Apricot-Orange Preserves

Apricot-Orange Preserves

We have a big apricot tree in our backyard. It fact, it is the only tree we have there. And we had high hopes for it when we had just moved into our house a few years ago. We imagined seeing the tree covered in apricots every summer and us happily piling them up into baskets to even more happily devour them. Our dreams crushed when the neighborhood’s gardener  told us, “I’ve known this tree for years. It has never borne fruit.” It was a sad moment. We sighed. But I think each of us continued to secretly fancy those juicy sweet apricots on the tree. A year passed without apricots but guess what happened the following year – the tree gave us lots of apricots! Juicy, sweet, delicious apricots! And then it gave more and more every year. What a generous gift of nature!

Apricot-Orange Preserves

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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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