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.
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