My unmatched Citizens! As explained in My previous post, that recipe for Azeri spiced pomegranate molasses was a foundation for today’s dish from right over the border in Iran – this for an unmatched ribeye steak kabob exploding with layers of flavor known as torsh kabob! This is a superlative recipe that serendipitously ties together two neighboring regions with the same name – Azerbaijan! Confused? I’ll repeat my explanation from the foundation recipe post here to provide context and foundational understanding of how two different regions in two different countries can BOTH be called Azerbaijan!
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!
Kabab torsh (Persian: کباب ترش) is a traditional kebab that are part of the culinary repertoire of both Gilan and Mazandaran provinces in Iran – both part of the Azerbaijan Iranian region. It is made with beef – usually a top cut such as sirloin or tenderloin (I make mine with ribeye because that’s how TFD rolls!), though in recent years it has also been made with chicken, as not all can afford red meat in Iran. The meat for kabob torsh is marinated in a paste made of crushed walnuts, pomegranate juice, chopped parsley, olive oil, and crushed garlic. It is then cooked on skewers over charcoal. Traditionally, it is eaten with kateh (boiled rice) and a vast variety of Gilani side dishes.
Traditionally, kabob torsh uses a very specific fresh herb that grows in the Gilan and Mazandaran provinces of Iran and is known as Chochaagh. However, Chochaagh is not widely available anywhere in the rest of the world and is only available locally, as far as I can determine. I use a range of other, more easily-obtained local herbs and spices to create the proper flavor profile of the Caspian Sea-region.
As noted in this lightly-edited and excerpted article from the Los Angeles Times:
It’s punched-up barbecue, barbecue for the nose: smoky grilled meat swathed with heady scents of saffron, butter, onions and aromatic rice.
No wonder the shah of Iran wanted his kebab.
About 150 years ago, Naser od-Din Shah was yearning for the kebabs he’d grown up on in Azerbaijan, so he ordered an Azerbaijani homeboy to open a kebab stand just outside his palace in Tehran. That way he could send out for a fragrant skewer or two whenever he felt like it. (It’s good to be the shah.) As a result, kebab fever spread through Tehran, then all of Iran.
Generations later, it was bound to reach Southern California because we have the largest Iranian colony in the country — nearly half the Iranians in the U.S. live here. Today there are about 60 Persian restaurants in Los Angeles and Orange counties, ranging in stature from food court stalls to splashy supper clubs.
Assuming you have already made the Azeri spiced pomegranate syrup from my previous post, you are ready to make this recipe to wow your (very) fortunate dinner guests! First off, you want to use a really good-quality ribeye, preferably grass-fed and humanely-raised – an unhappy cow has substandard meat and it is unethical to support factory meat ranches with no regard for the animals they raise! TFD Nation is better than that! You’ll also need a range of fresh herbs, all easily found in your supermarket’s produce aisle.
You’ll want some clarified butter for this recipe, either made yourself (it’s extremely easy!) or you can buy some pre-made from your local Indian grocer or from Amazon here. You’ll also want some (optional) dried pennyroyal, a mint-like herb used throughout the region – you can buy top-quality pennyroyal from here (note that if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you should omit this ingredient – it’s not going to hurt you in the small amount used, but better to be safe than sorry!).
Rosewater is a necessity for a good kabob torsh, but I am VERY finicky when it comes to this ingredient! I prefer to simply take the best Bulgarian rose extract (buy it here) and add it to water to make the ultimate in top-quality product! Ground dried angelica root is also a must for true Persian cooking – this is a good brand and easily found in middle eastern grocery stores as well as Amazon.
This last ingredient choice for my version of kabob torsh is a bit unusual, but I think it works incredibly well in the recipe – most Iranians would use fresh lime juice to add sourness (it IS called a sour (torsh) kabab after all!) – I however prefer the less authentic but far more flavorsome addition of Georgian Tkemali sauce (from the nearby country of Georgia). It’s made from sour plums and a range of herbs and spices and is just fantastic – this is a good brand, though grossly-overpriced on Amazon (you can find it cheaper online elsewhere). It’s one of my favorite condiments and will soon be yours as well, I promise!
My Citizens – this two-part kabob torsh recipe will reward you with a unique and unbelievably delicious meal, plus leftover pomegranate molasses to grace your fridge – I have every confidence you will love this recipe! Do try it with a delicious and cooling Persian ice cream for a most excellent dessert to end an epic meal suitable for the Gods themselves!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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