Azerbaijan is one of only six countries in the world to span two continents (I’m hoping that will come up in a pub quiz at some point). It is split between Europe and Asia and sits south of Russia and north of Iran.
Following the obligatory research, it seems Plov is the national dish (pilaf to you and me). It can be a plain rice dish, or include meats such as chicken or lamb. Plov is served on special occasions such as weddings. The basic method it to parboil the rice and then steam it. A crust called Qazmaa is made at the bottom of the steaming pan which is seen as the best part. The crust could be made out of egg-yogurt mix (which I chose), potato or dough. I’m a stickler for nice, well cooked rice and I thought I’d mastered cooking basmati but this opened my eyes up to a whole new way of producing soft fluffy grains.
I used 200g (a mug full) of basmati rice for the two of us which was plenty. The rice was well rinsed to remove the starch, then parboiled in rapidly boiling salted water for 5 minutes and then drained. Wash the rice pan and dry it and then melt a good knob of butter. To make the crust, mix 2tbsp natural yogurt with one egg and a few spoon fulls of the parboiled rice. Fry this off in the melted butter for a few minutes. Then, add half the parboiled rice back into the pan and pour over some saffron infused water (make this up before hand – a few strands of saffron in a cup of boiling water left for a while). Add the rest of the rice and then pour over the rest of the saffron water. Top off with a few more knobs of butter and use a wooden spoon to poke some holes through the rice. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid wrapped in a clean tea towel. Reduce the heat and steam for half an hour or so. You can turn the heat off when the rice is soft and leave it until you’re ready to serve.
To go alongside the plov, we had some chicken which I’d had marinating in salt, pepper, onion chunks and lemon juice all afternoon. The chicken was poked onto skewers and cooked on the kamado oven. It was sprinkled with sumac, parsley and coriander.
To drink, I made a traditional Azerbaijani drink called a sherbet (which comes from the Iranian word sharbat). It was lovely and refreshing after a hot day. It has to be made a few hours in advance; pour a pint of water onto a pinch of saffron strands and some mint leaves and leave to infuse for a few hours. Then add 100g of granulated sugar and dissolve. Serve over ice. This made enough for two large glasses.
All in all, not one of the more adventurous meals we’ve had but it was really tasty and definitely something I’d make again.
I have now successfully cooked and eaten a meal from each of the ten ‘A’ countries since starting the project in January. That’s 5% of the UN members, so very very roughly I think it’ll take me another nine years to finish the project. Eek.