I wrote on AZ Cookbook facebook page that the epitome of spring and summer in Azerbaijan was coming soon to my blog. I gave a hint, alright, that it was going to be a soup. Most people guessed it right! Dovgha! Yes, it is dovgha, a popular Azerbaijani yogurt soup cooked with lots of fresh herbs!
I was saving this recipe for my yet to be published (big sigh) cookbook, but since publishers are not knocking on my door (if you are a publisher, write me) or have been rejecting my knockings, and because I am a nice girl (modesty thing again), I am letting the recipe out before the book is out. Not that the recipe is a grand secret, but there are some tips that one should be armed with if aiming for a perfect dovgha, and I will gladly share them with you.
Dovgha has it all to be sought after. A creamy soup, it is generously nutritious, pleasantly refreshing and flavorsome from the bounty of fresh herbs simmered in yogurt, with a good doze of tender bite provided by the chickpeas, which by the way, can be omitted if you are not a big fan of them. I personally like my dovgha with chickpeas. In Azerbaijani countryside, dovgha is particularly delicious; in place of generally known fresh herbs listed in the recipe below, copious varieties of intensely aromatic edible herbs populating the lush fields and mountains, far from the reach of city dwellers, find their way into the soup, making it extra delectable.
How is dovgha served? Typically, chilled dovgha is served ladled into traditional deep individual bowls called kasa that are placed next to serving plates. It is up to you whether to enjoy dovgha as a starter soup before the main course arrives, or afterwards, to wash down a hearty meal. Dovgha is also great as a stand-alone light meal. Serve dovgha either chilled or at a room temperature, always with chunks of bread on the side.
Here’s the recipe with all the right tips you need to succeed in dovgha making. Also, check out my blogger friend Sofya’s (who hails from Baku too) for her dovgha recipe with some fantastic photos.
Yogurt Soup with Fresh Herbs and Chickpeas (Dovgha)
A few notes before you begin:
* The key to obtain the best tasting dovgha is to use the freshest yogurt (go for home-made yogurt) and herbs possible. The yogurt must be only somewhat sour but not overwhelmingly so, or the resulting soup will be too acidic in flavor. To decrease the acidity of dovgha if using sour yogurt, instead of 3 cups of plain yogurt, use 2 cups plus 1 cup sour cream. Or, once you remove dovgha from the heat and bring it to room temperature, gradually stir in 1/3 cup or more as needed milk.
* Hold off seasoning the soup with salt before it is completely cooked and removed from the heat; if you add the salt earlier, it will curdle the soup.
* Another worthy point to mention is that the herbs you will be adding to the soup should be washed together once they have been chopped (but wash the bunches thouroughly to remove any dirt before chopping the herbs). This is done to rid the herbs from their green juices to prevent the dovgha from coloring in green once the herbs are added to it.
* The consistency of dovgha depends on individual taste - some like it real thin, others like it thick and hearty, like in this recipe. For a thinner variation, simply add more water to the yogurt at the initial stage.
* A variation of dovgha is prepared without chickpeas - just omit them altogether if you wish.
* Note that the main ingredients here are cilantro and dill and others come as secondary. If you do not have any of the secondary herbs, do not worry - use cilantro and dill instead. Mint adds a nice flavor too, so try not to skip it if possible. Other possible secondary herbs include chives, sorrel, wild cilantro (you can find it in Azerbaijan) or any other of your choice, provided they are not bitter.
* And here’s a teaser - a variation of dovgha calls for the addition of small meatballs that are cooked separately and added to the soup at the very end. Further details to be revealed in my yet to be published cookbook.
½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight or 1 cup canned, drained
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
2 cups chopped fresh dill
½ cup chopped fresh spinach
½ cup chopped fresh green garlic (if in season; leaves only)
½ cup chopped fresh mint
½ cup chopped fresh parsley or celery leaves
3 cups plain yogurt
4 cups water (or more if your yogurt is too thick and if you want a thinner soup)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup medium-grain rice, rinsed
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste (optional)
If you are using dried presoaked chickpeas, put them in a small saucepan filled with water and boil until the chickpeas are tender, about 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
Place the chopped herbs in a colander and wash, tossing with your hands, under running water to remove the green juices. Do not squeeze the herbs. Allow the herbs drain on a colander.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk together the yogurt, water, flour and egg until smooth. Add the rice and stir to mix. Constantly stirring (very important, do not give up!) clockwise with a wooden spoon to prevent the mixture from curdling, bring it to a boil over medium heat. The soup should boil in 7-10 minutes.
As soon as it boils, stir in the fresh herbs. Stirring occasionally, simmer for another 7-8 minutes, or until the rice is cooked.
Add the cooked or canned chickpeas and remove the saucepan from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature, then salt to taste and serve the soup ladled into individual serving bowls.
If you wish, sprinkle decoratively with black pepper. You can also chill the soup in the refrigerator before serving. Note that dovgha thickens as it stands. Loosen with cold water. Nush Olsun! Enjoy!
And here’s a typical market scene with stalls laden with generous bunches of fresh herbs in Baku’s Teze Bazar, a downtown farmer’s market. Fresh herbs in Azerbaijan are very aromatic and make perfect dovgha. I took this picture last summer during my stroll in the bazaar.