We made it through the first letter of the alphabet!! Finishing the ‘A’s felt like a huge milestone. Of course, there are more ‘B’s than ‘A’s, so we will be on the next letter even longer…
I will admit to being a little nervous about Azerbaijan, since we didn’t have great success with neighboring Armenia. However, there were tons of recipes to choose from, so it wasn’t hard to find a few that looked really good to us. I was actually having a hard time narrowing down my options until I stumbled upon this blog, written by someone who grew up in Azerbaijan. Her recipes and posts about dovga, a yogurt based soup (with lots of fresh greens and herbs!) and plov (a rice based dish like pilaf) with dried fruits and chestnuts looked too good to pass up.
We have tried to keep up with making 3 or more recipes for countries, but the dovga and plov were going to make more than enough food for the two of us. I saw several references to a cold, sweet drink called sherbet. There are many versions, but they all seem to entail fruit juice, sugar, and an additional ingredient such as herbs or rose water. We decided this would be a nice, light third recipe to make.
I wasn’t very diligent about taking photos or even paying attention to the preparation of this dish. Tyler was 100% in charge of the dovga, while I was working on the plov. He started by chopping a bunch of fresh greens and herbs. We selected these based on what we had in the fridge and what we could buy at the grocery store for a reasonable price. We used a bunch of cilantro, about half of a small package of fresh dill, most of a bag of spinach, and a few green onions we had leftover in the fridge from another recipe.
The biggest problem we encountered with this recipe was the volume of soup that it made!! I already had called dibs on the large stockpot for the plov, so Tyler started to make this in our largest saucepan (3 quarts). Now, if we had done the math, we would have figured out that 2 qt. of yogurt + 1 qt. water + other stuff = more than the 3 qt pan can handle… but we didn’t. So after mixing the yogurt and most of the water in the saucepan, we had an overflow emergency situation and made a quick transfer to our largest glass mixing bowl. After mixing we split it between the 2 qt. and 3 qt. saucepans for the rest of the process. At this point it had the yogurt, water, egg, and rice. Tyler kept busy stirring both pots frequently. Then the herbs and chickpeas were mixed in for the last 15 minutes.
This recipe reminded me of the detailed instructions for preparing couscous of Algeria to get the right texture and of the Kabuli Pulao of Afghanistan. It started with a search for white Basmati rice, which brought Tyler to our local international grocery store, where he found this awesome bag of rice. I can’t say I have ever purchased rice in a cloth bag before, but I think I’m going to have to think of something creative to do with the bag once we eat all the rice.
We also went on a quest to find chestnuts. Our grocery store was sold out of whole chestnuts, so we found these pre-peeled and cooked chestnuts. They really didn’t look appetizing, but I figured looks can be deceiving.
The dried fruit, on the other hand, looked wonderful (but seriously, what is it with the rest of the world and dried fruit? I think I have eaten more dried fruit in the last two months than I did in the last 10 years of my life). It looked even better cooking in the pan with some melted butter and the chestnuts. I couldn’t find anything called dried “sour plums,” so I got a package of diced plums with cranberries, blueberries, and cherries. These went with golden raisins, dates, and apricots. It seems like there is some wiggle room with the exact variety and quantity of dried fruit, so I didn’t worry too much about deviating a bit from the recipe here.
Meanwhile, I transferred the rice (which had been soaking in water) to the stockpot to boil for 7-10 minutes, or until the rice floated to the top. After this I drained the rice and set it aside.
The next step was assembly! The first layer was chicken (cut into small pieces), which was topped with salt, pepper, and onion rings. The second layer added half the rice, the third layer added the dried fruit and chestnuts, and the fourth layer added the remaining rice and melted butter. The original recipe recommends shaping the top layer into a pyramid. I’m not sure what the purpose is of making this shape, but the artist in me had fun with it.
Next a towel is wrapped around the lid to absorb steam, and it cooks over low heat for 30(!) minutes. (Un)Fortunately, we had a stack of clean laundry on top of the washer that was taller than me, so putting clothes away kept me from peeking and prodding at the food during those 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, I finally got to peek (it looked exactly the same.) and add the infused saffron water. Then it cooked on low heat for another 30 minutes.
By the way, it was pretty fun watching the water change colors over 30-60 minutes as the saffron steeped/infused.
Rose-Pomegranate Sherbet (recipe)
This was very simple to make, partially because pomegranates are out of season, so we bought pre-made pomegranate juice. And actually, blueberry-pomegranate was purchased instead by accident… so we didn’t exactly stay true to the recipe. We boiled the juice, sugar, and water, then let it cool. Once it was cool the rose water was added. It was served chilled after the meal.
This meal was delicious. I had a feeling the plov would be a winner, since it had a lot of similarities with the Kabuli Pulao that we enjoyed so much, and it did not disappoint. It was a little drier than I would have liked, but the flavor was wonderful. The rice had a nice buttery flavor without feeling too heavy. The dried fruit and chicken were done perfectly and had great flavor. The chestnuts were just okay, but it may not have helped that I didn’t buy them fresh. It has been interesting eating the leftovers of this (which we will be doing for a while… this was a LOT of food for two people)… my reaction seems to change with my mood. It seemed dry and almost bland yesterday at lunch, but tonight at dinner it was perfect and totally hit the spot.
The dovga soup was another winner. I don’t think it’s something I could eat every day due to the tartness/tanginess, but we both really liked it. I liked how thick it was with the rice, and I loved the flavor from all the herbs. This would be fun to make again in the summer when we can use fresh produce from our garden. I know the chickpeas are optional, but I wouldn’t go without them… I really liked the occasional change in texture from biting into a chickpea.
The sherbet was good, but I felt it paled in comparison to the rest of the food in this meal. This is my second time using rosewater, and I’m still surprised by the light, delicate flavor it adds. It was a nice drink to sip on after the meal before we tackled the post-cooking war zone in our kitchen.
Next time we are on to a new letter and back across the ocean to the Caribbean. We will be cooking food from the Bahamas, where the national food is conch. ..