet into thin strips with a chef knife, making fresh pasta. To help cut parrallel lines (making noodles with even width) use the hand not holding the knife as a guide. What I mean is: stick the elbow of the hand not holding the knife out in front of you. Then put that hand along the short length of the dough to visually guide the parallel line where to cut across the dough. 

7. Once you've cut the noodles, toss the noodles so they're dusted in flour and stay separate from each other. Repeat with the other two dough balls.

8. Turn the soup to medium high. When it's simmering, add black eyed peas, a dash of turmeric, and a couple handfuls of fresh pasta. Reserve the rest of the pasta, covered in the fridge, for any fresh pasta dish you like tomorrow. 

9. When pasta's done and the soup has slightly thickened from the pasta starch, it's done. Sprinkle each bowl with dried mint. Serve with small vessel of balsamic for people to drizzle on top.

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