By now, you have doubtlessly made pounds and pounds of the Imeretian cheese I blogged about earlier this week. You must be wondering “oh, what to do with all this delicious cheese?” Brush aside all the fuss about seasonal cooking, and try this very simple salad, one of the simplest posts on my entire blog! The dish is inspired by something I found in Michael Natkin’s Herbivoracious. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the book; I only found the one recipe interesting. But this salad tastes great, and uses typically Georgian ingredients.
So you want to make your own cheese but don’t want to break the bank buying a cheese press? You don’t want to spend your weekends monitoring the temperature of your milk, or get up in the middle of the night to heat / stir / drain / flip your curds every 30 minutes? Well why not try Imeretian cheese!
Imeretian cheese is a fresh cow’s milk cheese. Although it originated in the Imereti region, you can find it everywhere in Georgia, whether it’s homemade or bought at the market. There are many variations, the subtleties of which haven’t really been recorded in a book so far, to the best of my knowledge. This is the cheese traditionally used in khachapuri, the infamous Georgian cheese bread. This is also the basis for another well-known Georgian cheese called sulguni (more on this in another post).
If you read my previous post about Nasha Rasha, you might remember that their flavored vodkas were about the only things worth spending a ruble on. There was a good blood orange vodka, but this hardly deserves a serious recipe. Take vodka, fresh blood orange juice (reduced over low heat, optionally), simple syrup, and mix to your liking, keeping at least 50% vodka, and voila! And you can replace the blood orange with pretty much any fruit juice.
More inspiring was the bacon vodka…
I’d heard of people frying bacon and adding it to a bottle of bourbon, and I’d read about Bakon Vodka, but I’d never had a chance to try anything like it before I went to Nasha Rasha. The result is indeed quite pleasant, the flavor mostly taking advantage of bacon’s smokiness. But since I don’t really feel like patronizing the Worst Russian Restaurant In New York anymore, something else needed to be done…
Here’s a recipe that should come in handy for the upcoming holidays. The idea for this dish stemmed from a popular dessert at family Thanksgiving dinners. The original was a plain chocolate custard tart, covered with whipped cream and cocoa powder. While most of the other desserts would be barely touched by the turkey-stuffed guests, the tart would be gone in minutes. In the face of such popularity, I became convinced that it would be worth preparing my own version from scratch.
Vepřo-knedlo-zelo — literally “pork-dumpling-cabbage” — is Czech Republic’s national dish, but you’ve probably never heard of it. Maybe because the dish name contains of the most difficult to pronounce letters known to mankind (the ř, affectionately called a raised alveolar non-sonorant trill in linguistics circles, is apparently shared only with the Kobon language of Papua New Guinea).
Or it could just be that most of the time, there’s really nothing about this dish to wax lyrical about. In many restaurants, you’re likely to receive dry slices of roasted pork, a heap of plain, soupy cabbage, and enough bread dumplings to smother you to death, even when there’s no sauce to mop up with them.
Let’s try to make things a little bit more interesting…
On my way to Moldova this past summer, I decided to brave the Russian bureaucracy (the eternal visa schemes) and traffic jams (2 hours from Sheremetyevo Airport) to spend one evening in Moscow. To make it count, I looked for restaurants serving cuisine that I was unlikely to eat anywhere else in the foreseeable future — this excluded the many Georgian and Uzbek joints. I found a small handful of Kazakh and Tatar restaurants, but the place that captured my attention served Buryat cuisine.
Located in the former space of an iconic Soviet jazz club, restaurant Selenge calls itself a Buryat-Mongolian restaurant. The Republic of Buryatia is an area of Russia that borders Mongolia, and indeed their two cuisines are very similar — one difference being that Buryats prepare several dishes with Baikal omul. The food at Selenge was a bit uneven, but one of the better dishes we tried was the buuzy, a local variation on Mongolia’s national dumpling.
Although I’ve already posted plov recipes here and here, I wanted to go back to a more canonical version that I could submit on Ingredient Matcher. A plov that’s very traditional in its ingredients, and at the same time easy enough to prepare. No sous-vide lamb, no need to kill your own turkey, and no useless rituals à la Stalik.
A cousin of pilaf and pulao, plov (also called osh) is the national dish of Uzbekistan, and to a certain degree, Tajikistan. Almost every region has its own version, even if the differences can be quite subtle sometimes. Tashkent plov, for example, is made with yellow carrots, and can be served with kazy, horse sausage. The bases are more or less invariable, though. Expect all or a subset of the following: carrots, onions, garlic, currants, chickpeas, lamb, and a fair amount of animal fat. And of course, the essential Uzbek spices, cumin and coriander.
Tajik culinary literature is pretty scarce. Pan-Soviet cookbooks typically included a short section about Tajikistan, a handful of booklets must have been published with very small circulations in Dushanbe in the early 1990′s, and a few bloggers have posted recipes here and there. But overall, with Tajikistan being one of the poorest countries in the world — and with its independence immediately followed by many years of civil war — circumstances haven’t encouraged such recreational endeavors as cookbooks.
Shashlyk po-karski (Kars-style shashlyk) is a rather mysterious dish. Every time I’ve ordered it in restaurants, I’ve been served either a rack of lamb or individual grilled lamb chops. What made either version specifically from Kars, a Turkish town that once belonged to medieval Armenia? Why not call it chalakhach, another dish of mysterious origins that seems to consist of grilled lamb chops?
Pokhlebkin sheds some light and gives a pretty different definition of the dish — and unlike Brighton Beach restaurant owners, he was a food historian. In his essential Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples, he explains what distinguishes a shashlyk po-karski from other kebabs:
- The dish requires round chunks of lamb loin of similar shapes, each weighing about a pound.
- The marinade is different from what you use in Georgian mtsvadi (Georgian kebabs tend to be minimally marinated).
- The shashlyk is cooked progressively, and thin pieces are cut off the outside while the rest keeps grilling.
This still doesn’t explain why Kars Armenians decided all of a sudden to invent this Turkish-sounding dish, but I think I have a theory.
A few months back, I reported my giant catch of delicious, bright-orange-fleshed lake trout from Lake Ontario. Although I usually avoid freezing fish, that time I had no choice. This gave me plenty of trout to use, to try and perfect this ballotine recipe.