Today I am so excited and proud to introduce you to my new good Blog-Friend, Farida, who as it happens, was born and raised in the same city as me. The beautiful city of Baku, which is the capital of Azerbaijan. For all those who’ve never heard of this tiny country, look it up on Google & educate yourselves… come on people! Where is your curiosity?!
I found Farida’s wonderful & delicious food blog when I did a quick search for a Zebra cake recipe on Google. I wrote about that here. I was so happy & proud when I went over to her blog and to my delightful surprise realized she was from Baku, just like me! It is not every day I see a fellow blogger, who is also from the same background as me.
I absolutely love, love, love Farida’s blog, for so many reasons. For one, as far as I know, she is the only one who’s got such a beautiful & successful Food Blog, featuring traditional Azerbaijani / Azeri food recipes. On top of that, her food styling and food photography is absolutely gorgeous and delicious. If you ask me, I think she is super talented and should pursue a career in food styling. But that is just my opinion. Another reason why I’ve gotten to love Farida & her fabulous blog, is because she is just so sweet, kind and genuine. And no, I’ve never actually met Farida in person, but I can tell through our interactions & through her wonderful writing style that she is a super sweet mother of two beautiful children and a wife to a lucky husband that get to taste her delicious cooking every day.
Today I’ll be sharing a short interview with Farida herself to help you get to know her better, and also one of her many wonderful recipes. You absolutely must check out her blog though, because it is filled with so many more, fabulous, traditional & yummy (Azeri & more) recipes.
Enjoy & make sure you are full before proceeding, because I warn you, the photos below are sure to bring out your appetite… BIG TIME!
Leyla: Please take a moment to introduce yourself and your delicious blog.
Farida: I am Farida and I am almost 32. My blog, named AZ Cookbook, is about Azerbaijani food and foods from around the world that I love experimenting with. Through my blog, I share recipes, stories and pictures of food with my readers.
Leyla: I was so excited to find a fellow blogger, who is also from my hometown of Baku. How old were you when you left Azerbaijan, and how do you like living in California?
Farida: I moved to California with my husband right after we got married, when I was 25 y/o. Living in California has been great so far. I love the weather, the traffic, the diversity, the people. We live in Long Beach and I feel very much at home here.
Leyla: What made you want to start a blog?
Farida: The idea to start a food blog was born shortly after I began writing a cookbook on Azerbaijani food, about 2 years ago. I happened to listen to a radio while driving somewhere, and the program was about blogs and blogging. I was intrigued by the concept of blogging and set out to enlighten myself about blogs, and food blogs in particular. I was surprised to find out that there were quite a few out there, some of them very professional and with a huge following. And I didn’t know about them! I loved the idea behind food blogging – being able to share your passion for cooking with others, to share your personal stories and recollections, to be able to interact with readers – all these appealed to me greatly. This, doubled with a good friend’s encouragement and cheering for me, led to the creation of AZ Cookbook. I keep it separate from the cookbook to be published. The two are two different projects that I am working on.
Leyla: All of your food looks extremely appetizing. At what age did you discover your passion for cooking?
Farida: It’s a bit complicated. I have always loved food, but to be honest, I rarely cooked back in Azerbaijan. I lived with my parents until I got married and as very typical back there, my mom did all the cooking. I did, however, help her make appetizers and desserts when we invited guests over or on holidays and family celebrations. My parents preferred to see me read a book rather than cook for the family and apparently this worked fine with me. But I have been an avid collector of recipes since I was about 12-13 years old. That’s when I began my first recipe notebook. I would jot down any interesting recipes that I stumbled upon. Back in Baku, I would read and reread a few cookbooks we had like they were hard-to-put-down novels. But the irony of all this is that I only rarely used them to cook anything. So, when I arrived in California with my husband and I realized there was no mom in my kitchen and that the yearning for the homemade food is too strong to ignore, I decided to make use of my recipes and began to cook like a crazy woman, making a mess and tons of mistakes, getting frustrated at failed attempts to produce something descent and edible, but eventually realizing that all it takes is practice and patience and armed with these, I set out to improve my cooking skills.
Leyla: Your food photography and the overall compositions of your photos is so gorgeous. How did you learn to be so good at both styling and photography? Have you had any formal training?
Farida: I haven’t had any formal training in either food styling or photography. I am self-taught and I think there is still room to hone my skills at both. I am never satisfied.
Leyla: Do you use Photoshop to enhance your images?
Farida: Yes, I do use photoshop, but I try not to distort the images and keep them as close to the original as possible.
Leyla: I’m very excited about your cookbook that you are working on right now. If it is anything like your blog, then I am sure the end result will be fantastic. How did the idea come to you, and who/what was the inspiration behind actually going through with the whole thing?
Farida: Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I love cookbooks and I especially love ethnic cookbooks that teach you a lot about the food culture of a particular place. In the US, bookstores carry so many ethnic cookbooks from different parts of the world but I haven’t found any dedicated entirely on Azerbaijani cuisine and culture (there are only a few with chapters on Azerbaijani food). I decided I wanted to fill in this gap and write a cookbook. My inspiration behind the process is my memories of Azerbaijan, its colorful culture, and of course its delicious food. I wanted to bring these things together in one book.
Leyla: Cooking is a big part of one’s culture, and it’s so great that you’re keeping that alive by cooking traditional Azeri dishes. What are the things you miss the most about living in Azerbaijan / Baku?
Farida: If you mean something food related, then I will say it is Azerbaijani bazaars. Farmer’s markets in California are good but they cannot replace the liveliness, the colors, the abundance, the variety of Azerbaijani markets. I also miss the hustle and bustle of those places, with sellers exhorting you to buy their stuff by almost singing praises to them. I find it more interesting now that I am far from it.
Leyla: I am a huge advocate for home made cooking, but I know a lot of people think it takes too much time. What is your secret for managing to run a household and always prepare delicious, fresh, homemade food?
Farida: There is really no secret. I do what I love to do and what I think I should do as I a mother of two young children. Cooking does take a portion of your time every day, but I feel responsible for what goes in our palates. I prefer to feed my children freshly made meals instead of frozen or store bought. I also “blame” my culture for my daily marathons in the kitchen. I spent a chunk of my life seeing my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, my neighbors, all Azerbaijani women for that matter, cook food from scratch on a daily basis. They always found the time to cook for the family no matter what, even if they worked full time. So it is a cultural thing too. But I am in no way a superwoman. I do enjoy occasional breaks and outings to restaurants for a change of atmosphere and for a chance to get more culinary inspiration.
Hope you guys enjoyed the interview & here is the promised recipe:
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegetable oil
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 medium juicy tomatoes, peeled and pureed in a food processor
5 cups chicken broth or water (or combination)
1 tablespoon dried thyme (decrease to taste)
1/2 cup milk
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
shredded mozzarella cheese
croutons (recipe follows)
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and stir-fry for a minute. Add the pureed fresh tomatoes. Cook for 3 minutes longer. Add the chicken broth or water, and thyme. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Gradually pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for another 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Ladle into bowls, garnish with shredded mozzarella and croutons (recipe follows).
Remove crust from bread slices. Cut into cubes. Brush the cubes with some olive oil (or melted butter). Sprinkle with salt. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350F (170C) until browned, about 10 minutes.
Are you guys starving yet from all of Farida’s delicious, mouthwatering food photography? I know, I am! Please show some love in the comments below if you enjoyed this feature.