By Nazrin Gadimova
The Spring is coming, which means the festive Novruz Holiday won't keep us waiting. Novruz, loved by all Azerbaijanis, is celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox and symbolizes a new life.
Novruz celebrations begin a month before the actual holiday. The four Tuesdays named after these elements and called Su Chershenbesi (Water Tuesday), Odlu Chershenbe (Fire Tuesday), Hava Chershenbesi (Wind Tuesday), and Ilakhir Chershenbe or Torpaq Chershenbesi (Earth or Last Tuesday) are being celebrated before the main holiday.
Each Tuesday has its own traditions. This year, the second Tuesday, or Fire Tuesday, falls on March 4. Fire Tuesday honors fire, which means warmth and comfort. Ancient legends associate fire with the Sun and light.
Fire is the symbol of purification and clarification. Fire is never put out by water; it burns down by itself. It is very important to light a bonfire in every yard on Fire Tuesday, because fire means the year will be warm and fertile. In ancient times, a newborn baby was laid on ashes to guarantee his health. It was also believed that those covered their faces with ashes would have a beautiful sweetheart.
On Fire Tuesday people jump over the fire, because it is traditionally believed that all troubles and hardships will be left behind, and the new year will be happy and prosperous. It is believed that immediately after Fire Tuesday the sun gradually begins to warm the earth, and the spring wakes up.
Azerbaijan, famous for its rich cuisine, has special dishes for each Tuesday of Novruz. Pilaf is undoubtedly a signature dish of the Azerbaijani cuisine. There are about 200 kinds of pilaf, but dosheme-pilaf is usually prepared on this day, although some regions prepare milky-pilaf and borany-pilaf.
The main point of making dosheme-pilaf is that it is prepared layer-by-layer. Lamb or chicken can be used for preparing this pilaf, but you have to use gazmag which is usually laid at the bottom of the pot; it is the dough that turns into a crispy crust with an extraordinary taste during the cooking process. To prepare gazmag, you should mix the flour and salt and grind it into crumbs, add butter and sour cream, and knead it into a soft dough. Then roll it out into a circle and place it on the bottom of the pan on which 50 grams of butter has melted.
However, in order to facilitate your work, you can put the chicken pieces on the bottom of the pot instead of the gazmag, and then lay out rice and dried fruits.
For 4-6 servings of this pilaf you will need 3 glasses of long grain rice, 4 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 glass of peeled chestnuts, ½ glass of dried apricots, 1 glass of dried plums, ½ glass of dried persimmon, ½ glass of white raisins, 1 kilogram of boneless chicken meat chopped into small pieces, 1 onion, and 1/3 teaspoon of saffron (dissolve pounded saffron in 3 tablespoons of boiling water), salt, and pepper.
Rinse the cleaned rice under warm water, then pour water on it till it covers the rice, add one tablespoon of salt, and set it aside. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan and fry the peeled chestnuts for three minutes. Then add the apricots, plums, and persimmons, and cook for three minutes. Then add the raisins, fry for one minute, and put the frying pan aside. Pour ten glasses of water and two tablespoons of salt into the special non-stick pan, bring it to boil, then add the rice. Boil for about 7-10 minutes - slightly moist.
Melt one tablespoon of butter in a pan, then add the chicken on the bottom of the pan in one layer, then add salt and pepper. Add onion, cut in a form of rings, and cook uncovered for about five minutes on medium heat. Then add half of the rice and one layer of dried fruits. Add the rest of the rice on top and form it into a cone shape. Pour the rice with 1-2 tablespoons of melted butter. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes. Then pour the rice with the saffron sauce.
Novruz is a favorite holiday because every year the traditional sweets of the Azerbaijani cuisine such as pakhlava, shakarbura, shorgogal and badambura are cooked and served at the festive table. Also "govurgha" (toasted wheat) is mixed with nuts (mainly walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and chestnuts) and placed on the table along with other sweets.