Kutab, Azerbaijani Stuffed Flatbread

Kutabs are among the most popular Azeri dishes, together with plov, dolma, and of course kebabs (kebabs being a distant first: virtually the only meal you’ll ever eat in a restaurant outside of Baku). A kutab — not to be confused with kutap — is essentially a lavash filled with savory stuffing while still raw, then folded in half and pan-fried. It is often served with a sprinkling of sumac on top, a red spice which imparts a lemony note.

Baku - Mugam Club Restaurant

Classic lamb kutab, as served at Mugam Club in Baku

The most common kutab fillings are ground lamb and greens, with the occasional cheese or winter squash, but you can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as the layer of stuffing remains quite thin. In addition to the four above-mentioned classics, all of which I’m presenting here with some personal tweaks, I’ve also created two new “signature” kutabs.

My first new kutab uses foie gras and pomegranate in a nod to all the Brooklyn restaurants that feature the fattened duck liver on their menus for no apparent reason other than it’s expensive and French. Baku Palace serves kutabs and foie gras as separate dishes, so why not put them together?

The second contains actual duck meat. I recently posted a duck breast kebab, and now you can use the legs (and the wings if you’d like) to make a kutab. Then you’ve got the whole bird turned into an Azeri dinner for 4!

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Zhingalov Khats, Herb Flatbread from Karabakh

Zhingalov khats, a flatbread with a variety of fresh herbs, is a specialty from Nagorno-Karabakh (literally, it means bread with herbs in Armenian). If you ever visit the market in Stepanakert, you can taste the real deal made fresh in front of you. Unfortunately, that might be your only chance to do so: my Internet and cookbook searches didn’t return a single recipe for zhingalov khats! To further complicate the matter, the name of the dish is transliterated in different ways, such as zhengyalov hac or jingalov hats.

The flatbread is supposedly made with 7 fresh herbs (some other sources online said 8, 9, or 27), one or two of which are obligatory (which ones, we don’t know). The dough is rolled out, chopped herbs are placed on top, the sides are folded over and the whole thing is rolled out again before being cooked on a griddle. This link gathers most of the information one can find on zhingalov khats, including a rather funny video of a TV show broadcast on the Russian First TV channel. There are also some rare photographs from markets in Karabakh here and here.Zhingalov Khats

But finally, my dear Caucasian foodies, the wait is over. I am proud to offer you what I would modestly call the first ever written recipe for zhingalov khats, an undeniable cornerstone in the little-known culinary heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh! It may not contain 27 or even 7 herbs, but it’s pretty good all the same. In fact, the tighter flavor profile will even help one recognize what’s in it, which is a big plus in my opinion. It also doesn’t follow the absurd diet restrictions that go with fasting for lent, and this makes it even tastier. Butter makes everything tastier, and nobody should tell you when to eat it and when not to.

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Lavash, Armenian Flatbread

Lavash is a large flatbread popular in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, where it’s commonly used to wrap food like kebabs. The etymology of the word is unclear, and various scholars alternately mention an Armenian, Turkic or Persian origin.

The picture above shows the lavash stacks at the market in Yerevan. These breads are quite large, but you don’t need to invest in a Guiness-Book-worthy griddle to make excellent lavash. The authors of Flatbreads & Flavors, a rather original book from which my recipe below is adapted, recommend using a wok turned upside down. This method produces delicious flatbreads of about 12″ in diameter. If you really want a paper-thin result, you can use a pasta machine instead of a rolling pin — the lavash won’t be any less good if it’s rectangular rather than oval!

Lavash
Yields 4 flatbreads

6 oz water, lukewarm
1 1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
10 oz flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
olive oil

  • In a cup, mix the water with the honey and yeast, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, add about 3/4 of the flour, and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the rest of the flour and the salt, switch to the dough hook attachment, and knead for 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, for about 3 hours.
  • Punch down the dough and let rest for another 10 minutes.

  • Divide into 4 equal pieces, and roll into 10″ x 12″ ovals using a rolling pin (or into thinner rectangles using a pasta machine). Don’t forget to flour your work surface generously as you go, giving quarter turns to your dough between each roll.
  • Turn a wok upside down on a gas burner, and heat on the highest setting for a few minutes. Rub the wok with a paper towel soaked with olive oil, and place a lavash on the wok. Flip several times, every 30 to 45 seconds, until nice brown blisters start to form.
  • Remove from heat and eat immediately — nothing beats freshly baked bread. If you have to wait, cover with a towel, and spray with a bit of water before reheating.

Armenian Adventures, Part 1

It’s been over a month since I concluded my Georgian Adventures with a look at the stores and markets of Tbilisi. And to start this Armenian Adventures series, I thought I would introduce you to Yerevan’s central market. I also recommend this excellent post about food and wine in Yerevan. Don’t miss the bread-making video!

From the outside, the central market distinguishes itself by the unusual sight of the dancing fruits and vegetables that decorate the roof:

As you’ll see, this visit will get us acquainted with the major ingredients of Armenian cuisine.

Mulberries (tut in Armenian), white and black, are everywhere during summer, to the point where I wonder why anyone would bother buying them at the market when all you have to do is put a plastic tarp under a tree and collect your berries at the end of the day! They produce delicious homemade brandy, too.

Lavash, a large flatbread, is another Armenian staple, and there’s no shortage of it since very few people still make their own. Careful, though — it dries out quickly!

Cheese, together with tomatoes and cucumbers (and lavash!), is a lunch classic. The most common kinds, traditionally made from sheep’s milk, are a sort of brynza and a string cheese:

Just like its Caucasian neighbors, Armenia is a paradise of nuts and dried fruits. You may recognize the churchkhela (mental floss here). The dark sheets hanging next to them are fruit lavash, made from plums or other seasonal fruits.

Spices and honey are well represented too, but I need your help, dear readers! If anyone happens to know Armenian, could you send me the names of the spices on the picture? (I can send you a larger version.)

Finally, no overview of the local cuisine would be complete without mentioning khorovats, the Armenian barbecued food that you’ll be eating in 99% of the restaurants in summer, whether it’s vegetables, fish or meat on a skewer — everything is on a skewer since the traditional grill doesn’t use a grate. There’s even a street, Proshian St., nicknamed “Barbecue Street”. Here are the ground beef kebabs of Artashi Mot, a famous restaurant in the city center.

Expect some kebab and lavash recipes and in the coming weeks!

Note: despite the 3 product placements in the above pictures, this post is not sponsored by Coca-Cola.