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Azerbaijan Cuisine

Azerbaijani cuisine, throughout the centuries, has been influenced by the foods of different cultures due to political and economic processes in Azerbaijan. Still, today's Azerbaijani cuisine has distinctive and unique features. Many foods that are indigenous to the country can now be seen in the cuisines of other cultures. For the Azerbaijanis, food is an important part of the country's culture and is deeply rooted in the history, traditions and values of the nation.

Out of 11 climate zones known in the world, Azerbaijan has nine. This contributes to the fertility of the land, which in its turn results in the richness of the country’s cuisine. The Caspian Sea is home to many edible species of fish, including the sturgeon, Caspian salmon (a subspecies of trout, now critically endangered), Caspian white fish (kutum), sardines, grey mullet and others. Black caviar from the Caspian Sea is one of Azerbaijan’s best known delicacies well sought after in other parts of the world, including former Soviet countries.

Azerbaijani cuisine has over 30 kinds of soups, including those prepared from plain yogurt. There is a wide variety of kebabs and shashliks, including lamb, beef, chicken, and fish (baliq) kebabs. Sturgeon, a common fish, is normally skewered and grilled as a shashlik, being served with a tart pomegranate sauce called narsharab. The traditional condiments are salt, black pepper, sumac, and especially saffron, which is grown domestically on the Absheron Peninsula. A national dish of Azerbaijani cuisine is saffron-rice plov served with various herbs and greens, a combination totally different from Uzbek plovs. Azerbaijan has more than 40 different plov recipes. Dried fruits and walnuts are used in many dishes.

Azerbaijani cuisine is famous for an abundance of vegetables and greens used seasonally in the dishes. Fresh herbs, including mint, cilantro (coriander), dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leeks, chives, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress, are very popular and often accompany main dishes on the table.

Black tea is the national beverage, and it is drunk at the beginning of each meal before food is eaten. It is also a hospitality beverage that always welcomes guests, often accompanied by fruit preserves.

Main Dishes

A typical Azeri meal begins with a plate of aromatic green leaves called goy, and is accompanied by plenty of chorek (bread), salat (a tomato and cucumber salad), and perhaps qatik (yoghurt) and pendir (cheese). The traditional condiments are duz (salt), istiot (pepper) and sumah (a sweet, dark red spice with a flowery flavour).

Main dishes may include a selection of the following:

• Baliq – fish, which usually means sturgeon, normally skewered and grilled as a kebab, and served with a tart sour-plum sauce;

• Dolma – the traditional recipe calls for minced lamb mixed with rice and flavoured with mint, fennel and cinnamon, and wrapped in vine leaves (yarpaq dolmasi) or cabbage leaves {kalam dolmasi), but most restaurants offering dolma tend to serve up stuffed tomato, sweet pepper and aubergine;

• Dusbara – small dumplings stuffed with minced lamb and herbs, served in broth;

• Lavangi – delicious casserole of chicken stuffed with walnuts and herbs. It's supposedly a speciality of the Talish region of southern Azerbaijan, but is very difficult to find in restaurants;

• Lyulya kabab – a mixture of minced lamb, herbs and spices squeezed around a skewer and barbecued, often served with lavas win sheets of unleavened bread);

• Plov – a classic dish of rice, mutton, onion and prunes, flavoured with saffron and cinnamon;

• Qutab – a sort of pancake turnover stuffed with minced lamb, cheese or spinach;

• Tika kabab – chunks of lamb marinated in a mixture of onion, vinegar and pomegranate juice, impaled on a large skewer and grilled on the barbecue. More commonly called shashlyk, from the Russian word shashka (sword);

• Kourma – pieces of mutton or lamb on the bone (blade chops) stewed with onions, tomatoes, and saffron.

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