Imeretian Khachapuri, or Simple Georgian Cheese Bread

I’ve written countless times about khachapuri. The Georgian cheese bread is featured in each of my Georgian restaurant reviews at least once, if not more, and it appears on the menus of many Russian restaurants too. I’ve posted my Adjaran version, but I’ve never posted an Imeretian khachapuri, the simplest kind, which consists of a round bread stuffed with cheese.

The reason why I’ve waited so long is that I wanted it to be really good. I’m sure I’ve read most of the khachapuri recipes ever published, and I’ve tried a good dozen different formulas. I also had to make my own cheese, which took yet more time to perfect; I’ve posted my takes on Imeretian cheese and sulguni recently.

Georgian Cheese Bread - Imeretian Kachapuri

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Qurutob, Tajikistan’s National Dish

Tajikistan claims mainly two national dishes: plov (aka osh), and qurutob. While plov is more famous and is also the national dish of neighboring Uzbekistan, qurutob is specifically Tajik.

Tajik Cuisine - Qurutob

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.

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Lángos, Hungarian Deep-Fried Flat Bread

In Hungary, whether you’re at the market, at the train station, on the beach or just walking down a commercial street, sooner or later you will smell the bewitching greasy invitation of the lángos, the ubiquitous Hungarian deep-fried flat bread. You might even encounter this fat-soaked snack in neighboring countries like Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Serbia, or Romania.

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Kulich, Russian Panettone

Once again, Orthodox Easter came and went, and I didn’t have the time to finish my kulich recipe on time. At least now I’ll have it ready for next year!

A kulich is a kind of Easter bread, somewhat similar to a panettone, but usually denser. Just as with panettone, you’ll find many different recipes with varying degrees of richness. On one end of the spectrum, the more bigoted recipes consider it sacrilegious to have too much of a good thing, and therefore result in something that’s still close to plain bread and pretty dry. On the other end, the better recipes from the most reputable sources tend to resort to common tricks for achieving sinful dessert decadence: push the amount of butter to stratospheric levels, and liberally add more egg yolks, more sugar, more fruits.

Russian Cuisine - Kulich

My rendition belongs, of course, to the latter category. It distinguishes itself by the variety of dried and candied fruits I’ve chosen, to reflect the diversity found on Russian markets, and by the use of saffron, in accordance with traditional kulich recipes that recommend the use of a dominant spice (other possibilities include cardamon and cloves). I also serve it with a rum-raisin crème anglaise.

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Perfect Potato Buns: The Epic Quest

Potato BunsWhen I started working on the Salmon and Pork Belly Burger, I thought making a good potato bun would be a no-brainer. After half a dozen trials and several pounds of patties, I acknowledge the task was harder than it seemed.

Though I won’t name names, the commercial potato rolls I’ve looked at are a bit of joke, as they use about as much potato flour as yeast (understand: not a whole lot). Check the labels yourselves! The main ingredient is wheat flour, and food coloring does the rest. There aren’t any eggs either, so that oh-so-potatoey yellow color is 100% Yellow #5, or 6, or whatever.

Pictures of my first attempt would not speak highly of my baking skills. Whoever wrote the recipe at King Arthur Flour should try to eat their own dog food some day — the result tasted fine but was too heavy for a burger. Both Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Further Adventures in Search of Perfection offer pretty similar recipes for regular, potato-free buns, but they each take over 24 hours. I understand the importance of flavor development when you work with yeast, but will one really taste a difference once the bun is sandwiching a flavorful patty, some cheese, and condiments? Especially with a potato bun? I’m not so sure. (Note: I tried, of course.)

Well, take THAT, messieurs Nathan Myhrvold and Heston Blumenthal! My potato bun, though inspired by your recipes, can be ready to eat in under 3 hours, and it tastes pretty damn good. Continue reading

Dolma Shurpa, Uzbek Stuffed Vegetable Broth

I’ve previously posted a pepper dolma recipe from Azerbaijan, but today’s dish hails from Uzbekistan and is prepared fairly differently. Shurpa means soup or broth in Uzbek, and the stuffed vegetables here are served in a flavorful broth. My recipe is loosely adapted from Hakim Ganiev‘s Oriental Feast, but I’ve made many changes, such as the use of my beloved pressure cooker.

Uzbek Cuisine - Dolma Shurpa

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Zhingalov Khats, Herb Flatbread from Karabakh

Zhingalov khats, a flatbread with a variety of fresh herbs, is a specialty from Nagorno-Karabakh (literally, it means bread with herbs in Armenian). If you ever visit the market in Stepanakert, you can taste the real deal made fresh in front of you. Unfortunately, that might be your only chance to do so: my Internet and cookbook searches didn’t return a single recipe for zhingalov khats! To further complicate the matter, the name of the dish is transliterated in different ways, such as zhengyalov hac or jingalov hats.

The flatbread is supposedly made with 7 fresh herbs (some other sources online said 8, 9, or 27), one or two of which are obligatory (which ones, we don’t know). The dough is rolled out, chopped herbs are placed on top, the sides are folded over and the whole thing is rolled out again before being cooked on a griddle. This link gathers most of the information one can find on zhingalov khats, including a rather funny video of a TV show broadcast on the Russian First TV channel. There are also some rare photographs from markets in Karabakh here and here.Zhingalov Khats

But finally, my dear Caucasian foodies, the wait is over. I am proud to offer you what I would modestly call the first ever written recipe for zhingalov khats, an undeniable cornerstone in the little-known culinary heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh! It may not contain 27 or even 7 herbs, but it’s pretty good all the same. In fact, the tighter flavor profile will even help one recognize what’s in it, which is a big plus in my opinion. It also doesn’t follow the absurd diet restrictions that go with fasting for lent, and this makes it even tastier. Butter makes everything tastier, and nobody should tell you when to eat it and when not to.

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Lavash, Armenian Flatbread

Lavash is a large flatbread popular in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, where it’s commonly used to wrap food like kebabs. The etymology of the word is unclear, and various scholars alternately mention an Armenian, Turkic or Persian origin.

The picture above shows the lavash stacks at the market in Yerevan. These breads are quite large, but you don’t need to invest in a Guiness-Book-worthy griddle to make excellent lavash. The authors of Flatbreads & Flavors, a rather original book from which my recipe below is adapted, recommend using a wok turned upside down. This method produces delicious flatbreads of about 12″ in diameter. If you really want a paper-thin result, you can use a pasta machine instead of a rolling pin — the lavash won’t be any less good if it’s rectangular rather than oval!

Lavash
Yields 4 flatbreads

6 oz water, lukewarm
1 1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
10 oz flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
olive oil

  • In a cup, mix the water with the honey and yeast, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, add about 3/4 of the flour, and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the rest of the flour and the salt, switch to the dough hook attachment, and knead for 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, for about 3 hours.
  • Punch down the dough and let rest for another 10 minutes.

  • Divide into 4 equal pieces, and roll into 10″ x 12″ ovals using a rolling pin (or into thinner rectangles using a pasta machine). Don’t forget to flour your work surface generously as you go, giving quarter turns to your dough between each roll.
  • Turn a wok upside down on a gas burner, and heat on the highest setting for a few minutes. Rub the wok with a paper towel soaked with olive oil, and place a lavash on the wok. Flip several times, every 30 to 45 seconds, until nice brown blisters start to form.
  • Remove from heat and eat immediately — nothing beats freshly baked bread. If you have to wait, cover with a towel, and spray with a bit of water before reheating.

Potato Knishes

The knish, a kind of stuffed bun, has an interesting history. It originated in Ukraine and Belarus, where it was known as knysh and was a kind of pirozhok usually filled with buckwheat, onions or bacon. However, it almost completely vanished from the culinary repertoire of these two countries, and it was instead brought to America by Jewish emigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. It became a Jewish staple as a round bun filled with either potato or buckwheat.

I thought it was time to transform the potato knish once again. My version is unorthodox, but delicious! For the potato filling, I adapted Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for potato purée, and the dough is a choux dough mixed with cheese, like the one used in gougères. The puffs are then partly hollowed out (you want to keep a bit of the pastry inside to make thinks more interesting) and the purée is piped into them. You can choose pretty much any melting cheese of your liking for the dough — I’ve had good results with Pecorino and various tomme-style cheeses. I eventually picked aged gouda for its nuttiness and because it’s somewhat similar to some cheeses made in Russia.


Potato purée

Yields 8 servings (8 knishes)

1 lb peeled Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1″ slices
salt
2 oz sour cream
5 oz butter
1 pinch black pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg

  • Bring a pot of unsalted water to 175 F. Add the potatoes, and cook for 30 minutes, maintaining the water temperature at 160 F (if you use a lot of water and cover the pot with a lid, the temperature should remain almost constant without you doing anything). Transfer the potatoes to a bowl of ice water, and let cool completely.
  • Bring the pot of water up to a boil and salt the water. Add the potatoes and simmer until cooked.
  • Pass through a food mill fit with the finest disk; if necessary, use some of the sour cream to get the grinding going. Mix the potatoes with the sour cream, butter, black pepper and nutmeg, then push the mixture through a sieve — you can either pass it through a conical sieve with a ladle, or rub it through a drum sieve with a spatula. Reserve.

Gougères
Yields 8 gougères

4 oz water
1.5 oz butter
salt
2.5 oz flour
2 1/2 eggs
4 oz aged gouda, finely grated
1 pinch ground pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg

  • In a saucepan, bring the water, butter and a pinch of salt to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the flour and mix well. Put back on medium heat, mix until the dough does not stick, then keep stirring for about a minute. Drying out the mixture enough is essential for the gougères to puff properly.
  • Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and add the eggs one by one, mixing between each egg. Add the cheese, pepper and nutmeg and mix well.
  • Form small balls of dough on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, and bake in a 350 F oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Assembly

Yields 8 knishes
gougères
potato purée
  • Make a hole at the bottom of each gougère using a pairing knife, and carve most of the dough (but not all) out of the puffs. Do your best, but don’t worry if you puncture the top of the gougère or end up with a large hole at the base, the result will still look and taste great.
  • Fill a pastry bag with the potato purée, and pipe into the gougères until they start plumping up.
  • Place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, and reheat in a 350 F oven for about 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

Adjaran Khachapuri, or Death by Cheese

Wherever you go in Georgia, you can be sure to eat khachapuri at least once a day. These national cheese breads come in various shapes. The Imeretian khachapuri is a round pie filled with cheese, by far the most common. The Mingrelian one is similar, but topped with more cheese. The cheese is usually whatever is produced locally, from curds to sulguni, fresh or aged.

Today we’ll look at the Adjaran khachapuri, an open-face version topped with tons of cheese, plus an egg and slices of butter for maximum artery clogging. The bread is comparable to pizza dough, and many places actually sell both khachapuris and pizzas.  If you travel to Abkhazia, you’ll find out that the exact same dish (though sometimes without the egg) is marketed as the national dish:

Don’t call it Adjaran there though — you might get shot in the head! Locals have renamed it “lodochka”, “little boat” in Russian, which is particularly funny when you know that the only boats you’ll see in Abkhazia are Russian war ships.

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