Sunday, July 8, 2012

AZERBAIJAN: THE FOOD


Ah… this was the perfect summer meal. And we’ve been having quite a summer so far! We’ve had 4-5 days in the past week where temperatures hit over 100 degrees in Indianapolis. You know it’s hot when the temperatures drop over 10 degrees, and you still top out at 92.

This past week we celebrated the 4th of July, and because it was so hot, we decided to bring dishes that wouldn’t require using the oven. So, I came across the Fountains Square chicken salad, named after a popular section of Baku. It immediately caught my attention because I live just south of the Fountain Square cultural neighborhood in Indianapolis.  This chicken salad adds diced cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley to the diced chicken and mayonnaise. I, however, minced one clove of garlic and added some smoked paprika to it, so I hope the people from Fountains Square don’t mind! (Because it was awesome!)

Chicken salad filled with awesome. The smoked paprika did it: they need to just go ahead and write it into the recipe. 
 Today’s bread is tandir choreyi, or sometimes called tandoori bread. It’s a very yeasty bread which makes it smell wonderful, and I got the crumb just right. Even the kids thought it was one of the best parts of the meal. There was a lot of rest time with periodic kneading in between. The one key difference in this bread than the other breads I’ve made so far is that this one used a yogurt glaze (1 tablespoon of plain yogurt – I used a Greek yogurt – to 3 tablespoons of water) on top, and I sprinkled the top with sesame seeds. Even though my husband hates “debris” on his bread, I used them anyway, and he ate it, and he liked it. So there. (But you know if I bring it up, he'll say "Oh, I noticed, I just chose not to say anything.") Luckily, it only had to bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or so. It will go nicely with the chai spice tea I just bought. Tea is really popular in Azerbaijan, as well as throughout this region, but I think they use more of a black tea.

The bread I've dreamed of only in dreams. Yes, I do dream about bread. 
One of the most common recipes I kept coming across as a national dish was plov. It calls for basmati rice (for which I realized I only had jasmine rice on hand) and lots of butter. It’s topped with saffron-infused water. At the bottom of the pot is a piece of flat bread. It called for lavash, but all I had on hand was a pita. It still turned out absolutely delicious! At different times of the year, other ingredients are added, like locals fruits (apricots, raisins, etc.) during the summer or other bolder spices during the winter.
This picture does no justice to how it melts in your mouth and comforts your soul.
 I decided to go with kebabs. I went with both lamb (to my friend’s chagrin) and chicken. Both were interlaced with pieces of onion (I substituted Vidalia onions instead of red onions). I got my husband to start to grill, something we’ve been avoiding in the past weeks because we weren’t sure if using grills were part of the burn ban. (We still weren’t sure, but we did it anyway.) Both recipes called for sumac, but I couldn’t find it, so I made a lemon-sea salt mixture. After they came off the grill, I applied the lemon-salt mixture to the chicken, and I used a pomegranate sauce I found onto the lamb. Move over Thai peanut sauce and red-wine gravy, I think we have a new contender for the Favorite Sauce Contest.

You know that looks good. I could probably eat this whole picture by myself. 
Lastly, we needed some vegetables. The cucumber-tomato salad was the perfect answer to this summer meal. Obviously there are diced cucumbers and tomatoes, but there is also a little diced green pepper and some onion. I added parsley flakes, some cilantro (not called for in the recipe), a touch of cardamom (also not called for) and a liberal amount of ground coriander. I drizzled olive oil on top of it as well as a small amount of balsamic vinegar (not called for, but I feel it goes with olive oil better than Popeye does.) The key part is to let it sit for a while and let the flavors mesh. A couple hours should do it.

You know what would make this better? Garbanzo beans. 
 I’ve noticed that after each meal, I will usually say something to the effect that it was incredible and really good, and can it get better than that, and so on. But this time… Well, ok, you’re right: that’s exactly what I was gonna say. There’s no other way around it. It WAS incredible and really good. If there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from this meal is that if THAT’S the kind of bread they have, it’s no wonder that bread is a staple to their culture. I’d eat it with every meal too. 

The final product. I really just want some more now. And I'm not even hungry. But that shouldn't matter, should it?
Up next: Bahamas

Resources:
Toyug chicken kebab: http://www.news.az/recipes/27648
Azerbaijani Fountains Square salad (favvaralar meydani salati): http://www.news.az/recipes/27252
Tomato and cucumber salad (Çoban salati): http://www.news.az/recipes/29236

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