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Kalam Dolmasi and Chicken Plov – Azerbaijan National Dish – Day 20/Dish 11

January 27, 2010

Our next stop is a relatively short journey east to Azerbaijan.  We must make our way through Bulgaria and Romania catching a ship on the West Coast of the Black Sea.  We then sail to the shores of Georgia and travel west, crossing into Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan has mountains to the north and west.  To the east lies the Caspian Sea.  Vast plains make up central Azerbaijan.  Upon arrival, we find ourselves once again in that borderland between Europe and Asia where cultures have homogenized as well as clashed for eons. 

Azerbaijan has a majority Turkic and Shi’ite Muslim population.  Azerbaijan was the first successful attempt at a democratic secular nation in the Muslim World.  As early as 1920, the Azeri Parliament made the bold move to grant suffrage to women, a move that preceded the UK and United States and made them the first Muslim Nation to do so.  In addition Azeri’s made great progress in only two years towards establishing a society with equal opportunity for all.  By 1922 the first glimpses of the future USSR became visible in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution.  Azerbaijan was under great pressure from Russia to join the Federation, as the Baku region was strategically vital to Russian interests.  By 1936 the early Socialist Soviet treaties were dissolved and the USSR was formed absorbing many nation states, including Azerbaijan.  The Soviets relied heavily on Azeri Oil in WW2 in repelling German advances on Russian fortifications.

The bold moves of the Azeri Parliament in the 20’s would be revisited nearly 70 years later during reestablishment of Independence.   Upon declaring independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s Azerbaijan became engaged in a hostile civil war called the Nagorno-Karabakh War, with neighboring Armenia.  Eventually Azerbaijan lost a large portion of its territory but stabilized and began to make progress in rebuilding their nation.  During the mid 90’s, the leaders of Azerbaijan, although democratically elected, were accused of wide spread corruption.   However, they managed to stabilize the economy and attract large scale foreign investment back into Azerbaijan.  It should come as no surprise that the presence of major oil and natural gas fields in the Baku Region made much of this possible.

Azeri food is influenced greatly by its culture.  Similar to that of its neighbors, Azeri food has hints of the Mediterranean Sea.  Use of ingredients like Grape leaves and Cabbage are trademarks as well as spicing reminiscent of North African and Arabic Cuisine. 

The national dish of Azerbaijan is Yarpag Dolmasi and Plov.  Since I was unable to obtain the key ingredient, Grape Leaves, I had to make a last minute switch to Kalam Dolmasi which substitutes Cabbage leaves for Grape Leaves.  Essentially, Kalam Dolmasi is a Cabbage Leaf stuffed with local ingredients including onion, herbs and meat.  Plov is very similar to Afghani National Dish, Quabili Pilau.  It combines a stew of chicken and vegetables over spiced rice cooked with a special method after soaking in salt water. 

By now in our journey it should become clear that many, if not all National Dishes are the product of local produce.  It is also becoming clear that the influences extend beyond nations and are more properly defined as being regional than as being contained within a nations designated borders.  This is especially true in areas that have been constantly redefined by war and imperialism.  This also explains the repetition of certain dishes in more than one bordering country, such as in Africa and The Middle East.

I give both the Plov and the Kalam Dolmasi a 3 for Difficulty.  The Plov is easy to prepare, but requires delicate handling in both the wrapping of the cabbage leaves and the cooking and especially removing the cooked product from the boiling water(they tend to break apart).  The Kalam Dolmasi  is generally simple, but requires careful preparation and precise attention to the details of the directions.  The method of cooking the rice is much different than that used in most Western and Asian countries.

With the Plov recipe, I have written my own recipe based on instructions from several different Plov recipes I found online.  I am providing the links to the different recipes below so that you can see variations of this dish, which can be prepared in many ways.


Plov Recipe


Appearance:  3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Taste: 3 out of 5

Total: 10 out of 15


2 Chicken Breasts w/ bone in and skin on

4 1/2 cups water

2 cups rice (I used Jasmine long grain)

2 tbsp Kosher Salt

1 tbsp Fresh Cracked Pepper

1 tsp Cardamom

1 tsp crushed Cumin Seed

3 medium Onions sliced

2 Carrots peeled and sliced into coins

2 cloves Garlic

1 small can of Chick Peas

1/2 cup Dried fruit such as Currants or Raisins (I used Currants)

6 tbsp Vegetable Oil

For Sauce (Tursh Sauce):

2 medium Vine Ripened Tomatoes(riper means sweeter)

1 pinch Saffron Stems (Best Quality) or Tumeric 1 tsp

1/2 Green Pepper

For Chicken Marinade:

1/2 cup Plain Yogurt

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1 tsp Cumin Seed Crushed

1 tsp Cardamom

Salt and Pepper to taste

FIRST!  Rinse the Rice 4-5 times till the water runs clear, then soak the Rice for 1/2 hour in 5 cups Water with 2 tbsp Sea Salt.

For Marinade preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and blend with a fork till even. 

Add Chicken Breasts and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

After Marinating, Bake Chicken at 400 degrees Farenheit for 35-40 minutes till internal temperature reaches 155.  Do not overcook!!

Remove from oven and shred or chop the meat from the bones. Discard the bones.

Preparation for Plov:

In a large Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil to medium high. 

Saute onions for 4-5 minutes till they begin to soften and are transparent.

Add garlic and stir into onions allowing it to cook an additional 1 minute to soften.

Add sliced Carrots and cook for 5 minutes.

Add Chicken, Spices, Chick Peas and Dried Fruit.  Pour in 2-3 cups of water till the mix is just covered with water.

Cover pot with kitchen towel and then lid to form a tight seal. 

Cook for 8-10 minutes. Remove lid and stir the mixture well.

Over the top of the chicken mixture, spoon the rice but DO NOT STIR TOGETHER!  The rice should sit on top of the Chicken mixture.

Cover with towel and lid and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and begin to gently pull the rice towards the center of the pot to form a mound.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon press down through the mix to the bottom of the pot forming 4-5 holes in the mound of rice. DO NOT STIR!

Replace the lid and cook until all of the water is absorbed being careful not to burn the dish.

Spoon all of the rice carefully onto a platter, DO NOT STIR the chicken into the rice!

Spoon the chicken mixture over the rice.

Serves 6

For the Kalam Dolmasi, or Cabbage Rolls, I used a recipe from the Peace Corps website and have made some slight changes(noted):


Appearance: 3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor 3 out of 5

Total: 10 out of 15


1 lb Skirt Steak or Chuck Roast of Beef

4-5 small onions, halved

1 slice bread

1 cup rice

1 tsp. cinnamon

fresh or dried basil (I subbed Parsley)

peeled chestnuts, mashed  (Did not have chestnuts but I bet it tastes great!)

salt and pepper to taste

large cabbage leaves (See preparation notes below)

1 tomato, chopped

1 green pepper, diced

½ tsp. turmeric or pinch of Saffron(best quality or use more)

tursh (sour sauce see instructions)

Preparation for Tursh Sauce:

Place diced tomatoes, green pepper and spices in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil adding 1 tbsp of vegetable oil to avoid burning. 

Reduce heat to simmer and allow sauce to stew until the vegetables break down and the sauce thickens.

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Preparation for Dolmas:

Grind meat in meat grinder being careful to not overgrind. Add a little butter if meat is lean. Remove meat from food processor.

Grind onions and bread.

Stir the meat ond onions/bread into the rice, cinnamon, basil, chestnuts, salt, and pepper until smooth.

To easily remove the outer leaves of the cabbage, wash the cabbage and remove the core with a paring knife then place gently in lightly boiling water.  The leaves will begin to seperate as the blanch.  Remove the leaves as they separate and DO NOT OVERCOOK!

 Salt lightly with Kosher or Seasalt.

Wrap small patties of meat mixture in the cabbage leaves Approximately 2 tbsp each.

Place in a pot and cover with water until dolmas are just covered. Boil for 20-30 minutes. 

Carefully remove the Dolmas using a slotted spoon.

Place a small amount of the Tursh Sauce on each dolma and serve hot!

Makes 10-12 dolmas.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    January 29, 2010 6:00 pm

    Hi Eric…i found your blog thru your beautiful wife. she’s plugging you on FB and I will use any chance I can to look at yummy recipes and food. I am definitely going to try them 😛

    • January 29, 2010 8:04 pm

      🙂 I asked Ji about it and she caught me up! Thanks for following the blog. Sometime come visit and you can actually eat some of it.


  2. shabnam permalink
    August 7, 2010 2:10 am

    hi .my name is shabnam from tabriz of iran .i enjoy cooking your food recipes .i would be happy if you give me some azarbaijan traditional
    food recipes .tashakoorlar


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