Among the Afşar Turkmen of Southern Azerbaijan, young people eat a bit of garlic and onion as the New Year comes in (March 21). They also rub garlic and onion on the soles of their shoes, while repeating a verse invoking Suleiman and cursing the winter. They believe that after doing this, they will not be troubled by any sort of pests or vermin throughout the year. They also believe that those who eat garlic will not be subject to a sudden death.
E. Akçiçek has done extensive studies of the folk beliefs relating to garlic’s protective properties against microorganisms5. We found that throughout the Turkic world in general, onions and garlic were believed to protect against unseen forces and black magic, the evil eye, witches, ghosts and vampires. Thus these two foods are considered effective against both microscopic and mental harmful agents6. In Anatolia onions and garlic are frequently planted near the doors of houses in the summer pastures to protect against vermin. In Salkaz, the tradition of bringing onions to the cemetery may also have a protective goal.
The Afşar Turks of South Azerbaijan also have a tradition of dyeing eggs and having a contest with them on special days, Nowruz in particular. The money given as gifts to children on holidays must be “raw money,” that is, freshly minted and as-yet uncirculated. This money is placed in a Koran and kept there. The Afşars also have the “Sizde” custom of an outing on the thirteenth day of the New Year.
Before the Feast of the Sacrifice, the Afşar Turkmen bring all their pots and pans, plates etc. to a spring and wash them spotless. The belief is that on the day before the feast, these vessels go on a hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca) and return. On the same evening, jewelry and other gold items are placed in these vessels and they are not touched. They are said to be inviolable then. The next morning they are opened along with prayers and then may be used again. The most important item for the Feast among the Afşar Turkmens is the sheep. A red shawl is tied around the neck of the sacrificial sheep, and henna is put on its forehead. It is then taken to the groom’s house.
In Anatolia there is a tradition of sending a ram to the home of the bride, and decorating it with mirrors, apples and henna. However the tradition of blessing the cooking vessels and dishes was new to me. I believe that there is a belief that even objects known to be inanimate are blessed and aware of God. Just as a person has responsibility to God for his or her own body, things have responsibilities to the people who created them. In love stories, a lover speaks with mountains, or stones, while searching for his or her beloved, and sometimes make pledges to them. “O great mountains, if you love your God, pray tell me if my love passed through here?”
The Turkish food of Karabakh is somewhat like a bridge between the cuisines of North and South Azerbaijan. The two regions share a common culinary tradition with a similar richness in variety, however with some different variants. We can witness this richness in its soups, meat dishes, vegetable dishes, fried foods, sweets, salads, various wild greens, dried fruits and nuts, drinks and pickles.
Soups of Karabakh
Dovğa: This is a type of yogurt soup, containing mint, spinach, green onions, rice, eggs, chickpeas and sometimes tiny meatballs.
Evelik Çorbası: Made with meat broth, small dumplings, sautéed onion, black pepper, salt, pepper paste and chopped evelik (fresh mung beans).
Umaç: Made with flour, water, eggs, salt and turmeric, this soup is prepared in the same way as evelik çorbası but without the mung beans.
Erişte Çorbası (Homemade Noodle Soup): Made with meat broth, this soup is prepared by boiling pinto beans and adding homemade noodles and sautéed onion.
Borş (Borscht): Borş is made with beef, either with or without the bone. First the meat is boiled till very tender. While it is boiling, an onion is sautéed in oil, and grated carrot, beet and tomato paste is added and sautéed. The meat broth is added to this mixture, after which firm young cabbage is chopped and added. Lastly, four large cut up potatoes are added and boiled till tender.
Tavuk Çorbası: Chicken soup; this is no different than the chicken soup made in Turkey with chicken broth, meat and thin vermicelli.
Hoş: This is the same as the lamb foot soup (paça) made in Turkey, both in terms of its ingredients and method of preparation.
Bozbaş Çorbası: To make bozbaş soup: soak chickpeas overnight. Boil fatty meat with the bone in or a neck to make a broth. Add the chickpeas to the meat. Chop two large onions and add. Remove the foam frequently. Add an equal number of egg-sized potatoes and pieces of meat. Add salt, black pepper and turmeric, then sour dried plums. The plums should be the same in number as the pieces of meat. Serve with dry mint and sumac. The proper name for this dish is Karabakh bozbaş or Turkish bozbaş, and there is a special type of casserole for making it. The entire mixture is placed into this casserole and the lid is sealed with dough. It is cooked for four to five hours, until the meat is extremely tender. A few pieces of sheep tail (not tail fat) are added to the dish.
The dolma (stuffed vegetables/fruits) culture of the Karabakh Turks is also very rich:
Biber Dolması, Domates Dolması: Stuffed peppers and tomatoes. Run lamb through a meat grinder, as well as onion, and sauté together with the meat. To this mixture, add the scooped-out inside of the tomatoes, then salt, pepper and turmeric, as well as chopped parsley and cilantro. Fill the vegetables. Arrange in a pot, place a plate over the top, add water just to cover, and simmer till done, around 25 minutes. In Karabakh, the filling for stuffed tomatoes and peppers does not contain rice.
Patlıcan Dolması: Stuffed eggplant. The filling for stuffed eggplant is exactly the same as above, minus the tomato. Slit the eggplants longwise, and salt the interior, then wait 20 minutes for the dark liquid to drain out. Then boil the eggplants. (They are not fried as they are in Turkey.) When they have softened, squeeze out the extra water and stuff with the filling as above. This dish is accompanied by a light sauce made with egg and garlic. Stuffed vine leaves and cabbage are made exactly as they are in Turkey.
Elma Dolması: Stuffed apples. Carefully clean and hollow out firm tart apples. Prepare the filling exactly as for stuffed eggplant and fill the apples with the mixture. Just as for other stuffed vegetables, weigh the apples down with a plate or something similar to keep them in place while cooking. Add half a cup of water, and let cook on a low flame. These are generally served together with other stuffed vegetables, with one stuffed apple to each plate.
Ayva dolması: Stuffed quinces. These are prepared in exactly the same way as stuffed apples.
The Turkish cuisine of Karabakh also features a rich variety of vegetable dishes.
Kükü: This dish is made from spinach and cilantro, with the addition of a bit of dill for aroma. It also contains some scallions but the main ingredients are the spinach and cilantro. Saute these in oil with the scallions till half-cooked. In a separate bowl, beat two eggs with a bit of flour, and pour half of this over the herb mixture. Flip, and sprinkle the rest of the batter over the top. Flip once again to cook, and cut into diamond shapes with the edge of a wooden spoon. It is important to use a wooden spoon in order not to destroy the vitamins. In Anatolia and greater Turkistan, wooden spoons are still identified with abundance, and several dishes are never touched with metal implements; cutting with metal knives for example, is avoided.
İşkembe Gutap/Karın Gutabı: This is a type of börek, made with sheep tripe. There is also a variety made with meat (et gutabı).
Bozartma: Cut lamb meat with the bone, or a lamb neck, into large pieces. It can also be made with ribs. First the meat is rubbed with a mixture of spices and onion, as well as thyme in order to reduce the smell of the meat. This mixture is mixed with a wooden spoon in a deep copper kettle and left to brown; then just enough water to cover is added. The pot is covered tightly and the meat is allowed to form a broth.