Laza

May 31st, 2015 Sections: Cuisine, Food and Drink
Marmite Jars

Jars of Marmite

The other day, a friend, (who happens to know that I have a penchant for spicy foods), asked me how I coped without my daily fix of Marmite,  a spread made from yeast extract which is a byproduct of brewing beer.  To be fair, it is more salty than spicy … and is definitely an acquired taste … it inspires and elicits extreme emotional responses … there’s no ‘in between’, no indifference.  Indeed, the manufacturers make a lot of the phrase “you either love it … or hate it”.  Well, I have met several people who hate it … but, I suppose, I am one of those who “love it”.

A hot buttered crumpet ... waiting for a dolop of Marmite

A hot buttered crumpet … waiting for a dolop of Marmite

Back home in the UK, more often than not, breakfast would have been slices of hot toast, dripping with butter, (or margarine, if I was going through a phase of worrying about my cholesterol intake), topped off with a thick coating of the gooey black substance.  Actually, better than toast was a pikelet … a particular type of English crumpet made with extra baking powder added to the dough to encourage a soft and spongy texture riddled with characteristic holes through which the Marmite would seep.

Although, ‘conventional wisdom’ holds that Marmite should be spread thinly, I admit that I tend to be heavy handed using a ‘dollop’ where others would simply smear a little across the surface.

This is one of the few things that I do miss here in Kyrgyzstan … Marmite is, unfortunately, not available in the shops here and so I have had to look for an alternative.

As it happens, I have found one … in the traditional condiment – Laza.

A bowl of Laza ready to be served

A bowl of Laza ready to be served

In many ways, Laza is an anomaly … in that, although the Kyrgyz do not, usually, favour hot and spicy foods, (preferring ‘natural’ tastes, using herbs to draw these out rather than using spices to create new and contrasting tastes which mask and ‘crowd out’ the flavour of the original dish), Laza is found widely throughout Kyrgyzstan and is used as both, an ingredient and a condiment to flavour soups and broths, especially Ashlan Foo as well as Laghman.  It is also used as a sauce, or ‘dip’, for traditional dishes such as Manti and Pelmeni, (but one has to be careful when applying it, because it is often very hot and spicy and, as they say, “a little goes a long way” … a bit like Tobasco).  Indeed, it is so ubiquitous that it is often found on tables in local cafés – a small dish on every table for customers to apply to whatever dish they have ordered.

Once, some of my friends told me that they liked to simply spread a small quantity of it on a piece of bread and eat it as a sort of sandwich spread.  That intrigued me, especially as I started to hear the same from all sorts of other people … and so I decided to try it for myself. Well, it worked in that I soon found myself making Laza sandwiches … Sausage and Laza sandwiches, Cheese and Laza sandwiches … and so on.

As with Marmite, I soon found that I was was using more and more Laza in my ‘sandwiches’ … dollops of it rather than a just a smear on the bread as most people do … but then, I was probably damaging my taste buds along the way.  Then one morning I decided to try some Laza on a piece of toast for my breakfast … and discovered that “it wasn’t bad”.  As with the crumpets, I found that I got the best results when there was plenty of butter being used … lashings of it soaking into the pourous bread and then mixed with the red mix to create a new sort of spicy paste.

As well as being extremely tasty … and flexible, it also has the advantages that it is very easy to make, from ingredients which are common and easy to find, (garlic, pepper, tomato and oil) … and has a relatively long shelf life – especially when stored in a refrigerator, easily lasting a couple of months … or more.  (Unfortunately, that also adds to one of it’s less attractive features … unless it is covered and/or kept in a closed container, it quickly dries and forms a thin crust which gives it a distinctly unappealing appearance.

Having said all that, Laza is not specifically Kyrgyz; it is found throughout Central Asia and is a feature of many of the local cuisines, under a variety of names such as: Lazdzhan, Laza-Chan and Laziy.  As with so many other recipes, each family seems to have it’s own distinctive recipe … but they all have the same basic ingredients, (as I said, garlic, pepper, tomato and oil).

Here is a basic recipe which takes between 10 and 40 minutes to prepare:

Ingredients:

200 grams of garlic;
2 tablespoons of ground red pepper (Paprika) or a chopped chili pepper can be used instead – it should be about the same proportion as the garlic;
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper;
a pinch of salt – to taste;
50 grams of vegetable oil – sunflower oil or olive oil;
100 grams of sweet tomatoes … Sweet peppers can be used instead.

Method:

Peel, wash and finely chop, (or crush), the garlic.

Spread it in a deep bowl and add the mix to cool a bit;

Cut the tomatoes into small cubes and mix with the garlic and pepper mix … adding the salt.

Pour the oil into a frying pan and heat it.

Remove the oil from the heat and let it cool a bit.

Pour onto the other ingredients and mix well.  (Some people fry the mixture for about 10 minutes)

Let it stand to cool … when it is cool it will thicken and will be ready to serve, but it can be stored for later use – if covered it can last for a couple of months.

Among the variations, some people add other herbs, (such as Dill and Parsley, Coriander and Sesame seeds), as well as chopped green peppers to accompany the tomatoes, and a little vinegar or broth – but the liquid should not make the “mortar” runny as it should be thick when served..

 

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