Azerbaijan: Culinary gateway to the East

In Azerbaijan, people love to grill. Here's how they barbecue, from preparing kebabs to making mangal salad

Posted: Jun 28, 2019 11:00 AM
Updated: Jun 28, 2019 11:00 AM

Azerbaijan's history with flavor goes back more than 2,000 years.

Poised between East and West, in a prime location on Silk Road routes, traders passed through here for centuries, bringing spices, ingredients and culinary influences.

Today, the cuisine of Azerbaijan has an Eastern edge, rubbing shoulders with dishes from its neighbors Iran and Turkey. The local takes on the kebab and pilaf are rich and satisfying, but there is also an abundance of fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables to be enjoyed.

Here's our guide to food and drink in Azerbaijan.

Tea

It might seem counterintuitive, but in the summer heat Azerbaijanis love to drink hot tea, which is believed to help the body cool off naturally.

Even amidst the country's blooming coffee culture, most Azerbaijanis still start their day with tea.

In the regions, tea is almost always prepared with keklikotu (oregano) or cinnamon and while the water is boiled on a samovar, heated by the burning tree branches, the water is infused with the unmistakable aroma of the woods.

Azerbaijani breakfast

While meal preparation may vary around the country, with local twists often added to the usual interpretation, breakfast is pretty identical in all part of the country.

A wide variety of colorful components orbit around the star of this show: freshly baked tandir bread.

Whether it's honey and qaymaq (a thick cream), goat's cheese, butter or scrambled eggs with tomato, the crispy bread is a welcome companion to all those food combinations.

When preparing scrambled eggs with tomato, the finely minced tomatoes are fried first, until the pan's sizzling with juice. Only then are the eggs added, and the dish is taken off the stove with a consistency more liquid than regular scrambled eggs.

Served in a small pan, the dish is eaten by dipping the tandir bread into the savory combination of egg and tomato. The saltless goat cheese on the side is there to take down some of the saltiness and balance out the palette.

Alternatively, kuku is a pie-looking omelette, a great option for those who like greens. Fresh coriander, dill and green onions are finely minced and mixed with five or six eggs and then fried in the pan until crispy.

Qutab

When it comes to street food, Azerbaijan is well-known for doners -- Turkish-style meat sandwiches -- but qutabs are a lighter option.

Made in lavash (a thin flatbread), the classic qutab is filled with minced meat; the vegetarian version may include pumpkin or fresh herbs such as spinach, cilantro, onions and dill, folded in a moon shape and fried on a flat pan without oil.

The soft-centered and crispy-edged qutabs are then sprinkled with sumac, the bright berry-colored tangy spice, and fresh pomegranate seeds (when in season). Both meat and herb qutabs are served with ayran, a foamy sour milk mixed with water and salt. For true gourmands there is also a smaller-sized variation of qutab filled with minced camel meat, called jorat qutab.

Mangal salad

Particularly deserving of attention among salads is mangal salad, the name originating from the way the main ingredients -- eggplant, bell pepper and tomato -- are roasted on a mangal, a Caucasian-style grill.

After the roasted vegetables are chopped, onions, cilantro, dill, olive oil and purple basil -- a specialty in Azerbaijan -- are added and mixed together. The salad is usually served cold as a side to the meat kebab and is believed to help with the digestion of the heavy meats.

Dovgha

This sour milk-based soup, which can be served both hot and cold depending on the season, also contains rice, a handful of chick peas and a variety of finely minced greens.

While it's straightforward in terms of ingredients, the preparation requires the chef to constantly stir the ingredients to stop the rice from sticking.

Levengi chicken

Levengi chicken may resemble a standard grilled chicken on the outside, but it hides a delicious secret.

Inside, the stuffing consists of fried onions, roasted walnuts, raisins, dried plums, dried pitted Cornelian cherries are all minced and mixed into a paste. The richness of the walnuts and the tanginess of the plums make it a must-try combination.

Levengi stuffing can also be used in fish.

Dolma

While Azerbaijani culinary books are abundant with a variety of dolmas, yarpaq, (grape leaf) and uch baji (three sisters) are the two most noteworthy.

The first -- made from minced meat wrapped in grape leaves and cooked on a slow fire -- is served with qatiq (plain natural yoghurt) and garlic.

The uch baji version consists of the trio of aubergine, tomato and bell pepper, stuffed with minced meat and prepared in their own juices. It's very common to include qatiq with dishes that are on the heavier side, since its probiotic properties support digestion.

Dessert

Azerbaijan's most beloved pastries are traditionally baked during March, the month of the Novruz spring festival.

Pakhlava, a diamond-shaped pastry found across the Middle East, is among the favorites.

The Azerbaijani version, especially the Sheki variety, tends to be softer and oilier than other versions.

Shorgoghal, a flaky spice-filled crispy bread, can be made sweet (with white sesame seeds at the top) or savory and salty (with black sesame seeds at the top).

Shirin chorek, sweet bread filled with nuts and dried grapes, is another top pick.

Walnut preserve is perhaps one of the most surprising Azerbaijani desserts served with tea.

Collected from the trees while still green and soft, the walnuts slowly darken during the preparation process, finishing up a very dark brown. The texture of the nut and the sweetness of the syrup makes it a highly memorable delicacy.

Finally, the most unusual combination of foods the country looks forward to all year has to be watermelon, goat cheese (the saltier the better) and tandir bread.

Although they may look, and sound, like the most outrageous foods to combine, there's no way back once you try them together.

Terre Haute
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 44°
Robinson
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 44°
Indianapolis
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 39°
Rockville
Overcast
42° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 37°
Casey
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 42°
Brazil
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 44°
Marshall
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 44°
Mostly cloudy, a bit warmer.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 350744

Reported Deaths: 9496
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1651985364
DuPage20947598
Lake19546503
Will16898419
Kane15422341
Winnebago9114165
St. Clair7559213
Madison6795152
Champaign568028
McHenry5642120
Peoria424362
McLean386730
Rock Island367088
Unassigned3627260
Sangamon347554
Kankakee316878
Macon256848
Kendall247027
Tazewell240547
LaSalle218460
DeKalb209542
Coles178838
Williamson170958
Boone165524
Adams163315
Clinton158724
Vermilion15417
Jackson143325
Whiteside115222
Randolph114514
Knox10969
Effingham10903
Ogle10527
Grundy8777
Jefferson85844
Monroe84928
Bureau84717
Marion84512
Franklin8406
Stephenson8147
Morgan79624
Henry7945
Christian77125
Macoupin7319
Union73025
McDonough66515
Fayette63019
Crawford6246
Lee6121
Shelby5868
Livingston54910
Montgomery54815
Douglas5458
Logan5434
Woodford54311
Saline5037
Bond4669
Jersey45621
Iroquois45119
Warren4517
Cass44911
Wayne43410
Jo Daviess4275
Perry40616
Fulton4030
Moultrie3755
Carroll3658
Richland31714
Johnson3130
Lawrence3068
Hancock2843
Clay28111
Washington2781
Greene26915
Clark2666
Pike2604
Cumberland2536
Jasper24710
Mason2351
White2351
De Witt2273
Pulaski2261
Mercer2196
Piatt2070
Wabash2055
Ford1799
Menard1591
Massac1412
Edgar1398
Marshall1373
Hamilton1132
Henderson1110
Alexander1081
Gallatin1052
Edwards980
Brown960
Scott930
Putnam850
Schuyler801
Stark792
Calhoun690
Hardin490
Pope361
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 149166

Reported Deaths: 3960
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion24564781
Lake13079350
St. Joseph8788157
Elkhart8371132
Allen7815221
Hamilton5923113
Vanderburgh553050
Tippecanoe350914
Monroe319438
Hendricks3140130
Johnson2972127
Porter293248
Clark282157
Delaware279674
Vigo248837
Madison226991
Cass221020
LaPorte213057
Warrick186563
Kosciusko173121
Floyd172766
Howard157466
Bartholomew138657
Dubois133724
Marshall130626
Henry121828
Boone118648
Grant118039
Wayne117123
Hancock114144
Noble111333
Jackson107412
Morgan91540
Dearborn90328
Daviess83732
Gibson82611
Clinton81316
Shelby78329
Lawrence77832
LaGrange76615
Harrison73324
Knox69610
Putnam69515
DeKalb68611
Posey6745
Steuben5888
Miami5765
Fayette57515
Montgomery56422
White56215
Jasper5464
Greene51237
Scott50613
Decatur49439
Adams4645
Whitley4316
Clay4276
Sullivan42412
Ripley4178
Wells4125
Orange38624
Wabash3859
Starke3847
Huntington3695
Spencer3686
Franklin36325
Jennings35913
Washington3512
Randolph3378
Fulton3292
Jefferson3285
Pike31612
Carroll30813
Perry28914
Jay2816
Fountain2743
Tipton26623
Parke2182
Newton21111
Vermillion2111
Rush2034
Owen1991
Martin1950
Blackford1903
Crawford1481
Pulaski1431
Brown1283
Ohio1187
Benton1070
Union1020
Switzerland840
Warren731
Unassigned0233