A Brief Glance at Azerbaijan’s Culinary History

Prepare your taste buds for the delicious journey they are about to take. In anticipation of the Karabakh Foundation’s upcoming cookbook written by Amy Riolo, The Cuisine of Karabakh: Recipes, Memories, and Dining Traditions from Azerbaijan’s Cradle of Culture, forthcoming blog posts will take a look at the delectable world of Azerbaijani cooking.

Azerbaijan offers a unique variety of food due to its possession of nine out of the eleven different climatic zones within its border. The wide ranges in climate allow for the production of an array of fruits and vegetables. In addition, Azerbaijan’s strategic location along the Silk Road has ensured its cuisine has both been influenced by spices and recipes from other regions while simultaneously sharing its own cuisine with neighboring Persian, Turkish, Arabian, and Indian cultures.

Taking a few steps back into history, travelers have spoken about the delicious food grown in Azerbaijan. Arabian traveler, Yaqut Al-Hamavi wrote the following after passing through Azerbaijan in the 12th century: ““Azerbaijan…great number of fruit trees. I’ve never seen so many gardens and so many rivers like here…they grow the best peas, nice pomegranates, which have no equal in the whole world, and amazing figs…I’ve never seen such tasty apricots…Here fine grapes, grain, and cotton grow ripe. Many fruits, especially nuts and chestnuts are the best in the world.” It is clear that the Azerbaijani cuisine has been making mouths water for centuries.


Lamb and Herb Pilaf

The variety in agriculture production and mixing of cultures resulted in an array of regional dishes with each dish having several different recipes. For example, there are over 200 different types of rice pilafs. According to Amy Riolo in The Cuisine of Karabakh, the Azerbaijani word for pilaf is plov, which is believed to derive from the ancient Greek word poluv (“varied mixture”). During Alexander the Great’s travels through the Caucasus, he requested for his soldiers to prepare dishes that traveled well and could be created from local produce. Rice had been grown in the region since ancient times and vegetables and fruits were bountiful. When combined, these “varied mixtures” developed into the popular pilafs served throughout the Caucasus today.

Enjoy a sneak peek into the Karabakh Foundation’s upcoming cookbook by trying your hand at the recipe below. The Azeri Style Sweet Pilaf is just one of many pilaf dishes featured in the book.

Azeri Style Sweet Pilaf/Shirin Plov/Şirin Plov

Serves: 4

2 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, sliced into thin strips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped
1 cup basmati rice, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes, and drained well
Pinch of saffron
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon honey


  1. Place raisins and apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, or until softened. (You can also set them in cold water in the morning and drain them at night.) Drain the fruit and pat dry.
  2. Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add dried fruit and almonds, stir to coat, and allow to cook until almonds begin to release their aroma and start to turn color. Stir in basmati rice, saffron, and salt, mix well to combine. Mix in honey and stir well to combine.
  3. Add 1 1/2 cups water, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Place 2 paper towels over the pot, cover with lid to seal, and cook rice for 10-15 minutes until liquid is absorbed and rice is fluffy. Serve warm.

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.