Our recent trip to the apple orchard with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop was a lot of fun. Just like last time we were there, there were not too many apples left to pick from trees any more, there were, however, a lot of apples of all sorts already bagged and inviting us, apple-hungry city dwellers, to buy them in truckloads. We ended up buying 4 huge bags which is not that bad - 1 bag per person. We’ve been enjoying them as is ever since and I’ve also been putting them to good culinary uses.
For example, one day I made apple butter. Apple butter is really what we would call apple jam in Azerbaijan, but it is perhaps a bit denser than jam and buttery. But don’t be fooled by the name - there is NO BUTTER in the recipe! It’s just the silky buttery texture of the jam that gave the name to it.
You can find tons of recipes for apple butter on the Internet and in numerous cookbooks. Mine is the amalgamation of a dozen recipes that I have tweaked and refined to suit my needs. For instance, I do not discard of the apple peel and core and make them into apple cider instead of making apple cider from apples, and off they go in the pan with peeled apples to cook together.
Try this recipe. Make apple butter. Slather it onto a slice of warm toast in the morning, afternoon or evening, and enjoy. Viva apples!
Apples of all colors floating in a huge bucket of water in the apple orchard - to be pressed into delicious apple cider.
It has been more than a year since my last trip to Azerbaijan. Memories are still hovering fresh above my head and it feel like I was there yesterday. I do miss many things about that trip. I miss our trip to Balaken and Zagatala in particular. It was a bittersweet trip, however, as I was no longer to see my dear grandmother who passed away a year before and to whom I did not have a chance to say good bye. But life had to go on and I was happy to see the familiar places again, my relatives who live there and who made our trip particularly memorable with their warmth and unparalleled hospitality, very much characteristic of the region.
Knowing that I was ever hungry for pictures of local delicacies and for sampling them too, they made sure they satisfied my unceasing cravings. One day, it was a makhara day (makhara is the local crepe, but different and original), another day it was surhullu (pasta dish prepared with dried meat), then one day we gathered for a gutab feast. Gutab is the general name given to half-moon shaped stuffed flatbreads, popular all over the country. The stuffing can be made with fresh herbs, butternut squash, ground lamb of beef, or farmer cheese - you name it. The process goes like this - you make the dough, roll it, stuff it, fold it and cook it (typically on a saj) then butter its top while still hot. Meat stuffed flatbreads can be cooked on a saj, a dome shaped pan that is heated underneath, or they can be fried in oil in a frying pan. The latter method, however is frowned upon in the northwest and is never used. If you ask me, I personally like saj-cooked flatbreads and that’s how my family has been making gutabs of all sorts.
Gutabs that you see in these pictures are rather big because we were too many to feed, so we thought that making our flatbreads big could save us a lot of time and could sate our appetites faster.
The recipe that I am suggesting below yields medium-size flatbreads, that are more typical in the country, and they should fit in your medium size pan easily. Also, I am offering two ways to cook the flatbreads, on a saj or a gridde without butter and in a pan, with butter. As I mentioned above, saj is the way to go in the northwest and in my kitchen too. But it’s your choice. Without much ado, here it comes - the making of gutabs, step by step. Enjoy!
Make the dough, divide it into balls and begin rolling each ball like this…
Roll more, until you obtain a thin circle.
Spread some meat mixture on one half of a circle.
Fold the other half of the circle over the filling and press the edges to seal.
Cook the flatbreads on a heated saj, then stack them on top of one another, buttering their tops while they are still hot. (Note that the flatbread on the left of the tray is somewhat overcooked - black blisters is a signal that the heat needs to be moderated! It is still edible though). Nush olsun!
Oh, wait, I forgot to mention something. There was also samovar tea party after the gutab party! Tea from samovar in the countryside is something everyone should try at least once in a lifetime. Seriously. Samovar tea rocks.