Poultry & Game

Walnut-Stuffed Roast Turkey a.k.a Turkey Levengi

Walnut-Stuffed Roast Turkey a.k.a Turkey Levengi

Walnut-Stuffed Turkey

The roast turkey in the picture above is what I made for this year’s Thanksgiving table. Stuffed with a delicious walnuts filling. I am sharing this recipe now, post-Thanksgiving because I strongly believe that things delicious could and should be made for any festive occasion. This turkey, for example, is a perfect fit for a Christmas or New Year’s eve celebration table, if you did not make turkey a part of your Thanksgiving feast.

Walnut-Stuffed Turkey

I stuffed my turkey with a walnut filling. The filling is called levengi (alternative spelling: lavangi). It is a traditional Azerbaijani filling that hails from the Southeast of the country. The formula is simple: ground walnuts + grated and dry-squeezed onion pulp + sour paste (paste obtained from cooking down grated pulp of sour plums or cornelian cherries).  Such a simple combination yet the flavor palette it yields is amazing. Rich, moist, tangy, sweet, exotic. Poultry, game, or fish, and even eggplant stuffed with the levengi filling is also called levengi. So this roast turkey would be called turkey levengi.

Most of the time, in place of sour paste I use pomegranate syrup in the stuffing. Honestly, I like the levengi with pomegranate syrup more than with sour paste. The syrup adds both a nice tang and a subtle, very subtle sweetness to the filling. Delicious! I’ll show you how to make this filling – super easy!

I hope you try this recipe and make turkey levengi a part of your holiday table. From my kitchen to yours, shared with love. Happy Holidays once again!

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Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables

Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables

Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables

What fried? Saj-fried? You may ask.

And I will explain. Saj is a nifty kitchen utensil, my friends. And it has a long history.

Before the invention of frying pans and a gas stove, Azerbaijanis used a saj, a slightly dome shaped iron pan that resembles a shallow wok, both for cooking and bread making, depending on the side used. Rounded side up, saj was used for baking flatbreads, plain and filled, and Azerbaijani pancakes and crepes, while inverted to the hollowed side, it was used to cook various dishes. Actually it is still used for the same  purposes.

Traditionally saj is placed directly over fire or wooden coals. In the days of yore, ever traveling nomads used to carry it with themselves, using it when necessary to satisfying all the baking and cooking needs. First saj found on the territory of Azerbaijan was made of clay and dates back to as long as 4 thousand years BC. Beginning from the XVIIth century clay saj was replaced with a larger and sturdier cast iron saj, that is used today.

Dishes cooked in a saj are called sajichi, that can be literally translated as “inside the saj.” Meat, chicken, fish – anything can be fried on a good cast-iron saj. The oldest saj dish is called saj-govurma, in which succulent cuts of meat and sheep’s tail fat are browned in butter, with onion added. So delicious! (That recipe will be in my cookbook).

Saj cooked dishes are served hot right off the saj that is mounted onto a sajayag, a three legged stand. I don’t own a sajayag, so my saj ends up landing on the table without any “legs.” I use a 13-inch saj for cooking (you can replace it with an equally sized wok, or Spanish paella pan, or a good old non-stick frying pan, but remember the effect will not be the same).

Below is the recipe for chicken cooked in a saj with vegetables. A typical sajichi toyug will have pieces of chicken and slices of vegetables browned separately in butter on a saj then combined together right on it and served. This recipe, although it follows the basic principle, has a new flair to it – here, the chicken is cooked drenched in a piquant tomato sauce that adds nicely to the finished dish. I received the recipe from the charming Mehriban Alizada in Baku. Note that I cook this dish on a gas stove – a deviation from the traditional method, but better than nothing. Nush olsun! Enjoy!

Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables (Sajichi Toyug)


Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 medium chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into serving size pieces (leave the carcass for broth purpose, for other uses) or 2 pounds combination of chicken parts, such as legs, thighs, breast and wings
About 1/2 cup clarified butter (you can use regular unsalted butter with a few spoons oil added to it – this will prevent the butter from burning)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut lengthways into medium-thick slices
2 medium green bell peppers (you can use a combination of green and red), cored, seeded and cut into quarters lenghways
Handful of white mushrooms, wipe cleaned, sliced into half, or if big, into three
2 meduim dark-skinned eggplants, cut into medium-thick slices lenghways (remove bitterness: put slices in a colander placed in a sink, sprinkle generally with salt, put a weight on top, let sit about 20 minutes, gently squeeze the bitter juices, rinse and pat dry).
2-3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into halves or wedges (small tomatoes can be left whole)

For the Sauce:
1 cup chicken broth (from the recipe)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or apple cider
3 tablespoosn tomato paste
6 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

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