Gurza is one of the oldest, richest and most unique examples of Azerbaijani cuisine and an example of how the country’s beautiful landscapes, colourful climates and multi-ethnic make-up affect the national culinary culture. National cuisine differs locally according to how dishes should be cooked. Generally, in northern and northwestern regions people prefer meals made from dough. In southern and central regions the majority of dishes are prepared with fish and wild birds. The western regions are popular for their sweets.

Here we describe the process of making a special dish eaten in Baku and its suburban villages, especially on cold days and in the presence of guests - Gürzə (gurza)! Though the dish is named after a deadly snake (viper) found on the Absheron peninsula, gurza is made from lamb and has a unique and delicious taste. Gurza is also called Girs in northwestern regions, but generally it’s considered a Baku dish in Azerbaijani national cuisine.

You must be wondering why such a strange name is given to such a tasty meal. The reason is that as the dough is folded around the meat it creates a pattern similar to the diamonds on the back of the gurza adder. In addition to this curiously named dish, Baku’s cuisine is also famous for its qutabs (Jorat), dushbere, kheshil, dolma wrapped in wineleaves and tied by string, and onion bozbash.

Ingredients - serving two

The dough:

2 cups of flour

1 egg

½ teaspoon of salt

¼ cup of hot water

The stuffing:

300-400g of lamb

80g of sheep’s tail

200g of onions

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of pepper

The vegetarian option:

1 bunch each of the following - coriander, fennel, onions, spinach and parsley

How to prepare:

On a smooth surface mould the dough mixture together with your hands and leave to rest for 20 minutes before chopping into small balls. On the surface, flatten the dough balls using a rolling pin until they are 2-3mm thick. Then take an armudu (tea glass) and cut the dough into 5cm wide round shapes. Now fold the dough around the stuffing, pinching and twisting the ends to create the infamous gurza pattern.

Strip the lamb meat from the bones and place into a mincer with two onions and the sheep’s tail. Add salt and pepper and mix to create the mince. Meanwhile, prepare a broth by boiling the bones for 20-30 minutes. Once this is ready, remove the bones, drop the little gurza balls in and boil until they rise to the surface, at which point they are ready.

Gurza can be served at the table with the broth or without. If you serve without the broth it’s a good idea to eat the gurza with yogurt and garlic, mint or paste made from alcha (sour plum). Note that gurza can also be fried in a pan with oil.

Nus olsun! Bon appetit! Enjoy your meal! 

With our big thanks to the Shirvanshan Restaurant in Baku for their help.