At first glance (and at second and third), Azeri cuisine resembles both in name and form the cuisine of its neighboring countries. Indeed, it seems to me that Azeri cuisine falls right within what I now suspect is a large Persian-Ottoman culinary tradition. It's therefore not surprising that I have encountered versions of many typical Azeri dishes in my previous culinary journeys. Azeris love kebabs (skewered meats), for example, and even have their own versions of kofta (meatballs, ). They serve a variety of dolmas (stuffed vegetables) and among their desserts you can find such Middle Eastern favorites as baklava and halva. They even have a type of meat turnovers called kutabs which are extremely reminiscent of Argentine empanadas. And of course, the crown of any meal is a well-known pilaf.
I was thus a bit skeptical when I read that Azeris consider their cuisine to be "unique and original" and unable to be confused with that of any other nation. While I still believe that such statements are exaggerations, to say the least, I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of Azeri cuisine. Azeris may not have created most of their dishes out of nothingness, but they seem to have reduced well-traveled dishes to their bare essences, so as to produce the most simple and delicious recipes. I was able to cook the whole meal I served in about two hours - certainly a record for me.
Most of the recipes I found online seem to be those for traditional Azeri dishes. It's likely that many of these are no longer commonly made. During the Soviet occupation, state workers and students would eat at government-run cafeterias where Russian food preponderated and thus Azerbaijanis got used to Russian food. Indeed I wonder if some of the ingredients that I encountered in my Azeri journey, such as sour cream and salmon, are Russian in origin.
I chose the dishes I made based on their simplicity (I now have a small baby which makes it impossible for me to spend long hours in the kitchen), the ubiquity of the required ingredients and the overall balance of the meal. For the first time I chose not to make a dessert and served ice cream instead. My reason was that most of the desserts I found were for syrupy Middle-Eastern type sweets which I know I don't like and had no desire to make and while I found a couple of recipes for cake, I didn't really want to bother.
My final menu consisted of:
- Salad with smoked salmon
a simple greens & tomato salad spiced up by salmon filled hard-boiled eggs
- Djudja Kebab
- Parcha Doshamya Plov
a sweet pilaf featuring lamb, dried fruits and walnuts
- Store-bought ice cream
With the meal I served Ovshala, a home-made rose petal drink.
It was all in all a very successful meal, at least from a culinary point of view. From a social point of view I learned that my 3-month old baby is not ready for dinner interaction just yet so it'll probably be a while before I cook for company again.
With this meal I finish my culinary adventure into "A" cuisines. It took me almost 2 ½ years but I'm finally done with the first letter of the alphabet. Hurrah!
Azeri Food Links