Continuing with our journey through Azerbaijani cuisine, the Karabakh Foundation would like to explore the Holy month of Ramadan, which is celebrated by Muslims in Azerbaijan as the month that the Qur’an was revealed to mankind.
Since the Islamic calendar is based on lunar months, the month of Ramadan changes every year. During the month, Muslims around the world will abstain from particles passing through their mouths from sunup to sundown. This includes food, beverages, chewing gum, tobacco smoking, etc. A few people are exempted from fasting, such as pregnant women, children, travelers, warriors, and the ill.
Islam was first introduced to Azerbaijan in the 7th century by the Arabs. By the 16th century, Azerbaijan identified itself with Shi’a Islam when the first shah of the Safavid Dynasty, Ismail I, declared Shi’a Islam as the state religion. Today, approximately 85% of the inhabitants identify themselves as Shi’a with a much smaller percentage declaring Sunni Islam. Azerbaijan usually identifies itself as a secular Muslim country, not practicing strict restrictions and obligations. Although the country is historically Muslim, the Holy month was not celebrated during the rule of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the USSR, the Republic of Azerbaijan officially started celebrating Ramadan in 1993.
Since fasters cannot eat or drink from sunup to sundown, a culinary culture developed around Ramadan. Due to the suppression of the holiday under Soviet rule, many of Azerbaijan’s traditional culinary practices were lost. In response, modern day Azerbaijanis can select whatever dishes they prefer and are developing new traditions connected to the month.
Three meals are normally observed on a daily basis during Ramadan. Waking up very early in the morning, observers partake in sahur, which is a large early morning meal that must be eaten before sunrise. After the sun goes down, a light meal named iftar is consumed. The meal includes freshly baked bread, soups, vegetables, and other easily prepared food. Later in the evening, an elaborate, labor-intensive meal is served. On the last day of fasting, Eid-al-Fitr is celebrated, when families exchange gifts and gather for large meals.
In observance of Ramadan, this week’s sneak peak form The Cuisine of Karabakh by Amy Riolo is a delicious fig and vanilla jam recipe. It is a perfect accompaniment to the baked bread served as part of sahur.
Fig & Vanilla Jam/ Vanilli Enjir Murebbesi/ Vanilli Əncir Mürəbbəsi
There are two ways of producing these mouth-watering preserves. One is with the skin on the figs, and the other one is made by extracting the juice from the skin. In Karabakh, equal amounts of sugar and fruit are used when making preserves. The sugar content has been altered slightly, so bear that in mind if you like your foods extra sweet. The addition of vanilla, although not traditional, adds a pleasant aroma to the jam. Ginger, cinnamon, or cloves would also make great additions.
Makes: 4 cups
2 pounds fresh figs
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
1 teaspoon vanilla
To use whole figs:
Combine figs, sugar, lemon juice or citric acid, and vanilla in a large, heavy saucepan. Mash fig mixture with a potato masher until combined.
Let stand, covered, 2 hours to overnight.
Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Cool completely. Cover, and refrigerate overnight before serving.
To use fig pulp only:
Peel figs and combine with sugar in a bowl for 10 hours, uncovered.
Strain juice by pushing flesh through a food mill or strainer with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Add an additional 1 cup of sugar to the juice.
Place the juice in a medium saucepan and bring it to boil over high heat.
Reduce the heat, simmer, and stir occasionally until mixture is thickened (approximately 1 hour.)
When mixture is thick, add lemon juice or citric acid and 1 tablespoon of water.
Stir well to combine and remove from heat.
Cool completely, cover, and refrigerate overnight before serving.
Post Written by Athena Smith, Karabakh Foundation Cultural Affairs Coordinator
With the Assistance of Amy Riolo, Author of The Cuisine of Karabakh
All content contained in the post is from The Cuisine of Karabakh and is therefore protected by copyright. Please cite references as: Riolo, Amy. The Cuisine of Karabakh: Recipes, Memories, and Dining Traditions from Azerbaijan’s Cradle of Culture. Karabakh Foundation: 2011.