The tasty treasure of Azerbaijan

By Seymur Aliyev, Azernews Staff Writer

There is one more thing which Azerbaijan can be proud of. Besides its ancient history full of thrilling battles, its art created by bright minds and the tradition of statehood, there is also an abundant cuisine. So delicious and rich that it continues to amaze even avid gourmets. The cuisine, in which taste is combined with healthy food and the guest can enjoy the dish, is more important than saturating him.

It is not surprising that the country's cuisine, famous for its hospitality, has about 2,000 kinds of dishes. Because Azerbaijani people always share their best with the guests, gladdening their eyes and appetite.

With its long and unique history, Azerbaijani cuisine became a pearl among other Oriental cuisines. It is impossible to put into words the feeling when we taste something from our national dishes. But nevertheless I would like to introduce you to the specifics and history of Azerbaijani cuisine.

Specificity of dishes

One of the main characteristics is our climate. Located in nine climatic zones, Azerbaijan has a rich flora and fauna which makes national dishes so versatile.

The main factor after climate influencing Azerbaijani cuisine is the furnace. For example, in Slavic and especially Russian culture, most of sweet cookies and boiled meals are cooked using Russian stove. The creation and evolution of Azerbaijani cuisine is mostly associated with open and closed furnaces like "tandir", "kora", "bukhari", "kulfa", "chala ojag", "saj", "mangal", etc.

And yet another factor influencing our cuisine is ancient beliefs and religions. Islam has played an important role in the formation of the national cuisine. That's why among the dishes you cannot find meals cooked with pork and alcohol.

Another distinctive feature of Azerbaijani cuisine is the combination of a neutral taste of unleavened products, such as boiled rice, chestnuts, knotweed, unsalted meat, eggs and fish, with sour milk and vegetable products. As a result, a contrast of the unleavened and the sour appears, softening the strong sour taste to the mild sour, which is very pleasing for the eater.

Azerbaijani national dishes have long been cooked with the use of copper utensils. And now in many regions and particularly rural areas of Azerbaijan, dishes cooked in copper pans turn out tastier. Therefore, items of Azerbaijani cuisine like pots, colanders, bowls, trays, skimmers, soup ladles, etc. are mainly made of copper. It should be noted that, as in the past, copper pots and other utensils are treated from time to time in special workshops with tin (tinning) to prevent copper from ending up in the dish. Some national dishes in cafes and restaurants are served in special earthenware (potu), in which they are cooked.

And one feature which makes Azerbaijani cuisine different is the fact that sometimes national dishes are considered as both the main course and the second course. For example, piti, kufta-bozbash, etc. First, soup served in these dishes is eaten as the main course, and the remainder (meat, peas, potatoes, etc.) - as the second course.

It is typical for Azerbaijani cuisine to use overground vegetables. Roots such a beets, carrots and radishes are used rarely. But herbs and green vegetables, to the contrary, are used very often. Fruits and nuts are often used too.

In modern Azerbaijani cuisine, among other vegetables we can cite potatoes: for example, it is one of the ingredients of piti. Though in Azerbaijani classical cuisine this was certainly not known and potatoes could not be used in dishes.

The use of potatoes began only in the Soviet period. Prior to that time, chestnuts were used instead of potatoes. Precisely with chestnuts, sour natural spices are combined with the meat the best of all. That's why for getting a special flavor gamma, it is better to use chestnuts rather than potatoes.

The majority of national foods are cooked with mutton, beef and poultry. Azerbaijanis as well as other Muslims do not eat pork. Dishes with chopped meat and, certainly, fish, are widespread. The preferred fish are stellate sturgeon and sturgeon. Azerbaijani cuisine is famous for the abundance of vegetables, including greens, eggplants, sweet peppers, cabbage, spinach, sorrel, beets, onions, cucumbers, and green beans.

Another characteristic of Azerbaijani liquid foods is that they are greasy.

For quenching the thirst and for the easy digestion of heavy meals, usually "iskenjabi" drink is served as well. It is made of honey and vinegar.

Unlike common soups, watery Azerbaijani dishes are thicker for their consistency, because there is, as a rule, less liquid in their content. During the preparation of watery meals, tomato paste or tomato puree is used rarely. Instead, fresh tomatoes, and in winter, dried cherry-plum (for a sourish taste) and species containing coloring substance (saffron and yellow ginger) are used.

Azerbaijani pilaf is a ceremonial national dish. There are 40 kinds of this meal. Unlike Uzbek pilaf, it belongs to Persian rather than Central Asian kinds. Rice is cooked and served separately from other components. This kind of a dish is named "ash". But if rice and other components are cooked in one pot, it is called "plov". Pilaf (ash, plov) is the main symbol of national cookery. In all the celebrations and ceremonies in Azerbaijanis' life, pilaf remains the main dish.

History

Azerbaijan is one of the oldest centers of civilization. The culture of the country dates back thousands of years. Azerbaijani cuisine was created by Azerbaijanis who have lived for centuries in a vast area spanning the Azerbaijan Republic; South Azerbaijan, which is now part of Iran; Irevan khanate, Zangezur and Goycha makhals, which are now occupied by Armenian forces; historical Azerbaijani lands that are currently part of Georgia; and Derbent in Russia.

The art of cooking in Azerbaijan is rooted in the depths of centuries. Archaeologists in many regions of Azerbaijan found primitive stone tools made in the time of the Stone Age. Stone axes, hammers and utensils indicating the emergence of areas of pastoral and primitive farming were found at the sites of ancient human beings. These ancient objects, with which our ancestors satisfied their physical needs, as well as images of Gobustan rock carvings -- a kind of ethnographic encyclopedia of people -- helped to reveal the secrets of the times of human civilization.

In Azerbaijan, in the Neolithic period, the population cultivated wheat and barley, and used it, along with meat, as the main product for cooking. In the Bronze Age, after the development of pastoralism, ancestors included dairy products in the diet.

Historically, the life of the Azerbaijani people ran and developed in close proximity with their neighbors -- the Georgians, Persians, Turks, Lezgins, which, of course, made their national cuisines similar.

However, Azerbaijani cuisine has its own distinct national flavor reflected in the specificity of cooking techniques, aromatic taste, color and traditions of the Azerbaijani feast.

Time passes by, but many of the values remain unchanged. A refined taste, temptation to beauty and harmony and healthy lifestyle will always be in fashion. And never can fast food replace for us the dishes which had been improved by our ancestors for generations. They brought cookery to a high art, harmonizing taste and healthy eating. So open your heart to this art and enjoy unique masterpieces of Azerbaijani cookery.