Breakfast from Azerbaijan, Land of Jam

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

So says the Azerbaijani tourism and information site http://www.azerbaijan24.com/, informing us that “Azerbaijanis make jam from almost anything – walnuts, watermelon and even rose petals…the most popular jams are made from plums, raspberries, mulberries, pears, peaches, melons, figs, strawberries and cherries…grapes, pumpkin and pomegranates…even eggplants can be used as base for jam…If you visit an Azerbaijani home, undoubtedly you’ll be served homemade jam along with black tea. When tea is served, you’ll discover it’s rare in the Republic to be offered sugar. Instead, they’re more likely to offer jam. Azerbaijanis put a small spoonful of jam in their mouths and sip the tea through the jam.”

So, with their predilection for jam, Azerbaijanis are the Billy Bunters of the steppes (greedy fictional schoolboy Bunter liked nothing better than to raid his friends’ tuck parcels and devour jam straight from the jar).

I decided to make jam the centrepiece of the Azerbaijani breakfast (the latest in our A-Z series of international breakfasts). This was a cheaper and easier option than trying to get hold of my first idea which was caviar. After all, Azerbaijan, nestling between Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia has a border on the West side of the Caspian sea, home to the sturgeon which produce the coveted caviar.

Muslim Azerbaijan (in contrast with its largely Christian neighbour Armenia) was under Soviet control until it declared independence in 1991 under the Gorbachev glasnost era. Oil is a major earner for the country with activity centred around the capital city of Baku. You may recall that the 1990s Bond Film “The World is Not Enough” with its convoluted oil industry plot featured scenes set and filmed in Azerbaijan.

Enough of background and onto breakfast. This was the prepared table:

On the menu was of course my prize jam collection (including a weird watermelon rind jam which was my only homemade contribution), also Azeri flatbread, sheeps-milk cheese, fresh fruit (including of course the flesh of the watermelon the rind of which went into the jam).

All this was washed down with small glasses of black tea drunk Azeri style with yet more jam.

Here is my completed jar of watermelon rind jam looking distinctly pondlike:

Was the jam worth the effort? No. The resulting jam is dense, sticky and with a taste a bit like cooked marrow – ie vegetal, ever so slightly bitter and not particularly pronounced. The recipe came from the improbably specific website www.watermelonrind.com. There is an alternative recipe on the Azerbaijan 24 site I referenced earlier but that recipe makes use of a rather scary sodium hydroxide solution to crisp up the rind before cooking. Not only is this stuff hard to obtain but it’s also toxic so I thought I’d give it a miss.

Much more to my safe Western taste is the following recipe for Azeri flatbread from the comprehensive and appealing site www.azcookbook.com. My bread, pictured below, is a little more rustic than the photo on the AZ Cookbook site but in my book rustic is good and the toasted sesame seeds tasted delicious:

Recipe for Azeri flatbread

With thanks to http://www.azKitchen.com.

Ingredients

1 package (1/4 oz / 7g) dry yeast
1 ½ cups (12 fl oz/375 ml) warm water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour, plus extra for kneading
1 beaten egg for brushing (or just the yolk for a really golden colour)
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds

1. In a small bowl, mix yeast with water until the yeast is dissolved.
2. Sift flour into a large bowl. Add salt and mix well. Gradually add the yeast-water mixture and stir in using your hand until a rough ball forms.
3. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Press any loose dough pieces into the ball and knead the dough, punching it down with your fists, folding it over and turning. Knead for about 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
4. Shape the dough into a ball and put it back into the large bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or a plastic wrap.
5. Leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in bulk. The dough should look puffy and be soft when poked with a finger.
6. Punch down the dough, then transfer it onto a lightly floured surface.
7. Shape the dough into a ball, and with your hands flatten slightly and stretch it lengthwise. Using a rolling pin, start rolling the dough beginning at one end until you obtain a long flat bread about ½ inch thick (1.27cm), 14 inches long (35cm) and 8 inches (20cm) wide.
8. Carefully transfer the bread onto a non-stick baking sheet, fixing the shape as necessary. Leave the dough to rest on the sheet for another 15 minutes before baking.
9. Preheat the oven to 400?F (200?C).
10. Using a knife, make shallow crosshatching slashes on the bread, 4 from right to left and 4 the opposite way, each at a slight angle. Brush the bread evenly with the egg/egg yolk and sprinkle with seeds.
11. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake the bread for 20-25 minutes, or until it is golden on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Recipe for watermelon rind jam

Ingredients

Recipe taken from the very specific website http://www.watermelonrind.com. I can’t say I recommend the finished article but here’s the recipe to satisfy your curiosity.

1lb watermelon rind cut into 1cm cubes
water to cover
3 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups white granulated or preserving sugar
1 strip lemon peel

Place the watermelon rind in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for half an hour until the rind is tender and translucent. Drain, reserving 1 and a half cups of cooking liquid. Add the cooked rind, reserved cooking liquid, lemon peel and sugar to your preserving pan. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, cover and leave overnight.

The next day, add the cardamom pods bring the mixture back to the boil. Cook for approximately 15 minutes until a thick syrup has formed. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pot in the usual way.

I’m going to conclude my post Azeri style by wishing you NUSH OLSUN

…and the good news is we’re through all the countries beginning with the letter A so next stop, the Bahamas!

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