For the first night of the ‘Countries of the World Challenge’, I decided to cook a dish from Azerbaijan. I would love to say my reason for choosing this country is because I am very well-traveled and have visited on numerous occasions, or because I love Azerbaijani art and culture but the fact is, I chose it because I like the name and the way it sounds and in actual fact I really don’t know much about Azerbaijan at all!
As my knowledge about the country in question is rather sparse, I decided to do a bit of research. Here’s a brief run down of key facts…
- Geography: Azerbaijan is situated at the cross roads of Europe and Asia; it is bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran.
- Population: 9.8 million.
- Languages: Azeri, Russian.
- Religion: Primarily Islam.
- Exports: Oil and oil products.
Azerbaijani cuisine is heavily influenced by middle Eastern cuisine from countries such as neighbouring countries, Iran and Russia, and near neighbours Turkey. This influence is apparent in popular dishes such as Lyulya Kebob, a meat kebab barbecued on a skewer, served with flat breads called lavash, and Dolma, vine leaves or cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, minced lamb, herbs and spices. Russian dishes such as borsch are also frequently served in various parts of the country.
Fresh vegetables and herbs featured heavily in Azerbaijani cuisine due to being readily available; dishes vary according to season and availability. Fish is also popular due to the sea cost to the East.
Possibly the most popular dish in Azerbaijan is Plov, otherwise known as pilaf, a rice dish well-known across the globe with regional variations. There are numerous different varieties of Plov in Azerbaijan such as Toyug Plov, Chicken plov, Shirin Plov, dried fruit plov and Sheshryanch Plov, plov with fried eggs, greens and onions. Plov is a traditional dish cooked in many households around the country and is also served at celebrations such as weddings and funerals. Azerbaijani plov has three specific elements – saffron rice, meat/eggs/dried fruit and herbs.
Recipe taken from SBS
1kg lamb, diced
2 onions. diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, peeled and diced
100g dried apricots, halved
75g cooked chestnuts, halved
250g long grain rice
Pinch of saffron threads
Flat leaf parsley
1) Heat a large pan, add the lamb and cook for roughly 4 minutes until browned before transferring to a bowl.
2) Add garlic, carrots and onions to the hot pan and cook for roughly 6 minutes until golden.
3) Add the lamb back to the pan along with the cumin, apricots, chestnuts and 400ml of water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for an hour until the lamb is tender.
4) 20 minutes before the lamb is done, start the rice by adding it to a pan along with the saffron and beef stock. Add a further dash of water to the pan, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the rice is cooked and the stock has been absorbed, roughly 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to stand, covered, for a further 10 minutes.
5) Spoon the rice mixture onto a platter or plate, top with the lamb and scatter parsley.
Neil admits he was a little sceptical about this dish as he really isnt too keen on mixing meat with fruit but oh my word it was good, we both thoroughly enjoyed it! The lamb was meltingly tender and the apricots and chesnuts offered a hint of sweetness, perfectly offset by the beefy rice. This dish was a winner in the Runchman household and one we will most definitely be cooking again, it is so quick and simple it would be silly not to!