Something from the Caucasus

Island Epicure

My son Steve always asks me to cook something from another country, something he will never see on a menu after he goes back to China. Recently he pulled a cookbook from my kitchen  shelf and said, “ ‘Cooking from the Caucasus’ has never let us down.”

The book has recipes from Azerbaijan, a country neither of us has ever lived in nor even visited. The closest we ever came to Azerbaijan was the sabbatical school year we spent in Europe, living the fall and winter months in Crete, which lies in the Mediterranean Sea.  Azerbaijan’s bordering water is the Caspian Sea.  The Caucasus mountains run from the Black Sea to the Caspian, dipping into Azerbaijan. It is said that people in that region very often live to be well over 100.  My thought is that they don’t want to die and miss a single one of their great meals.

The climate may be similar to that of the Pacific west because apples, prunes and walnuts,  peaches and apricots, fruits and nuts familiar to us, also feature in some of the recipes from the Caucasus. The recipe Steve and I chose to make was Lamb with Pumpkin, Prunes, and Beans. It takes time to make, but it is very good!

April is not exactly a pumpkin month, but we still had a small pumpkin left  from last October.

Had we not had it, we would have substituted squash.

Lamb with Pumpkin, Prunes, and Beans
4 servings
3 Tablespoons butter
1 pound boneless lean lamb
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups beef broth
1 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch squares
½ cup dried pitted prunes
2/3 cup drained and rinsed canned white beans
¼ cup minced parsley
Coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup finely chopped fresh dill or 4  teaspoons dried dill
Salt to taste

In a heavy bottomed wide skillet, melt the butter over medium (mark 5) heat.
Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onion. Stir cook it until it’s limp and shiny. Add the broth and bring it to boiling, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin cubes, prunes and dried dill if using.  Cover again and simmer 20 minutes.
Add the canned white beans, salt and pepper, stir, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add parsley, fresh dill  if using that, sprinkle generously with cinnamon. Serve over cooked rice or millet.