I'm bold enough to suggest that azu is a dish familiar to pretty much every resident of the former Soviet Union. That's a lot of people (291 million just before the Soviet empire vanished into the thin air in 1991)! It's definitely a canteen classic, alongside beef stroganoff, goulash, solyanka, hartcho, rosolnyk, borshch and numerous other dishes that I hope to cook and write about during the coming months.
Azu is a dish from the Tatar kitchen (Tatars being Turkic speaking people on the Russian territory), though that's all I know, as online enquiries and my cookbooks gave very little information on it, just an odd recipe here and there. In any case, I remember this dish being served at our school canteen rather frequently. I remember it being cooked up by lovely dinner ladies at pioneer camps during summer. I have memories, if somewhat vague, of eating this at the student canteen during my university years at Tartu. Day after I served this at home last week, K. came home to announce he saw azu on the menu of the small canteen where he usually grabs his lunch.
However, the dish is probably unknown to you, hence the recipe. While a combination of beef, fried potatoes and sliced pickles may sound, well, a bit odd, I urge you to try it. Unusual it is, granted, but simple and tasty as well.
Canteen, by the way, is söökla in Estonian. There's a mouthful :)
Azu, the Tatar meat stew
400 grams beef (I used a lean back piece)
2 Tbsp oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 Tbsp tomato puree
1-2 Tbsp adjika, optional
some chopped garlic
1-2 pickled or salted cucumbers, sliced
400 grams of potatoes, chopped and fried separately
salt and black pepper
Cut the beef into 1 cm slices first (across grain) and then into thick 'fingers' (ca 1x4 cm). Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and brown the meat.
Add the onion and fry for a few minutes.
Add the tomato puree, and the spicy Georgian paste adjika. (This is not traditional, but it does add a lovely depth to the sauce. I buy mine from my local market. You can substitute the Balkan pepper relish ajvar for adjika. Ajvar is widely available in the UK, for instance) .
Add enough boiling water to barely cover the meat. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes or until the meat is almost tender.
Meanwhile, fry the chopped potatoes until golden brown (you can use either raw or boiled potatoes, the important bit is to fry them before adding to the stew).
Add the fried potatoes, sliced cucumbers and chopped garlic to the saucepan, stir gently, and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.