My Citizens – the Count of Chaos, the Regent of Randomness, YOUR TFD! – has a new treat for TFD Nation: the first-ever two-part recipe created under the shining aegis of my imperious imprimatur!
Now, for those of you who follow TFD on a regular basis – you’re in for a treat by combining this recipe for narsharab, a unique spiced pomegranate syrup recipe from Azerbaijan, with the upcoming recipe for Iranian/Azeri beef tenderloin skewers (which requires it for the proper taste profile)! However, never fear – if you’re just here for THIS recipe from a Google search, it will grace your table with aplomb and you will find its deliciously tart flavors usable in a wide range of different dishes!
Sadly, most Americans lack – shall we say – a detailed knowledge of world geography and as such may be unaware that the proud country of Azerbaijan borders Iran – but did you know there is actually an Azerbaijan INSIDE Iran? Well, even the near-infinite genius of TFD reached its limit on this one, because neither did I! It is this newly-discovered (at least by me) fact that enables me to legitimately link these two disparate recipes together, even though they are from two different countries!
Azerbaijan is not just the country in question but ALSO an historical region in northwestern Iran that borders Iraq, Turkey, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Armenia, and the actual Republic of Azerbaijan. The region is still known as Azerbaijan (Persian: آذربایجان) within Iran, and I shall try to elucidate the difference between the country and the region below and the historical rationale as to why they have the same name.
Iranian Azerbaijan includes three northwestern Iranian provinces: West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Ardabil. The region is mostly populated by Azerbaijanis, with minority populations of Kurds, Armenians, Tats, Talysh, Assyrians and Persians. The name Azerbaijan itself is derived from Atropates, the Persian Satrap (governor) of Medea in the Achaemenid empire, who ruled a region found in modern Iranian Azerbaijan called Atropatene. Atropates’s name is believed to be derived from Old Persian root words meaning “protected by fire”.
Iranian Azerbaijan is the land originally and historically called Azerbaijan; the Azerbaijani-populated Republic of Azerbaijan actually appropriated the name of the neighboring Azerbaijani-populated region in Iran during the 20th century! Historic Azerbaijan was called Atropatene in antiquity and Aturpatakan (Adurbadagan) in the pre-Islamic Middle Ages. Some people refer to Iranian Azerbaijan as South (or Southern) Azerbaijan and the Republic of Azerbaijan as Northern Azerbaijan, although others believe that these terms are irredentist and politically-motivated.
Now that we have established a credible thread of destiny between the two regions, it should not surprise you that the Iranian Azerbaijan’s cuisine is nearly identical to that of its neighbor, though with a few critical Persian influences that fuse Azeri and Iranian cuisines into a new whole that some claim is greater than its constituent parts. I will simply state that recipes from both sides of the border ignite my palate with a range of flavors that is second-to-none!
It is probably a safe assumption you are not overly familiar with Azeri culture and cuisine – prepare to be illuminated with the fire of inner vision and clarity, because TFD is on the case to drop a knowledge payload into your grey matter, forthwith! 🙂
Azeri hospitality is legendary throughout the region and I am delighted to share some background information about these warm and hospitable people! As noted on theculturetrip.com:
Hospitality in the Caucasus is second to none. Hosts welcome guests into their homes and offer endless cups of Azerbaijani tea while serving jam and other condiments. The roots of the hospitality date back centuries. Former rulers were renowned for providing the very best for visiting dignitaries. Nothing sums up Azerbaijani generosity more than the ancient saying which translates to something like this: ‘Let the houses which do not welcome guests collapse’.
The Azerbaijan people have always been cultured. Endless medieval poets and writers including the great Nizami Ganjavi hail from Azerbaijan. Head to Baku’s Nizami Museum and see six life-size statues of historical, literary geniuses proudly standing outside. The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union placed a lot of emphasis on high culture too.
In 1918, Azerbaijan became the first Islamic country to give women the vote. In perspective, the United States granted suffrage in 1920 and the United Kingdom in 1928. Today, women hold high positions in government and while they do follow traditional gender roles they have a high level of respect. Men often hold doors open, give up their seats and insist on paying. Women dress in fashionable clothes and few wear a traditional headscarf. In local traditions, it’s more important to enjoy time with friends than to meet deadlines. If someone has a meeting at noon but finds themselves still chatting and sipping coffee, they arrive 30 minutes late.
Expect long and warm greetings, good manners and endless pleasantries. When an Azeri asks how you and your family are, they often genuinely want to know. Visit someone’s home and have tea and food offered immediately. Despite the apparent public aloofness, the Azerbaijan people are polite.
Historically and culturally, Azerbaijan has strong influences from Persia and Russia. Secularism means all religions from Shia Islamic to Orthodox Christianity and Judaism are welcome. Different regions boast different traditions and micro-cultures. And modern-day Azerbaijanis look towards to the West. The ancient and traditional juxtapose with the contemporary. Persian, Russian and European influences combine.
Azerbaijani cuisine (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan mətbəxi) of course refers to the cooking styles and dishes of Azerbaijanis. The cuisine developed significantly due to its diversity of plentiful agriculture, capable of producing a variety of fruits and vegetables, due to the abundant grasslands which historically allowed for a culture of pastoralism to develop, as well as to the unique geographical location of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which is situated on the crossroads of Europe and Asia with an access to the Caspian sea.
Azerbaijan’s national cuisine is closer to Middle Eastern cuisine due to the taste and preparation of the dishes, as well as adding a dark spice and flavor additives. Contemporary Azerbaijan cuisine retains traditional methods of preparation of dishes while incorporating modern cooking requirements and preparations. Azerbaijani dishes have traditionally been cooked with copper utensils in copper cookware. Copper bowls and plates are still commonly used as serving dishes.
Azerbaijani cuisine is full of different types of greens and vegetables such as aubergine, tomato, sweet pepper, spinach, cabbage, onion, sorrel, beet, radish, cucumber, green beans. Rice and products made from flour are widely used in national cuisine. It is famous for vegetables and greens used seasonally in the dishes. Fresh herbs, including mint, coriander, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leek, chive, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress are very popular and often accompany main dishes.
The majority of national dishes are prepared of lamb, beef and poultry meat. Dishes prepared of minced meat are more prevalent. The sea, lakes and rivers of the Republic of Azerbaijan are abundant with different fish species, particularly white sturgeon. Sturgeon fish is widely used in preparation of national dishes. The Caspian Sea is home to many edible species of fish, including the sturgeon, Caspian salmon, 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.
One of the most reputed dishes of Azerbaijani cuisine is plov from saffron-covered rice, served with various herbs and greens, a combination totally distinct from those found in Uzbek plovs. Azerbaijani cuisine includes more than 40 different plov recipes. Other second courses include a wide variety of kebabs and shashlik, including lamb, beef, chicken, duck and fish (baliq) kebabs. Black tea is the national beverage, and is drunk after food is eaten. It is also offered to guests as a gesture of welcome, often accompanied by fruit preserves.
Sturgeon, a common fish, is normally skewered and grilled as a shashlik, being served with a tart pomegranate sauce called narsharab (the subject of today’s recipe!). Dried fruits and walnuts are used in many dishes. The traditional condiments are salt, black pepper, sumac, and especially saffron, which is grown domestically on the Absheron Peninsula. The third courses include soups, of which there are more than 30 types in Azerbaijani national cuisine. These include kufta bozbash, piti prepared of meat and dovga, ovdukh, dogramach, bolva prepared of greens and yoghurt. Some soups are served in national or interesting and unusually-shaped bowls.
The location has enabled the people to develop a varied and nutritious diet, rich in produce, milk products, and meat, including beef, mutton, fish and game. Furthermore, the location, which was contended over by many historical kingdoms, khanates, and empires also meant that Azerbaijani cuisine was influenced by the culinary traditions of multiple different cultures, such as Turkic, Iranian, and Eastern European, and as a result, Azerbaijani cuisine gradually developed to make use of many different culinary techniques and ingredients.
Now – as to narsharab itself! This heavy syrup is the result of boiling down 100% pomegranate juice by at least ½, sometimes up to ⅔ and then adding a range of spices to complement its deliciously tart flavor profile. The recipe to make it is quite simple, but finding the correct spices to add into it proved very difficult indeed and consumed several hours of research across many Azeri recipe sites (bless you, Google Translate!). I believe I have found (at least to my palate) a profound blend of spices that really sets off the tartness of the syrup – and they are indeed authentic to both the recipe and the region!
Really, the only thing you need to worry about for the narsharab recipe is finding a quality 100% pomegranate syrup – mercifully, Amazon to the rescue with this delectable version from Turkey! Organic, culinary-grade rose petals from Bulgaria are the best in the world and are also available from Amazon, here.
All the other ingredients can be found easily in your grocery store or online – be sure to try this across a range of recipes, not just the Iranian/Azeri beef skewer recipe to come! Glaze a chicken with it, use it as a dip for crudités, drizzle it over vanilla ice cream – the opportunities are both dazzling and vast, my Citizens! Tune in for the next linked recipe, coming soon and consider serving this with another delicious Azeri dish – dushbara ravioli in saffron broth!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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