The Recipe

The Ahmadov's Favorite Azerbaijani Meal

As Zemfira and Tarlan from Baku, Azerbaijan, showed Lindsay Sterling January 2011, in Portland, Maine.

Serves about 8
Active time: I think she did it in 4-5 hours

Ahead of time:

- Make ghee. The Ahmadovs use ghee a lot so they make a big crock that they use up in a month's time (making your own ghee is a lot cheaper than buying it, she says). I suggest making ghee out of one stick of butter for this meal. Put a stick of butter in a pan on medium low. Let cook until butter turns a clear amber color underneath thin layer of solids on top, being careful to not let any solids that drop to the bottom burn. Scoop solids off the top (discard) and pour clear butter into a dish, not including the solids that sank to the bottom. Later you'll pour most of the ghee into the rice, and you'll use two teaspoons of it in the meat dish.

- Cook chestnuts (or skip this step by buying them jarred already prepared). Score the bottoms of chestnuts, make an x, then boil for five-seven minutes. Preferably sit with a loved one and you two then peel off the hard shells and dark skins together.

- Cook beef cubes covered in salted water for an hour and a half.

- Make lamb meatballs for soup. Fine dice half an onion, mix into ground lamb with a little salt, and form meatballs (make them smaller than you'd think - about the diameter of a quarter). Simmer meatballs gently in water (which becomes the broth of your soup) for forty minutes.

Awesome Yellow Rice

3 c. basmati rice
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/3 c. ghee (a little less than a stick of butter)

Rinse rice in strainer over running water for at least a minute. Soak in cold water (if water is still cloudy, keep rinsing until it's clear.) 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 20 minutes. Oil the bottom of a large pot with tightly fitting lid, fit large tortilla in the bottom of the pot (so the rice doesn't stick). With a small bowl, 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 that does not touch the sides of the pan. Sprinkle turmeric all over the top like the mountain is dusted with yellow snow. Pour melted ghee in a small stream over the surface area of the rice mountain with a small drizzle as possible. Line a tight lid with two layers of paper towels, overlappign edges so the paper when you seal the lid is taught. Cook on low for 1-2 hours. The rice has a wonderful scent, flavor, and texture - individualized and firm - not soft or mushy.

Lamb Soup with Black-Eyed Peas and Homemade Noodles

1 pound ground lamb (preferabbly use more fatty cut than leg)
1/2 onion
1 can black eyed peas
vermicelli egg noodles
or make your own with 3 cups flour, 1 egg, and water
dried mint
balsamic vinegar

(Ahead of time, make lamb meatballs for soup. Fine dice half an onion, mix into ground lamb with a little salt, and form small meatballs (the diameter of a quarter). Simmer 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.)

If you cooked the meatballs in broth ahead of time, reheat it now. It's time to make fresh pasta. Do not be daunted. She makes this look easy (Check out the video on the See how to do it section), and it is -- or I lucked out at when I tried it at home.

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 blob on top of itself so that it's uniform.

Split the dough into three equal sized balls. Make them nice and round by pulling the edges and pressing them into the bottom of each. Let the three balls rest in the center of the flour bowl, covered with a cloth, while you get the meat with chestnuts going.

While the meat dish is doing it's final slow cooking, roll the pasta out. You'll need a nice large clean space to do this (she used dining room table, I used counter top). Take the first ball, pat it into a circle, and then roll it out with a rolling pin until you have a sheet that is as thin as construction paper, sprinkling flour on the dough as you do, as well as lifting the sheet off the counter and flouring the other side so nothing sticks.

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.

Cut this into thin strips of fresh pasta with a chef knife, using the outside of your pinky finger of your non-knife hand as your guide on the dough. If you stick the elbow of your non-knife hand out infront of you, and then that hand along the short length of the dough, it will be in position. Words make this seem more difficult than it is. Watch the video! Once you've cut the strips, toss the noodles so they separate from each other. Do the same with the other two dough balls.

Now, turn soup to medium high. When its simmering, add black eyed peas, a couple handfuls of fresh pasta (reserve the rest of the pasta, covered in the fridge for fresh pasta dish tomorrow!). When pasta's done and soup slightly thickens 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.

Beef with Chestnuts and Sour Plums
turshu kourma

1 pound cubed beef (stew meat), pre cooked in water that turns to broth
2 onions, sliced thinly

1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ghee (see above to prepare)
1 cup persian golden prunes, otherwise known as sour plums
or dried cherries as a perfectly tart substitute
20 cooked, peeled chestnuts (if you buy them raw at the store, get 40. Some can be not good)

(Ahead of time..cook chestnuts. Score the bottoms of chestnuts, make an x, 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. Also as you do this, cook beef cubes covered in salted water for an hour and a half.)

Rinse any salt off sour prunes, and soak in a dish of water. Strain beef from broth and reserve both. In large saute pan on medium heat, saute onions nearly covered in oil and sprinkled generously with turmeric, until they cook down to half their original size. In another large saute pan saute meat in a small amount of oil for about ten minutes to brown the sides. Remove meat and put in the onion pan on medium low. Strain plums and saute those for five minutes in a teaspoon of ghee. Remove and put in with the meat and onions. In another teaspoon of ghee, sautee chestnuts until golden. Remove and add to onion-beef pan. Now cook all together for about 45 minutes mostly with lid on, occassionally turning contents gently, and adding spoonfulls of beef broth here and there to keep everything moist and together but not saucy.

Fresh Veggie Platter

1 cucumber, or many smaller persian cukes
1 bunch radishes
handful cilantro
1 bunch green onions
handful tomatoes

This is so brilliant! To fill out this rich meal of complex slow cooked flavors with a platter of contrasting bright colors, fresh flavors, and crispy textures. She sliced cucumbers the long way into quarters so you have spears. Wash and trim radishes of roots, but leave whole, wash and present a bunch of cilantro, stems and all, for people to munch on (her nine-year-old loved munching whole cilantro stems!). Wash and trim scallions but leave whole, and cut tomatoes into generous bite size pieces. It's amazing how good all this simple stuff is, just bare, especially in the 0context of all these complex, deep, slowly cooked foods.

Pickled Veggies

jar of pickled veggies:
Green Pepper

Again, such a nice touch to have a little dish of pickled veg on the table with the meal. The Ahmadov's had pickled their own veggies from their summer garden. I found a jar of similar pickled veg, Sadaf brand, at a middle eastern market.

Kalam Dolma
(I didn't see this made)
These were beef and rice stuffed in cabbage leaves. Her cousin brought them over.

The Anthill Desert
qarishga yuvasi
(I didn't see this made, but they told me about it and I tasted it. Really cool. They said it was something like cookie dough that they grind and bake in the oven. IT had some sort of coating on it - so I think they tossed it in something? And then piled into what looks like an anthill sprinkled with powdered sugar. They scooped it onto dessert plates, and served it with

Earl Gray Tea w/ Cardamon

They serve it straight, no milk or sugar, in these pretty small glass, glasses on saucers. Dishes, the shape and size, I am learning, do have quite a powerful effect on the experience.

Serve soup first. Place platers of all other dishes on the table for people to serve family style.

Shopping Notes:

Sinibad market in Portland, ME supplied me with sour golden plums and pickled veg,. You can order the golden sour plums/prunes here and elsewhere I'm sure. Dried cherries are the perfect substitute - a little sour, not too sweet. Whole Foods in Portland, ME had jarred prepared chestnuts and ground lamb. Fresh chestnuts were hit and miss at Hannaford. They're often in stores around Christmas. You can order Maine sustainably raised ground lamb from Northstar Farms. I also found it at Pineland Farms Market.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2011