Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we’ll check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.
You gotta love our neighborhood! You can sample just about the entire world’s cuisine and still never leave Sheepshead Bay. This week we move on from our Eastern European foods and friends and head over to Azerbaijan for kutabs. Never heard of kutabs? Neither had I. But that’s the beauty of our ‘hood; new and exciting foods call from almost every corner.
Kutabs are thin flour pancakes, pan fried in butter and sprinkled with sumac. They come stuffed with meat or spinach and greens. At Caucasus Garden, they have mastered both versions.
Caucasus Garden offers a “meat” kutab, which is stuffed with a ground meat that is incredibly tender and mild in flavor, but left my dining companion and I unable to distinguish its origin. This was mystery meat of the highest caliber to be sure, but what was it? ”Lamb of course,” exclaimed our stunned waitress when asked. This was the mildest lamb I’ve ever had in my life. I would have bet a fairly large sum of money that it was pork, but I’ll take her word for it.
The “greens” kutab was stuffed with one of the most flavorful combinations of chopped greens I have ever tasted. My first thought was that the greens would be very similar to spanakopita, where spinach is the dominant ingredient, but the flavor of the greens was much more complex and varied. In a kutab, each green is chopped so finely that it is almost impossible to discern the individual components.
The blend here is finely chopped spinach, parsley, dill and a little green onion that provided a bite. I’m sure there were others in there, but that’s what I picked out in the mix. So, scratching our heads, we once again turned to our waitress for an explanation. ”All the green vegetables are included,” she said. I got the impression that if you made this at home, the “greens” would be whatever you had on hand in your kitchen.
The kutabs, $2 each, are served with baklijan (an eggplant and garlic with sour cream dipping sauce) that we drizzled over each piece. It gave the meat kutab some needed seasoning, but it was unnecessary on the greens. Next time I go, I may slather on the dip and make a wrap out of each kutab.
Now, I hear some of you saying that kutabs are Turkish in origin, and that may be true, as Caucasus Garden claims it serves “Turkish and American” foods, but I give them to Azerbaijan. Since Azerbaijani culture and language is largely Turkic in origin, it’s not surprising that its cuisine also carries a strong Turkish influence.
So why do I give kutabs to Azerbaijan? Because only the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan provides a definition of kutabs; not Turkey. Let the debate begin.