Chef Vugar Dadashov’s delectable dishes combine modern European technique with traditional Azerbaijani cuisine and are a visual as well as a culinary feast
A bank of cloud hangs low over the Baku skyline early in the morning. Driving north from the city and its ultra-modern architecture, the view soon gives way to the expansive, arid landscape of the Absheron Peninsula with views of the Caspian Sea beyond. After 45 minutes, a large white sign indicates that the Sea Breeze Hotel and its renowned restaurant in the town of Nardaran are just moments away.
Head chef Vugar Dadashov reigns supreme here. He is best known for giving Azerbaijani dishes a modern, international twist while preserving their traditional character. Dadashov himself is softly spoken with a subtle sense of humour that transcends language barriers. His passion for what he does is evident as his eyes light up when talking about the area’s produce, such as lamb, pomegranates and tomatoes.
Dadashov’s kitchen buzzes with activity in its various rooms, each dedicated to a different stage of food preparation. One is a maze of metre-wide bowls (yes, you read that right) of different green herbs, while in another sesame sticks are being rolled out.
Here, we share his recipe for sadj-fried lamb.
This dish, cooked in a sadj (a wok-like pan), traditionally includes vegetables but Dadashov gives it a twist by using fruit such as alycha (under-ripe greengage plums), plums and apples instead. Serves two.
100-120g kurdyuk fat (from a fat-tailed lamb) or lard
100g white onion, cut lengthways and thinly sliced
50-60g green pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 green cooking apple, cored and cut into wedges
5-6 alycha (under-ripe greengage plums), stoned and crushed
3-4 plums, halved and stoned
3-4 small tomatoes
2 chilli peppers, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Fresh dill, parsley, tarragon and purple basil, to garnish
Pomegranate seeds, to garnish
Place the kurdyuk fat in a large pan and heat gently until melted.
Add the lamb and cook for five minutes or until lightly browned. Add the onion and green pepper and stir until cooked.
Push the vegetables and lamb to the sides of the pan and place the apple wedges, alycha, plums, tomatoes and chilli in the middle of the pan. Season with the salt and pepper. Cook over a medium heat until the fruit has softened.
Garnish with the fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds and serve.
A version of this story appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of Baku magazine. Pick up your copy at newsstands to enjoy more recipes from Chef Vugar Dadashov.
Photography by Tom Parker