“Lavangi is our best work”: Traditional Talysh cuisine in Azerbaijan

Traditions passed from mother to daughter, from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. Lavangi can be prepared in any taste: chicken, fish, and eggplant.

Irada Melikova introduces her young daughter-in-law Leyla to the Talysh cuisine and teaches her how to cook chicken and fish lavangi. She learned this recipe from her mother.

And so, passing through the female line, from mother to daughter, from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law, the lavangi recipe has reached us through the centuries.

Lavangi is the hallmark of the South Azerbaijani cuisine. It is a traditional Talysh dish (Talysh – an ethnic group in Azerbaijan), but all Azerbaijanis love it. More precisely, it is a stuffing for chicken, fish, or eggplant, made from finely grated onions, ground walnuts, turshu (an Eastern spice made from cherry plum), and other spices. It is considered one of the signature dishes of Azerbaijani feasts. It is an economical but hearty dish capable of feeding a large family and many guests, which is why Azerbaijani housewives love it.

“We prepare it for weddings, birthdays, holidays,” says Irada. “We cook it when dear guests come. Now it is even ordered for weddings and memorial services. Some women make a living from this.”

Filling for everything

The word “lava” in the Talysh language means “belly.” But today the word “lavangi” is used to mean “stuffing.”

Mentions of lavangi can be found in some historical sources. For example, it is reported that the ruler of the Safavids, Shah Ismail I (1501-1524), while in the village of Archane in Astara, ate Talysh pilaf with lavangi. Sources also tell that when the great-grandfather of the shah, Sheikh Zahid Gilani, lived in the village of Khilkararan in Lenkoran, his favorite dish was Talysh “lavangi-pilaf.”

Since Lankaran and Astara (regions with a compact Talysh population) are located on the shore of the Caspian Sea, fish dishes dominate in Talysh cuisine: fish syrdag, fried and salted fish, fish kyu-kyu, and, of course, fish lavangi.

Despite the abundance of fish in the Talysh diet, the most popular dishes in Lankaran with chicken are chicken lavangi and murkutush (sour chicken). Of all types of lavangi, chicken lavangi is the most commonly prepared. It can be said that Talysh weddings, memorial services, and holidays are incomplete without chicken lavangi.

Among vegetable dishes, eggplant lavangi, syrdag, and kyu-kyu from eggplant can be mentioned.

Chicken Lavangi

The preparation of this dish begins with removing the internal organs from the chicken, salting and peppering it to taste, and coating it with a special sour paste made from cherry plum (called “turshu”). It is preferable for the chicken to “stand” in this state in the refrigerator for a day.

Separately, the “lavangi,” or stuffing, is prepared. It includes walnuts, red onions, and the same cherry plum paste, turshu. Nuts and onions are ground in a meat grinder. After that, the onions must be squeezed.

When the stuffing is ready, it is used to fill the chicken. To prevent it from falling out, the chicken is either sewn with threads or the legs are “interwoven” in a special way.

Ideally, lavangi is cooked in a tandoor, but if that is not possible, an oven can do the work.

Fish Lavangi

It is mainly prepared from kutum. First of all, the fish needs to be cleaned of scales and gutted. Then it is coated inside and outside with salt, pepper, and turshu and left in the refrigerator overnight.

After filling the fish with stuffing, it is baked in a tandoor or oven. Fish lavangi is usually served with lemon.

Eggplant Lavangi

To make this dish delicious, eggplants are boiled and pressed with a stone to remove the bitter “juice.” After that, they are salted, peppered, coated with turshu, filled with lavangi, placed on a pan, and fried on both sides. Yogurt with garlic is served as a sauce for eggplant lavangi.

Traditionally, lavangi was cooked in a tandoor, but now an oven is often used. The cooking process is quite complex and lengthy, lasting about 4 hours. With these efforts, women transform simple and inexpensive ingredients into nutritious and delicious dishes. Lavangi is prepared only by women, and the recipe is passed down from generation to generation along the female line

With the support of MediaSet.

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