After Azerbaijan became an independent republic in 1991 it began a process of reconciliation with its distant past. Being part of the Soviet Union changed every aspect of life in Azerbaijan. One aspect was the existence of a diaspora across the border in Iran. Another was the impact on Azerbaijani culture.
The Soviet occupation, according to Pirouz Khanlou, ‘impacted the traditional cuisine that had emerged over thousands of years’. Very gradually the people of Azerbaijan are rediscovering that culture.
One such dish is this fabulous kufta, a meat loaf fundamentally associated with Tabriz in Iran, fondly remembered in Baku, now an integral aspect of modern Azerbaijani cuisine.
- 3 litres water
- 2 kg beef, minced
- 1.6 kg chicken, baked, wings removed
- 600 g onions, chopped
- 500 g lentils, yellow-split, cooked
- 500 g rice, cooked
- 5 eggs (1 hard-boiled)
- 150 g plums / prunes
- 100 g sour cherries
- 75 g walnut halves
- 50 g almonds, blanched
- 20 g mint, chopped
- 20 g savory, chopped
- 10 g tarragon, chopped
- 10 g black pepper, freshly ground
- 10 g salt
- 5 g chives, chopped
- 5 g saffron
- Vegetable oil, for frying
Sauté half of the onions over a medium heat until they begin to turn brown, about 30 minutes, leave to cool.
Grate the remaining onions. Mash lentils and rice with a fork, combine with grated onions. Work this mixture into the beef, add eggs, fried onions, herbs and seasonings. Knead for 10 minutes until the fat starts to separate from the ‘dough’. Leave to rest.
Toast the almonds and walnuts in oil over a low heat for ten minutes, remove and chop into small pieces. Spread the dough on a clean tea towel. Sprinkle with toasted nuts.
Stuff hard-boiled egg, plums or prunes and cherries into the cavity of the baked chicken.
Place the chicken on the dough. Wrap the towel around the chicken to encase it tightly with the dough, forming a small soccer ball.
Bring water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the ball, add saffron and large pinches of salt and pepper.
Cover, simmer for two hours.