“Goodbye Summer” salad

When I think salad I don’t necessarily think “entree”. That’s not true thought, is it. Many restaurants serve salads as entrees and done right, salads can be filling and satisfying. For me, the most important part of a salad is the PROTEIN. I am biased, because I cannot go one day (or one dinner) without protein, be it chicken, beef or fish. It’s a must for me, as simple as that. My whole family is like that. We are meat eaters. So when I found this recipe I was delighted.

Don’t get me wrong, I love eating salads for lunch. But I always put either chicken breast, tuna or eggs in it. It’s just not satisfying to me without it.

This is really a very simple recipe. Minimal cooking (if you go the rotisserie chicken route that I do everytime), just some chopping and mixing.

Chicken Salad

1 rotisserie chicken

1 large cucumber

1 green or red bell pepper

1 can of corn

1/2 cup mayo

1/2 cup greek yogurt

3 green onions (scallions)

Dill (handful)

salt, pepper

Chop everything and toss in greek yogurt and mayo.

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Mix. Cover and refrigerate. That’s it. No fuss, no cooking. Easy and delicious.

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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!

Quick Cooking Tips: Chicken and Grains

As I was making dinner last night, and it was not going the way I wanted it to, I drew a few conclusions for myself that I decided to share with you:
1) Always trust your gut (and the recipe timing) when cooking chicken. If the recipe says 45-60 minutes, I would lean toward the 60 minute mark to make sure the chicken cooks all the way. There is nothing more unappetizing than a bloody chicken..yuck. Besides, almost alway by looking at the chicken you can tell if it is ready or not. However there have been a few times where I was being inpatient and have taken the chicken out of the oven earlier than needed, simply because it “looked” cooked. A chicken needs at least one hour to cook (depending on the size, of course). But this is true for whether you are cooking a whole chicken, or parts. Also remember that the breast cooks faster than the rest of the chicken, so when testing the done-ness (not a word, I am sure) of the chicken with a thermometer, test the thighs preferably.
2) When cooking grains (rice, couscous, barley etc), always start with less water than more. For example, I boiled way too much water for the couscous so it ended up being a couscous soup, so to speak. Start with less water, and then you can add more if need be. Usually, for rice it’s a 2:1 ratio (2 cups of water 1 cup of rice). Still learning to navigate this though, so stay tuned!

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.

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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!

Long time no see

I’ve been out for a while…actually went on a vacation. That’s right, I went back home! It’s been 8 years, and I finally went back to Azerbaijan! It was great, I saw my relatives, my city, had some fun, ATE SOME FOOD. I came back inspired to cook even more Azeri food. So I am gonna take my inspiration and get to cooking. Stay tuned!

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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!