Monday Meal Review: Azerbaijan

This is meal #11 in my personal challenge to eat one meal from every country in the world.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Brian said.

Startled, I looked from him, to his fiancée, to my husband. We were standing in the kitchen. I was pouring drinks and telling them about the Azerbaijani food we were about to eat.

“What?” I asked.

Brian didn’t answer immediately; he was scanning my kitchen. I followed his gaze nervously, wondering if I’d missed a spill.

The counters were clear. The dishwasher was running. Maybe that was the problem. The dishwasher was a little loud, I thought.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I can run this later,” I said, pulling the door open. The rythmic swish of the water stopped suddenly.

There was a pause while we shifted in the new silence.

“No – where’s the,” and he trailed off, looking at the empty stove top.

“The food?” I asked, finishing his sentence, laughing with relief. “It’s  under control.”

I pulled a tray of raw lamb kabobs from the fridge and headed to the grill. I explained that the sides for the kabob were already assembled on a tray. The hot items from the main course were also finished and were holding in the warm oven. Even the dessert was chilling out in the fridge, ready to go.

Yippee for planning and prepping ahead. If only he’d seen the flurry I was in for two entire days beforehand!

Azeri Saffron Pilaf with Potato Kazmag [Recipe]

What I like most about this dish:

This pilaf calls for 2 sticks of butter. It actually hurt me to put that much butter in with the rice. I usually make rice with just a micro-drizzle of heart-friendly olive oil. In fact, this recipe called for more butter than we eat in a month. HOWEVER, darned if that butter didn’t make this rice taste like gold. No wonder Azerbaijan named pilaf as their national dish – the delicately separated grains of rice seasoned with the intoxicating richness of butter is wonderful. Amazingly, no greasiness or heaviness lingers after dining. I would make this pilaf for any special gathering as the rice would go well with any food.

The kazmag, or crust is an inspired touch, simply wonderful. I enjoy scraping the “crusties” off of the bottom of pans anyway. I’m all for a country that promotes the bottom-dwelling crusty to the place of honor it deserves – the cherry – so to speak – on top of their beloved national dish.

What I like least about this dish:

I almost didn’t make this rice dish. The dizzying number of steps seemed impossible, especially with a 9 month-old trailing me. Luckily my husband had some comp time coming to him; he was able to stay home and entertain Ava, leaving me no more excuses. Although there are many steps, they are easy and the end result is very tasty. In the end the extra effort is worth the time.

One issue I did have was that my saffron didn’t stain the rice a bright yellow like I expected. Instead the grains took on a butter yellow hue, making them look a lot like scrambled eggs. Not great, so I doubled the amount of saffron in the recipe, hoping this would give you less eggy results.

Laura Kelley’s Green Beans with Azeri Tomato Sauce [Recipe]

What I like most about this dish:

As soon as I tasted these green beans I understood why Laura Kelley author of The Silk Road Gourmet is a nominee for a “golden ladle” at Le Courdon Bleu’s World Media Awards. The flavor combination – tomato, basil, yogurt, sour cream, vinegar – struck me as almost Italian. However the little dash of vinegar put the slightly sour sauce over the edge into a new flavor profile for me.

Our guests this week, Tulsa Food‘s Brian and Shae, declared the Azeri Green Beans “Awesome!” Ava was a huge fan as well – I think the thick, creamy sauce is the most exciting thing we’ve given her. We took a video of her eating the green beans – will share in the next few days on Facebook. I enjoyed these green beans so much that I made them twice. Most impressive was that my husband liked them, especially considering his picky eater syndrome previously prevented him from getting within a 2 foot radius of sour cream OR vinegar.

I want to note how easy the sauce is to make – almost as simple as throwing everything in a pot and simmering for a few minutes, while stirring. Heck, I can even do that with Ava on my hip – as long as it’s the hip turned away from the stove.

What I like least about this dish:

If you toss the green beans in the sauce, picky eaters might balk at the pale pink chunky display. For the nicest presentation, serve sauce on the side or take Laura’s advice and pour over the green beans in a neat line.

I really thought twice about putting 4 Tbsp of butter in these green beans, however I rather liked the idea of possibly earning the world record for most butter used in a meal (thanks to the pilaf, of course). I also rarely use sour cream but the point of this adventure is to try new things. The end result was completely worth it!  Does this mean I no longer can declare I don’t like sour cream? Hmm, let’s settle with ‘sour cream is good in the right application.’

Spicy Meatballs in Pomegranate Sauce (Fesinjan Kyufta) [Recipe]

What I like most about this dish:

Hands down, the pomegranate sauce was the best part of these meatballs. Sweet and tangy, yet light. This is not a thick and cloying “sweet and sour” type sauce. I think I could eat this pomegranate sauce on any meatball from now on. I only wish I had more sauce (so I doubled the recipe for you all).

Shaping these meatballs the night before was a great way to save on stress the day of the dinner. Also, this gave time for the flavors to meld thoroughly.

What I like least about this dish:

While the meatballs were good, they were not very “different” than other meatballs I’ve had. They faintly taste of mint and paprika, however the sauce totally overshadowed these subtleties.

Azerbaijani Grilled, Ground Lamb (Lyulya Kabob) [Recipe]

What I like most about this dish:

These kabobs are essentially spicy lamb sausages on a stick. This was also picked as a meal favorite by everyone at our Global Table. The flavors are bold, but nothing overpowers… they’re easy to make (if you can make meatballs, then you can definitely do this)… and they’re very fun to eat. I will definitely make these again.

In fact, assembling and eating these kabobs was the best part. We served them as an appetizer, but they would make a great lunch. Our guests enjoyed picking from the tray of fresh herbs, flatbreads, red onion, tomato, and yogurt, to make their personalized sandwich/wrap. I think children would have fun with this.

What I like least about this dish:

I had a hard time getting the meat to cling to the skewer, but after a few tries I figured out how to shape them and how to pick the kabobs up so that they stayed together. The challenge becomes easier the colder the meat mixture is.

Sweet Saffron Custard with Rose Water (Zerde) [Recipe]

What I like most about this dish:

The custard is not overly sweet, which is nice. The almond crunch was interesting but very polarizing. One person hated the texture, one person loved it, and two people were so-so about it. The custard does go well with hot tea.

What I like least about this dish:

Unfortunately this dessert was not well received by my guests. I think many people will love this, but you will have to judge by preferences regarding textures and crunchy nuts. Also, my saffron did not show up as bright yellow, again. I must be doing something wrong and if you know what it is, please tell me.

Ava’s Corner

Ava chowed down on the Azeri Green Beans. She tried them plain with just the caramelized onion, which she liked. She then tried them with the sauce and she liked them even more 🙂 The next day we even gave her some meatball and lamb kabob. She loved the spicy flavors and we couldn’t feed her fast enough.


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