We are getting into hardcore ethnic stuff here: this is a yogurt cream soup – it’s made of yogurt mixed with water, rice, and a bouquet (yes, nothing short of “bouquet”) of herbs. Back in the Old Country the selection of fresh greens was so vast, and so widely available all year round, that I normally used a melange of six different herbs to make this: spinach, sorrel, cilantro, dill, scallions, and garlic chives. This being Wisconsin, however, the fresh herbs, especially this time of the year, have to be trucked in from California, and the selection is… well… let’s just say that for all the things I am glad I left behind, the cornucopia of Azerbaijani farmer’s markets was a dear price to pay. Anyhow, I learned to make do (with nearly equally satisfying results) with the combination of cilantro, spinach, and scallions. And that’s just about OK.
Call it comfort food or whatever – this dish here is my absolute favorite – of all the delicious things on Earth (and I make quite a few of them), I can eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner whenever I have it in the house, during which time I won’t touch anything else. Literally.
Josie feels the same way. She’s my daughter, after all.
As much as the American palate is unaccustomed to yogurt soups (Or is it? Not in my experience), consider giving this a try – it’s creamy, herby, I don’t know… a perfect combination of flavors. At least if you are me.
You gotta start with 2 qts of yogurt. This here is my, false modesty aside, thick, delicious homemade yogurt.
Note: Homemade yogurt, especially when fresh, is not usually quite sour enough to produce the desirable tanginess in the soup – but the storebotten one usually is. That’s because it sat around longer and got more sour. Yogurt sours as it sits. This is why, if you use homemade yogurt, and don’t have any sorrel to sour things up further, you might never have a full dovga experience. Compensate by using lots of salt. I haven’t tried lemon juice – it seems out of place here.
See how wonderfully thick it is? Made from fresh milk right out of a cow (not my cow).
Now wash some cilantro…
…and chop it kinda medium.
Now take some scallions…
And chop them as well.
Now take some spinach…
and do the same thing.
Next, do the following:
1) Beat your yogurt with a fork until it’s smooth.
2) Add to it about 1 qt of water, and a beaten egg. The egg’s important here – it will act as emulsifier, making it harder for the yogurt and water mixture to separate (I learned that egg yolks have this function from my friend Jen’s husband Alex).
Now take about a cup of rice… this here is more than that, but you only need a cup.
…and add it to the yogurt-water-egg mixture.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Stir frequently. Very frequently. Back in the Old Country they made you stir it the whole time until it came to the boil to prevent it from separating, but just like with peeling potatoes, I am pretty sure that was invented to keep the fiery Azerbaijani women busy so they would stay out of trouble. An Azeri woman is a formidable creature, especially when crossed. I still think that’s why Jacob married me. He likes that sort of thing.
Once the mixture comes to a boil (by which I mean “once a few bubbles start breaking the surface here and there”), add all of your herbs. Salt to taste (no pepper). Stir, and turn the heat down to medium. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 min (15 min from the time you put in your herbs, NOT the time it actually comes to a simmer after this addition). Once again, stir frequently.
Set your timer NOW.
There it is simmering.
And, fifteen minutes later, it’s done! The tangy, creamy, Middle Eastern goodness.
This can be served either hot or cold – Jacob prefers it hot, but I like it cold – I think it has more flavor that way.
Variations: Dovga can also be made with meat – this can be done by substituting the water in this recipe for beef broth, and adding some boiled beef (sirloin, stew, soup bone trimmings, or whatever) along with the herbs. I’ve never made it that way, but if I wanted to, that’s what I would do.
It is also sometimes made with chick peas – just add 1 can of chick peas around the time you add your herbs.
For Rebecca: I know you want to add garlic. No one says you can’t, but be forewarned that most of the flavor is supposed to be derived from the delicate herb bouquet, and it will no longer be the same thing.
Dovga: An Azeri Yogurt-Cream Soup
- 2 qt yogurt, beaten until smooth
- 1 qt water or 1 qt beef froth for the meat version
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped finely
- 1 bunch scallions, chopped finely
- 1 small bag of spinach, chopped finely
- 1 bunch garlic chives, chopped finely
- 1 bunch dill, chopped finely
- 1 bunch sorrel, chopped finely
Note: you probably can’t easily find sorrel and garlic chives, but if you do, definitely use them! Or consider growing them next year just to this end. Dill is more readily available, but can be skipped as well. You can also play around with other herbs, but I would stay away from strong-tasting, licorice-flavored ones like basil, mint, or tarragon.
- 1 C rice
- 1 egg, beaten
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 can chick peas, optional
- For meat version only: a small amount of cooked cubed beef
Place yogurt into a pot and beat with a fork or a whisk until smooth. Add water/broth, egg, and rice. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently (But not non-stop, all of you Azeri zealots). Add all the herbs and chickpeas (if using). If you are making a meat version, add your cooked beef at this time. Add salt. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 15 min. Serve hot or cold.
Another note: If the soup gets too thick the next day and begins to resemble rice pudding, just add some water and stir everything around. It won’t affect the flavor very much – just add extra salt.