Tomato, eggplant and bell pepper salad

Growing up in Azerbaijan, our summers were spent outside the city, in our “summer home.” I say “summer home” because it’s not like the house you are imaging (no Hamptons or Cape Cod like). But what it lacked in amenities, it more than made up in fresh air, proximity to the Caspian Sea and family getting together. A meal we’ve had at least three times a week is kebab (or shashlik), basically beef, lamb and chicken skewers over open fire in a “mangal” which is a very simplistic grill using wood chips (a lot of the time branches found by kids aka me and my cousins). I unfortunately don’t have a photo of it, but just google it and you’ll see.

As delicious as the meat and potato over open fire was (and I will still take that meal any day over any pizza or steak), my favorite thing was a very simple salad made from charred tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplants. The beauty of this salad is the ingredients cook at the same time as the main dish, so no time lost. It is refreshing, simple and healthy. I make it as an accompaniment to a roasted chicken or steak. Since I live in an apartment and don’t have a grill (YET), I char the eggplants and tomatoes over my gas burner, just like that. Believe it or not, charring the vegetables is the hardest part of this salad. Well, you’ll see.

Tomato, Eggplant and Bell Pepper salad,

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  • One large eggplant, charred or grilled. You can also poke holes in the eggplant with a fork, and bake for 45 minutes, until soft. Do not peel the eggplant.
  • Two or three beefsteak tomatoes, roasted or grilled.
  • One bell pepper charred or grilled. You can also roast the pepper in the oven for 30 minutes or so. Just rub the pepper with sunflower oil.
  • One medium sized white or red onion, chopped.
  • A handful of cilantro or parsley.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • 2 tbs sunflower oil.
  1. Char all the vegetables, over open fire/ grill, or gas burner. You can also roast all in the oven, each will require a different amount of time.
  2. Keep turning the vegetables until all sides are grilled. If you see char marks on the tomatoes, don’t worry, that’s ok. You can tell the tomatoes are done when they are soft on all sides. The eggplant will “wrinkle” and be soft when squeezed. The vegetables will leak, but that’s normal too.
  3. Once all vegetables cooled, peel the meat of the eggplant best you can from the skin. You can cut it in half and use a spoon to scoop the eggplant out.
  4. Peel the skin off tomatoes.
  5. Chop the eggplants, tomatoes and the peppers roughly. Don’t worry about the cuts being the same size or neat. It is a “rustic” salad.
  6. Place all in a large bowl.
  7. Chop the onion and add to the vegetables.
  8. Roughly chop the cilantro and add to the bowl.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Add sunflower oil and mix the salad.
  11. Let sit for a while, in the fridge so it absorbs all the flavor.
  12. Enjoy with pita bread, or as a side to any protein!

Buglama – a classic

Ok, so it would seem that Azeri people love their stews. I never though of it that way, but it would seem that we do! Buglama is another version of a “stew”. It is more formal (if food can be formal) and is usually served at weddings or other gatherings. To tell you the truth, I do not remember one occasion where my grandma made buglama at home.

Another beauty of Azeri kitchen is that dishes can be versatile. Buglama for example can be made with fish, chicken, lamb or beef (or I suppose tofu if you are a vegetarian). I have made this dish twice now, first time using swordfish. Was not a success. According to my husband it was too bland. Since traditionally it is made with lamb (like so many Azeri dishes), I opted for beef (because my husband does not like lamb all that much). All the while I worried about the flavor. See, the dish is just meat and vegetables and if no flavor is infused into it, it will taste…well like meat and vegetables. So I decided to remedy that by frying up the meat first. I chose some oxtail and ribs (the thick kind). After frying up the meat, I fried some onions. Then I layered the dish with vegetables and left it to stew for about an hour. I was not disappointed with the result this time.

Buglama

1 – 2 LB oxtail and beef ribs (or you can use lamb ribs)

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

2 tsp coriander

2 tsp pepper

2 cloves of garlic, diced

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

3 tbs butter or olive oil

2 green peppers, julienned

1 large tomato sliced

1/2 cup water

 

Melt the butter in the dutch oven (or any deep pan). Wait for butter to really heat up, then add the meat and quickly fry on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate. Chop up the onion and add to the pan, fry for a few minutes or until the onion softens and becomes clear. Add salt and pepper. Place the meat back into the pan, mix up with the onions. Add salt, pepper, diced garlic and coriander. Layer the rest of the vegetables on top (pepper and tomato). Add half a cup of water and let it boil/stew for about an hour or until the meat is softened up. Serve with white rice and garnish with dill!

Buglama

Adjab Sandal – Azeri beef stew

There is nothing more comforting than Meat and Potatoes, especially on a rainy, gloomy somewhat depressing (for other reasons) night. I must have made dozens of dishes whose main actors include the aforementioned. One thing always hold true: they never fail in taste. Be it the slow cooker beef stew, or the main character of this post (very similar to beef stew), they always taste great. They do evolve, but always remain true to their intended purpose: to satisfy and soothe the soul.

Adjab Sandal is the Azeri version of Beef Stew, with a few twists. One, there are tomatoes and eggplant present. Two, cinnamon. Yes. Cinnamon. It’s an ingredient present in main dishes, especially meat dishes quite often (among other spices). It gives the meat flavor unlike any other. It adds a certain kick to the dish. I love this dish. It’s relatively easy to make too.

Adjab Sandal

Adjab Sandal 

1 LB beef stew, or beef chuck cut up into small pieces

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp pepper

1.5 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 clove of garlic, diced

1 large onion, sliced into half rings

1/2 cup olive oil

3 large russet potatoes, sliced into circles

1 medium eggplant, or 1/2 a large eggplant

1 large tomato, sliced

1 cup water

Dill, chopped for garnish.

 

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium size bowl. Set aside for about 20 minutes. Heat up olive oil in a dutch oven pan (what is the proper name for them?). When oil is substantially hot, add the meat and fry up for a few minutes.

Marinated Meat

Marinated Meat

NOTE: this is where I always mess up, not sure why. My meat never starts frying right away. It releases juices, boils a little and then when the juices evaporate, starts frying. It may be because I crowd my meat, or because I don’t dry it enough so it retains water. Either way, I am yet to discover a way where I can fry it right away.

Once the meat is fried up add the garlic and onion and sauté until the onions soften.

Once done, add about 1 cup of water and let the mixture simmer for about 40 minutes on low heat, with the lid closed.

Then, add the sliced eggplants, potatoes and tomatoes (in that order) and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes. Don’t worry if this dish is ‘wetter’ than you’d like. It’s supposed to have water, so you can dip your bread in it!

When done, add chopped dill for garnish and additional flavor.

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Enjoy!

Turkish Baklava

I made something deliciously evil last night. Evil – because of its high sugar content. Delicious – because of its high sugar content. Please disregard my uneven cutting technique. This, my friends, is Baklava. The Turkish/Greek kind I suppose. Azeri Baklava (Paxlava) is way harder to make, and requires hours of dough rolling. This Turkish treasure is easier to make, hence takes a fraction of the time and tastes just as good. The recipe can be found here: http://ozlemsturkishtable.com/2010/06/baklava-with-pistachios-and-walnuts-fistikli-ve-cevizli-baklava/#comment-52321

Baklava

Baklava

Chilled Yogurt Soup: Dogramach or Ovdukh

I have a love/hate relationship with herbs. I dislike them in soups and stews. I love them fresh. I know they add tons of flavor to food and are a staple in Azeri kitchen, but I shy away from them. The dislike for cooked herbs started when I was a child, and continued into adulthood for me. I have however started warming up to it slowly…I actually like sebzi gourma (it’s a type of plov where meat is cooked with tons of herbs) and dovga (a cooked yogurt and herb soup).

This brings me to yesterday: the weather in my part of the state has been horrendous. It’s been extremely humid, rainy and wet. My hair does not appreciate this weather. Nor does my body. Needless to say, I did not feel like standing in front of the stove and cooking yesterday, so I opted out for something quick and cold. I remembered I had a tub of yogurt I bought from the Russian store  that was soon to be expired. I thought of making dovga, but that again would require me to actually stand and mix for good 20 minutes on the hot stove. Then I remembered: DOGRAMACH! It’s pretty much the same thing as Dovga, with a few exceptions, one major one being that it requires NO COOKING, just some chopping.

This dish is very refreshing, it has aromatic herbs, chilled yogurt and cucumbers. You can’t get any more summery than this dish. It’s a Gazpacho of Azerbaijan cuisine 😀 The only negative about this dish is that herbs are harder to chop, especially when wet. Well, for me anyhow. I struggled with it yesterday, herbs sticking and spreading everywhere, but eventually managed to get them where they needed to go! Oh and an extra added bonus, my kitchen smelled divine!

NOTE: Buy your yogurt at a Russian/Turkish or Persian stores. We buy ours from both, and I am not sure where it is made, but it comes from a Turkish company in NJ. Your best bet for better tasting yogurt is to buy them from an ethnic store. 

Mint

Mint

 

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Basil

Basil

Dill goes in

Dill goes in

Chilled Yogurt Soup: Dogramach or Ovdukh

4 cups plain yogurt

2 cups water

2 cucumbers, medium sized

1 bunch dill

1 bunch scallions

a handful of basil (to taste)

a handful of mint (to taste)

salt

pepper

dried cumin

2 garlic cloves

 

Pour yogurt and water into a pan, mix well until combined. If you want your soup thicker= add less water, thinned out = add more. Wash all the herbs and set aside. Start chopping. It really does not matter in what order you go, it all goes into the same pan anyways, but it’s easier to get the cucumber out of the way.Peel and chop up cucumbers, add to the yogurt mixture. Chop up the scallions. Next chop up mint and basil. Last but not least chop up the dill. Crush two garlic cloves and add them to the soup. Add salt, pepper, cumin (to taste), mix well. Set in the refrigerator if not eating right away. The soup will be chilled because the yogurt will be cold. Serve with bread, rye bread is your best bet!

Dogramach

Dogramach

NOTE: You can also add radish, or any other herbs you like. Traditionally boiled eggs go into this as well, if you prefer, you can hard boil, chill, chop and add them to the soup. This can also be made with ground or cubed beef. I would suggest cooking the meat first (sauteing or frying) and then adding it to the soup. 

It’s a seafood thing: oven roasted butter and lemon salmon with cauliflower rice

There is a wonderful restaurant right on the Caspian sea called Derya Fish House. It’s open air and the tables are right by the water, you get a feeling like you are sitting on a balcony with the Caspian right at your touch. Of course, they mainly serve fish and only the type that is local to the Caspian. For the life of me, I could not find it’s equivalent in the US, but let’s just say it’s trout like. This fish is mostly served on Novruz Bayrami, as levenghi, fish stuffed with nuts and sour plums (very tasty…but a whole different post).

So this restaurant…the fish is served two ways: one is butterflied and fried, and another grilled. Some of us tried it the butterflied way and some the other way. Both were very good, very fishy and time consuming to eat, mainly because the fish has a lot of little bones. You must use your hands to consume this wonderful meal. It’s part of the fun.

Tables at the restaurant

Tables at the restaurant, Caspian to the left.

Ever since going there, I have been dreaming and craving fresh seafood. Good seafood. Not sushi seafood but grilled, flavored, open-air type seafood. We do not eat nearly enough seafood at home, mainly because I hesitate to trust buying it at a local grocery store, and there are not that many fish markets in Connecticut. I would typically buy tilapia, safe choice for me and fry or roast it. I’ve also tried buying salmon steaks from a local Vietnamese store, and they taste just fine, but honestly I have no idea where the fish comes from, if it’s farm raised or wild caught, and after a few times, I got paranoid.

You can basically say, I gave up on cooking fish weekly, like I usually do chicken and beef. But from time to time, especially in this particular instance, when I am homesick, I decide to go for it. So off to the Whole Foods I went. I decided that no matter what, I will buy the salmon and cook it. Sure, it will be pricey, but totally worth it. And it was! I bought two pounds of salmon, and cooked up this delicious dinner. I served it with Cauliflower Rice, which is divine. I am not sure why I haven’t made it before. I’ve tried making mashed cauliflower before, and it was not that great. My husband in particular refused to eat it. But the rice turned out divine!

Butter and Lemon Roasted Salmon

The Salmon: 

2 lbs Salmon fillets (I recommend and urge you to buy WILD caught)

half a stick of butter

half a lemon, sliced

salt

pepper

garlic powder

cumin powder

olive oil

Preheat the oven to 365F.  Clean, wash and prep the salmon fillets. Salt and pepper generously on both sides. Slice the lemon thinly. Place one or two (depending on the size of the fish and the thickness of your lemon) on a piece of foil. The foil needs to be big enough so you can wrap the salmon tightly in it. Place the prepped salmon fillet on top of the lemon slices skin side down. Sprinkle cumin powder all over. Drizzle olive oil on top of the fish. Cut up slices of butter (I suggest thin slices, because mine ended up being too buttery because I used generous amount; so you can opt to use olive oil only, if you want this to be healthier) and place them on top of the fish. Wrap up the salmon tightly, and place on a cookie sheet (or it can be any other oven pan) with the butter facing up (you should be able to feel the lemon through the foil as well as the butter. Clue: the round thing you will feel is the lemon :D). Place in the oven and roast for about 25-30 minutes (Our oven is electric, so I need less time, and need to lower the temp by at least 10 degrees vs what the recipe says). Remove from the oven, let it rest for a few minutes, open the foil and let the fish rest some more. NOTE: the skin of the fish may get stuck to the lemon and the lemon to the foil. That’s OK. The salmon will be falling apart anyways, but that just means it’s going to be moist and juicy.

photo 3

Cauliflower rice:

1 head cauliflower

1 onion, chopped

2 eggs

salt

pepper

olive oil

Fill up a pan with water. Wash and separate the cauliflower flowers, remove all the junk, clean it etc. Place into the pan, and bring pan to boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, do not overdo it, otherwise it will be mushy. Drain the cauliflower, and put in a heat proof bowl. Take a fork and mash the cauliflower, but not too hard. You want them in chunks, not completely mashed like potatoes. You want to be able to feel its texture when you eat it. After you have sufficiently mashed the cauliflower,  set it aside. Chop up on onion and fry it in olive oil. Once done, add the cauliflower and mix well. Let the two fry up a little longer, about 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl beat two eggs. Once you see that cauliflower has absorbed onion’s smell and has some color, add the eggs to the pan and mix. Treat it like you are making scrambled eggs, constantly mixing. Let it cook for a few more minutes, add salt and pepper to taste and you are done.

With the eggs added

With the eggs added

Note: you can add anything you’d like to this rice: chopped up tomatoes, green peppers, cheese, any other veggies you like. I really think that the onion is the best, because of it’s flavor. Next time I will also chop up some garlic. But overall, this was very yummy.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

EasyPeasy Tiramisu

I love Tiramisu…from the store, from an Italian restaurant; you really cannot go wrong with this delicious desert. But the sucker is expensive…cost ya up to $15 if you get it from a store. Add insult to injury, my local grocery store doesn’t really carry this.

I’ve never made Tiramisu at home, but my step mom  has a very long time ago. From what I could remember, it was no big deal to make it, pretty easy and fast. But just to refresh my memory, I started looking up recipes and OMG. There were WAAAAAY too many steps and techniques. All I wanted was a piece of Tiramisu. Was that too much to ask for? So I decided to just go for it, and I did. I remembered what my step mom had used, and combined it with the recipe I was able to find online. It took me 7 ingredients and 30 minutes and I was done. The hard part was to wait overnight to eat it: D

EasyPeasy Tiramisu

Ingredients:

2 Packages of Lady Fingers (or if you cannot find, any long Italian cookies would do just fine)

1 12 OZ tub of Mascarpone cheese

4 cups of freshly brewed coffee

¼ cup chocolate liquor

1 egg

½ cup of sugar

Cocoa powder to sprinkle at the end

How-To:

1) Brew the coffee, when cooled add the chocolate liquor and mix.

2) Dip each of the cookies into the coffee mixture, and lay them side by side in a deep long pan (I used a large glass roasting pan)

4) Meanwhile, beat the Mascarpone with one egg and ½ cup of sugar until well combined

5) Spread the Mascarpone mixture on top of the layered cookies. Top with another layer of coffee dipped cookies

One Layer

One Layer

6) Spread the top layer with Mascarpone, and sift cocoa on top of it. Place in the refrigerator overnight. (This is done for the cream and coffee to be absorbed by the cookies, leaving the whole thing soft and spongy)

Finished product

Finished product

You should really wait overnight for all the flavors to be absorbed. I know it might be easier said than done!!

Kufte Bozbash – Azeri Meatball Soup

I am a pretty determined cook. I mean, if I get it into my head that I absolutely have to make something, I usually have to do it. But that kind of determination is a double-edged sword: if I am not feeling it, and I make myself make it, chances are, it will not turn out good. My father always said that you have to cook with love, and put your heart into it no matter what. If you don’t, it will be felt. And he is right. Not in the cheesy, food-is-love kind of way, but in a very logical way. When you put your love into it, it will be obvious and the lack of enthusiasm will be reflected in your dish.

So one very lazy Saturday afternoon, I was doing nothing at all. And I mean nothing. Sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day kind of day. It wasn’t particularly great weather  outside and nothing fun was going on. So I was determined to stay in. My husband was upstairs, working on his stuff. All of  a sudden I remembered that I needed to make dinner…stat…it was getting closer to lunch/dinner time and I knew my husband would definitely be getting hungry soon.

Now, I’ve made a promise to myself to make more of the traditional dishes, and was saved by the fact that I had a meal planned already: Kufte Bozbash (or meatball soup). A note I should make about all Azeri meat dishes is they taste best if the meat is lamb and super fresh. Unfortunately, it cannot always be the case (because lamb is expensive, not available everywhere for me and my husband would prefer beef), so I make do with beef.

This dish is not a favorite by any means, but it is hearty and was perfect on a cold weather. It’s relatively easy to make, if you are not making the broth from scratch, or in my case, just using water.  My meat came out a little bit dry, but it was ok, because the way to eat this soup, is to crush the meatballs, and pieced of bread and eat it like one mushy mixture (doesn’t sound appetizing, but it is ).

Kukfte Bozbash

Kufte Bozbash:

2 LB Ground beef or a combination of Lamb and Beef

1tbsp white rice, washed

Salt (to taste)

Pepper (to taste)

¼ cup dried mint

Dried sour plums (same number as you will have the meatballs)

2 medium potatoes, cut up

1 can Chickpeas

 

For the broth:

10 Cups water, boiled

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp tomato paste, mixed with water and added to the broth

 

Mix the salt, pepper, dried mint and rice in with the meat. Combine well. Form meatballs about a size of a small apple. As you are forming the balls, put 1 dried plum into each meatball. Set them aside.

Kuftes

Kuftes

Meanwhile, mix the tomato paste with water, in a small bowl and add it to the 10 cups of water on the stove. Add salt and pepper and bring to boil.

Broth

Broth

Once the broth has boiled, add the meatballs, potatoes and keep everything on medium low heat until the meatballs and potatoes are cooked. Towards the end, add the chickpeas. Sprinkle more dried meat on top when serving.

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Up a creek without a paddle: copying restaurant recipes

We all have those special dishes at restaurants that we just LOVE and must have each time we go there. I have a few of those; and I do not even attempt to copy them at home. I know it will not work. Besides, I am not really all that adventurous when it comes to trying and re-capturing a recipe. I am more of a follow-a-recipe type of a gal, until I get super comfortable with the recipe.
But something happened two weeks ago. My husband and I went to a Turkish Restaurant in New Haven, CT for lunch. Why Turkish? Well, because it’s pretty close to Azeri food and because my husband lived in Turkey for a looong time while studying. He loves the food. And even though he won’t admit it, he misses it a lot.
SO…we went to a Turkish Restaurant (here it is by the way, you can look at their menu http://www.saraykebab.com). We were VERY hungry. I like to pretend that I eat a lot, but my husband actually DOES. He loves to eat. And I mean LOVES it. He will get angry if you leave him hungry on purpose for any longer that he needs to be hungry. 3 out of 5 times during a week, the second thing he will tell me when I get home is “I am hungry”.
So knowing that, you will now understand why we ordered about 5 appetizers and two entrees. Some of the dishes we ordered, I’ve made or at least tried before. For example, my husband ordered Lahmajun: a very thin pizza with ground meat, tomatoes and peppers. That I’ve made before. We ordered a yogurt drink Ayran (one of the best things I’ve had in my life btw). I’ve made that at home as well. And then we ordered this: Haydari. It’s also a yogurt appetizer but none like I’ve had before: it was DELICIOUS. It’s sort of a dip. Sort of little piece of heaven filled with garlic. Oh, I love garlic. You can never have enough garlic in my opinion (ok, that’s a lie… you can definitely have enough garlic). But you now know why I was so partial to this dish. We attacked that appetizer with some very yummy bread and I vowed to make it at home, because it had but 3 ingredients.

I am usually the type of a person that once i get something into my head, I MUST DO IT. No matter how tired I am, no matter how I feel, I have to prove something to myself. So on a very busy and tiring tuesday evening, I went ahead, repeated it and: success.

Turkish Yogurt Appetizer: Haydari

1 cup of Greek Yogurt (my absolute favorite is Fage)
1 large garlic clove, or 2 small ones
1 tsp Olive Oil
a pinch of salt
1 tbs of cold water

Pour yogurt into a bowl, crush garlic into it, add salt and add water. Mix well. Pour the mixture into a deep desert plate, spread it out evenly. Carefully pour the olive oil over the plate, don’t worry about it not being pretty, it is supposed to spread out. Garnish with some mint or basil leaves. Enjoy!

Pretty, isn't it?

Pretty, isn’t it?

That was easy!

Cooking with love: Badimjan Dolmasi or Stuffed Eggplants

All right…at some point I’ll get on schedule where I blog as soon as I cook, or cook as I blog…but for now I’ll share with you a recipe that I haven’t made in over a month. The reason why I share this is because it’s by far one of my favorite Azerbaijani dishes: Badimjan Dolmasi (Eggplant “stew” or stuffed Eggplants is the best way to describe it).  Don’t worry, the dish is not composed of Eggplants only, it also contains tomatoes and bell peppers, all three stuffed with sautéed ground meat and stewed to perfection. I couldn’t really tell you why it’s my favorite dish, but it is. The flavors are just perfect; it’s savory, filling and homey (at least to me). It’s also simple to make, once you’ve gotten used to making it. I’ve only made it 4 times in the past year (I don’t know that may be a lot for some folks) but I can at this point make it with my eyes closed (ha-ha I almost believed that one).

So the basic concept is simple enough: sauté ground beef with some spices; “gut” the vegetables, fill them with meat, place them in a pan, add butter and water and let cook for 30-45 minutes. However, with this recipe it’s the little details that make or break it. The timing is very important; you don’t want your vegetables to turn to mush while cooking. Also, the technique: should you roast or boil your eggplants to make them softer? And what about peppers? Should you keep the tomato pulp? And so on.

Perhaps this is why I love this recipe: it requires a lot of attention to details and personal touches. It took me 2 times making it until I was able to get everything just where I liked it: the meat tasting just right, the tomatoes staying in shape and not becoming too mushy. I tend to get frustrated when something doesn’t work EXACTLY how I want it to, so I was very relieved when it all finally came together.

This is what you'll need

This is what you’ll need

Badimjan Dolmasi

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What you will need:

1-1 ½ lbs of ground beef, good quality, or a combination of lamb and beef (Whole Foods has great quality ground beef)

1 tsp salt

1tsp pepper

1tsp cinnamon

1 tbs dry mint

½ cup butter

*you can use olive oil as well, but them eat will taste much better with butter

4 green peppers

*I use Cubano ones usually, but this time I used bell peppers

4 medium to large tomatoes

4 medium to small sized eggplants

*now this is where I always encounter problems where I live. The only eggplants I can find are the really huge ones, and they just do not work for this recipe. They take up too much space and it makes no sense. I’ve gotten lucky a few times where at my local grocery store I was able to find small, individually wrapped eggplants. But that does not happen often. So if you have a place nearby that sells “normal” size eggplants, great. If you don’t, you can try the big ones.

A pinch of salt

 

Preparation:

1) Ground the lamb, or any other meat if you need to (like i did in the picture above). Place the ground meat in a frying pan, preferably a deep one, and add some water to it (about ¼ of a cup, little by little, don’t overdo it). Steam the meat in the water for a few minutes, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon as you go along.

2) Once the water has evaporated completely (and you have to make sure it has evaporated, no ifs ands or buts) add the butter and sauté the meat up until it gets a nice brown color, continuing to break up the meat with the spoon. You don’t want the meat to sauté in chunks.

3) While the meat is cooking, you can add all the spices: salt, pepper, cinnamon and mint. Mix it up very well

4) Wash the tomatoes, and one by one cut off the top, and take care not to cut off too much. Do this by placing the tomato on its side, and making a vertical cut off the top, make sure to save the tops, you will need them again. Take a teaspoon and “gut” the tomato and clean out all the pulp; reserve the pulp Take care not to pierce through the tomato while cleaning it out.

5) Wash the peppers and also cut off the top and clean out the seeds with your hands. Save the tops of the peppers, with the stalk in tact.

6) Wash and dry the eggplants. Make a vertical slit on the inside of the eggplant, the side that curves in, not out. Salt inside the slits and set them aside for 10-15 minutes. Take a deep pan and place it on the stove, warm it up. LAY the eggplants side by side inside the pan (if your eggplants are too big, or pan too small, you can do this one by one, it will just take longer). Turn them around frequently, just until all sides have been roasted and the eggplant is semi-soft. This is done so it will be easier to stuff them. Once the eggplants have softened and done roasting, set the eggplants aside so they can cool. Once cooled, you can try and scoop some of the inside of eggplants out as well, be very careful, do not poke holes in them.

The eggplants are ready to go

The eggplants are ready to go

7) For starters, take a tablespoon of the meat and stuff the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants one by one. Then keep adding meat, until all vegetables are full, but not overflowing. You have to be able to put the tops back onto the tomatoes and the peppers. Eggplants are the trickiest in stuffing, so BE VERY CAREFUL not to pierce through any of the vegetables, but especially eggplants, because they will get very soft.

8) Once all the vegetables are filled, place the tops back onto tomatoes and peppers and lay them inside a deep pan or a pot. I use a pot most of the time. Place the eggplants first, and then if you have space on the same level, place the tomatoes and peppers side by side. If you don’t have the space, then make layers: eggplant, peppers and then the top layer should be tomatoes. The peppers and tomatoes should stand no problem, the eggplants you will need to lay on the side, and just squeeze them side by side so they support each other.

9) Once all the stuffed vegetables are set in the pan/pot pour just a little bit of water, about ½ cup just so they can steam. Place the reserved pulp from tomatoes on top. The tomatoes will release a lot of water themselves, so do not overdo it with the water (I’ve done that and the end result were tomatoes that fell apart when trying to pick them up to serve, which resulted in the meat being all over the pot and not on your plate).

10) Cut up half a stick of butter into chunks, and place them all over the vegetables. The thing with Azerbaijani dishes is that flavor is everything and butter is everything (ha-ha). You want this dish to be savory and butter helps with it a lot.

ready to cook

ready to cook

 

11) Turn the heat to medium-low and let it cook/steam for about 30 minutes. Check the vegetables from time to time. Once the peppers and eggplants look like they’ve steamed enough, the dish is done!

Serve with some garlicky yogurt and bread!

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