Saturday, February 12, 2011


I remember the first time I ever heard of Azerbaijan.  It was the answer to a Jeopardy question about countries that started with the letter "A."  My guess is that is was to name one of them that starts with an "A" but doesn't end with one, since I remember there being two possible answers.  From that time, I thought that it was a really pretty word, and haven't never forgotten it since.  Also interesting that the A's start and end with this...Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.  That's right, this is the last A!  Quite a while for just one letter, no?


Some history: Was briefly independent from 1918 to 1920, then regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union
Location: Southwest Asia, a part (referenced in the Armenia post) in Europe
Area: 87,000 sq km, slightly smaller than Maine
Bordering nations: Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Russia, Turkey
Coastline: Technically landlocked, although they border the Caspian Sea
Elevation: Ranges from about 90 feet below sea level to 14,700 feet above
Population: 8.3 million, 91st in the world
Official language: Azeri
Capital: Baku
Unemployment rate: 0.9%, ranked 3rd in the world
Human Trafficking: Is on a watch-list for failure to take the appropriate measures to prevent human trafficking
Climate: Out of the 11 recognized climate zones in the world, Azerbaijan has 9
Azerbaijani cuisine: Influenced by the climates, they have an abundance of local crops

On first glance, I was a little worried about finding the right ingredients for Azerbaijan.  I found a lot of recipes that called for ground mutton.  As cool as the international grocery store is, I thought that might be a bit beyond their reach.  The other option was grape leaves.  The national dish, dolma, used them.  I wasn't sure I would find them though.  So I went on an adventure.
Now that I have some, I need some recipes.  There are a lot, but it was hard for me to tell what was from Azerbaijan and what wasn't.  The literature I found said that theirs were distinct, so I wanted to get it right.

I finally found one that was specifically called out as being Azerbaijani.

There was also a soup recipe.  I don't think it is actually Azerbaijani, but it sounded good.

Dolmas are basically meat and things wrapped in grape leaves and then cooked.  I was a little worried about how long it would take me to do all of this stuff, and I was right.  A little labor intensive.
First, because they aren't fresh grape leaves, you have to wash them all off.
Recently washed grape leaf.
Next step, cut off the stem.
Then, if the grape leaf is "large," cut it in half.  Unfortunately they didn't really give me an idea of what was large and what wasn't...
Pile o' grape leaves!
Next you have to create the filling.  The ambiguous part of this recipe (because apparently there always has to be one) is that there is rice.  It didn't say whether it should be cooked or uncooked, though. I knew these things would be boiled, so I figured they shouldn't, but some reassurance would have been nice.
Rice, Onions, Beef, Cilantro, Dill, Pepper...I think that's it.
I then had to knead it all with my hands, which was an interesting sensation.
Okay!  So, we have our grape leaves and our filling.  What do we do next?  Check on the family!
Asleep and adorable on his palace.
NCAA Football.  Trying to bring Eastern Michigan up from the dregs of last place.
At least by this time Tesla wasn't on the trash can anymore.
Okay, post-break it is time to assemble everything.  This was the part I was worried about the timing for.
This is where I was supposed to fit them all...all 80 of them.
Step one...hold grape leaf shiny-side down in left palm.
Step two: fill with a teaspoon or so of filling.
Step three, roll, fold, and finagle until you realize the leaf isn't big enough and you can't get it to stay closed anyway.
And yes, I am wearing my Epic shirt.  I was going to go work out while this was cooking.  Why didn't anyone ever tell me how comfortable that shirt is before?
Layer one.
Both layers.
Now that I had gotten them all in there, I re-read the next instruction to realize I hadn't understood it before.  Not only did they want me to cover the pan, but they wanted something directly on the dolmas to keep them closed.
I'm glad I figured that part out.
Although it was still a little weird.
Okay, now it is time to work out and then start the soup.
Kevin helped chop things!
Carrots are no match for our food processor.
LOT of veggies.

Plus flour.
Plus liquid.
We used milk instead of heavy cream, because I knew we would use the rest of it.  At this point though, I was getting a little sad that it wasn't heavy cream.  I like thick soups, and this wasn't quite getting there with just the milk.

We're getting close to being done though!  Just make the yogurt-garlic dip....
...boil the soup...
...take out the dolmas....
Which apparently got blurry on the stove...
...and set the table.

Time to sit down for a homecooked Azerbaijani meal.

Apparently I don't like grape leaves.

This was a very unfortunate discovery to make.  Seeing as that was the centerpoint of the meal, it made enjoying it very difficult.  I think I only ate 3 or 4, some of which I just ate the stuffing out.  It was very anti-climactic.  I'm sure for people who like grape leaves, this could have been very good.  Kevin was okay with it.  He wasn't a huge fan but could actually eat it, unlike me.

The soup was decent, although I think the suggestion to use heavy cream would have made it much better.  With what we used it was a little watery.

I was not too happy with this.  Again, I don't think it was a problem with the recipe, just a personal taste thing.  If anyone knows they like grape leaves, I really encourage them to try this and give me your opinion.  I also wonder if it would have been better with fresh leaves, rather than ones that were sitting in preservatives for so long.

After the meal, we decided to get rid of the rest knowing we wouldn't eat them.  This actually was a bad move, because we had people over for the Super Bowl the next day who said that they really like grape leaves.  We should have kept some for them to try and give us their opinion.  However, I did make Austrian potatos for them, which seemed to go over decently well.

Certainly not my best work.  I think next time will be AWESOME though, and everyone should get really excited.

Besides, Tesla seemed to like the grape leaves.  He started licking them.
On a grape leaf hunt.
Last time: Austria
Next time: The Bahamas


  1. isn't mutton lamb? i think whole foods might have ground lamb... although these leaves do look pretty delish to me :)

  2. Katie, mutton is sheep that is older than lamb. Come on, get it right. :-P I have seen ground lamb at the store before.

    You should have been here to try it!