Because Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union from 1920 to 1991, the traditional foods fell out of popular use and were supplanted by Soviet staples like cabbage and potatoes. Apparently, at least according to a couple of sources I found, the Soviets wanted all of their people to eat the same kinds of food to bring them together culturally, so they set up what sounds like state run cafeterias, where everyone could get free or cheap (not clear to me which) food. This further had the effect of encouraging women to participate in the workplace rather than staying at home and cooking for their families. Since 1991, gradually the old flavors and cooking methods are being re-imported from Azerbaijanis in Iran.
I chose to reflect the traditional flavors rather than go with Soviet style cuisine, primarily because the Azerbaijani flavors are interesting and I wanted to explore how they would work with a burger. In homage to the Soviets, I did make a side dish that incorporates Brussels sprouts and onion along with pasta – not exactly typical Soviet food, but it’s a tasty side dish, so please forgive the creative license. For the burger, I have again tackled baking with a homemade tandir bread. You could easily serve this on a store bought bread or roll – I would choose something with a firm-ish crust like ciabatta or focacia. We did try the burger with store bought pita bread and it was ok, but not as good as a more substantial roll.
Azerbaijani cuisine uses a plethora of aromatic herbs and an herb salad is often a side dish with meat. You can substitute your favorite herbs for the ones I’ve used here anything from dill to cilantro to basil would be appropriate in Azerbaijani cooking. Yogurt is a key food in this entire region, Azerbaijanis, unlike Armenians, frequently mix fruit and/or nuts into yogurt and the addition of Turkish apricots makes a yummy counterpoint for the aromatic herbs.
This burger has a light and delicate flavor. The bread is just slightly sweet, the yogurt adds a little more sweet, then the herbs give a brightness and freshness to the whole dish. It’s perfect for a nice sunny spring day. We served it with Five Rivers 2009 Pinot Noir – only $14 at Whole Foods, great price for a Pinot, nice delicate flavor. I also tried a veggie version of this burger and I thought that the garlic in Gardenburger Original flavor overpowered some of the Azerbaijani flavors – it was ok, but not my favorite veggie option.
This is an easy recipe, the burger and toppings are simple, even the bread is relatively easy to make. So fire up the grill, pour yourself a glass of Pinot and enjoy.
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground sumac
Salt and pepper
1 pound 80% lean ground beef
4 Tandir Rolls (recipe below)
Apricot-Saffron Yogurt Sauce (recipe below)
Aromatic Herbs(recipe below)
In a small bowl, combine the molasses and spices. In a medium bowl add the molasses mixture to the ground beef and mix until thoroughly combined. Form the meat into four equally sized patties and cook to desired temperature.
Slice the Tandir Rolls in half and grill the rolls until lightly toasted. Place one burger patty on each roll. Spread 1-2 Tablespoons of the Apricot-Saffron Yogurt Sauce on each top “bun”. Top each burger with 2-3 Tablespoons Aromatic Herbs, then cover with top bun.
Serve with Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Spring Onions and Orzo (recipe below)
¾ cup water at 120˚F
1½ teaspoon fast acting yeast
1 Tablespoon honey
1¾ cup flour plus extra for kneading
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk beaten
Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl and wisk until yeast is dissolved. You should see some foamy bubbles coming from the yeast. In a small bowl combine the flour and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the yeast mixture (about ½ cup at a time). When all of the flour is mixed in the dough should form a ball. Flour a work surface and knead the bread for 8 minutes (time yourself, otherwise you’ll do two minutes and think you’ve done eight), re-flour as necessary during the kneading process to keep the dough from sticking. Oil a clean dry glass bowl and set dough ball inside – cover with a dry towel and let it rest away from drafts for 1 hour or until it doubles in size.
Place a pizza stone in a cold oven then preheat the oven to 400˚F (if you don’t have a pizza stone, just preheat the oven and bake the rolls on a baking sheet). Once dough has doubled divide it into four equal portions, roll each portion into a ball then hand flatten to form a disk about ½ inch thick. In the picture above, I left two of the rolls in balls and the shape is just a little too spherical, the two rolls in front were flattened and worked much better as burger buns. You can also tell that baking isn’t my forte, each of my rolls turned out a slightly different size and shape, luckily they tasted good.
Let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Brush each dough round with egg yolk. Place the dough rounds directly onto the hot pizza stone and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden.
Apricot-Saffron Yogurt Sauce
½ cup 2% milk fat Greek Yogurt
6 Turkish apricots chopped*
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
4 threads of saffron crumbled
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until well mixed. Refrigerate for at least a half hour before serving (this allows the flavors to meld together). Stir everything up after it has sat so that you can make sure that the saffron is mixed well into the yogurt.
*Turkish apricots are available in any well stock grocery store. They are brown rather than orange and have a darker, more date/fig like flavor than their California counterparts. If you can’t find Turkish apricots, use dates or figs instead.
¾ cup watercress, chopped
⅓ cup fresh tarragon, chopped
⅓ cup fresh mint, chopped
Try to chop all of the ingredients to similar sizes. Combine all ingredients – mix well to evenly distribute the flavors.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Spring Onions and Orzo
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1-2 Tablespoons Olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
3 spring baby Vidalia onions
½ cup orzo
Preheat oven to 450°. Slice the Brussels sprouts thin and discard stems. Toss the sprouts in olive oil (should be just enough to coat the sprouts, but they shouldn’t be swimming in it) then generously salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 10-15 minutes stirring half way through. They’re done when you get some browning of the sprouts. In the meantime, slice the onions in half length-wise and grill them over high heat until lightly browned on each side. Chop the cooked onions into bite size pieces. Cook the orzo per the directions on the package then drain. Toss the Brussels sprouts, onions and orzo together in a large bowl and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach