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).
Ingredient Matcher is a new web site (and app) that offers to compare a list of ingredients you already have to its recipe database, in order to figure out what you can cook for dinner without having to go to the store. It’s so new, in fact, that it hasn’t even officially launched yet.
While I would have a lot to say about offering recipes based on user inputs, what initially caught my attention was a series of contests that they recently started. In an attempt to gather recipes for the national dishes of all the countries in the world, the creators have been inviting food bloggers and other home cooks to submit their dishes for the illustrious title of Country Chef, plus some more material prizes.
I’ve recently posted the last installment of my Azerbaijan Adventures, so it’s time to say farewell to the Caucasus (for the time being, at least), and look back at all I have distilled over the past three years.
Like a goat jumping over the snowy peaks of the Caucasus, I have traveled through Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and their respective renegade regions. In writing about my journeys, I intentionally left aside the most-traveled routes to focus on more extreme tourism, food, and cooking. I called them Adventures, although your humble main protagonists spent more time changing flat tires, dealing with hard-looking and/or corrupt customs officers, asking their way around in the middle of nowhere, and drinking local moonshine, than accomplishing any kind of crazy exploits.
A few month ago, I was announcing that this is a Russian food blog — and it worked. But, as you’ve certainly noticed by now, this is more than that. For example, this is also a Georgian food blog. The Georgia we’re talking about here is the Republic of Georgia of course, in the Caucasus; and I dedicated many posts to its food, its dishes, its cooking and its cuisine.
Seriously, Google, look at the top results when one queries “Georgian food blog”! The first one is an excellent blog that I encourage everyone to read (it’s in my blogroll), but it’s essentially about Estonian cuisine. The third one consists of 50 or so Georgian recipes, all posted in December 2007 (five years ago); it’s interesting, but it’s not exactly a blog. Which brings us to the second one, a single picture from the aforementioned recipes, re-posted on some other site; this certainly wins the Palme d’Or for lamest search result. And so on…
I seem to be going through an “extreme offal” phase. Only a few weeks ago, I was writing about veal brains, and here I am striking back, this time below the belt! I found these lamb testicles from 3-Corner Field Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago, and figured that lamb offal would be a good candidate for a nice Georgian stew. Chashushuli usually consists of stewed veal with tomato, onion, spices, and herbs (plus sometimes other vegetables), but there’s no real restriction on the meat you’re using. If you want to stick to the more traditional veal, I would suggest trying sweetbreads — you can prepare them pretty much the same way as the testicles below.
Georgian Bread, in Brighton Beach, occupies what could be the ultimate niche market. As you probably guessed, it makes Georgian bread. Two kinds to be precise: shoti and khachapuri. And this is pretty much it! Sure, there are a few homemade spreads and salads, grocery items like tkemali, adjika, pickled walnuts, sodas, and Georgian-style cheeses — all things that you can find in Brighton supermarkets with a much wider selection. But the two breads are the only bakery items, and they totally justify the trip.
I’ve been going to Georgian Bread for years, but it looks like I missed the blogging bandwagon. Law & Food, Serious Eats and Fork in the Road all recently published excellent posts about the place. Someone even posted a picture of the oven on Yelp.
Back to the breads:
The shoti is a long, flat yeast-dough bread baked in the toné, the Georgian tandoor. This bread is delicious when you eat it fresh from the oven, and Georgian Bread’s rendition is no exception (you have to get there early, as the bread is done first thing in the morning and partly sold to the few local Georgian restaurants). Unfortunately, its very shape means it goes stale quickly. In a perfect world, it would always be baked to order, but even in Georgia this is rarely the case nowadays.
The khachapuri, a cheese bread I’ve already talked about many times, comes in its most classic form, called Imeretian, with the cheese trapped inside the dough. See how the cheese appears in the center? This gives us an idea of how the man must be assembling the pies: the cheese is placed in the center of a disc of dough, then the dough is folded like a purse, the knot of extra dough in the center is cut off, and maybe the whole thing is flattened a bit to its final shape. This is why you don’t see any sealed edges.
Tasting time! The bread survived the return trip quite well and was still warm when we got home, which is good news as I wouldn’t recommend reheating it or eating it cold. This is certainly the most authentic khachapuri I’ve tasted this side of the Atlantic. Unlike what so many lazy restaurants seem to think, it does pay to make your own dough instead of using crappy store-bought pizza dough — surprise! The oozy cheese mixture, made with a blend of Georgian-style cheeses found at the store, has an unexpectedly light texture and the rich, salty flavor I’m usually looking for, slightly on the mild side. The dough is fairly airy and has a good bread taste.
I’m not going to give Georgian Bread a rating like I do with my regular Restaurant Reviews; it would be unfair to treat it like a sit-down restaurant when it’s really just a counter selling a few items. But needless to say at this point, it has my seal of approval!
Tarragon soda was invented by Mitrofan Lagidze in Tbilisi in 1887, and I already talked about Lagidze’s beverages here, in another post. But it wasn’t until 1981 that Soviet Union started mass production and gave Tarkhun (whose name is derived from the word for tarragon in Georgian and other languages from around the Caucasus) its distinctive color by adding malachite green, a dye that is now considered toxic and banned in most countries. Don’t worry though, my recipe’s entirely safe and natural!
As surprising as the idea may first sound, Tarkhun is actually quite good and carries tarragon’s pleasant, mildly liquorice flavor. There are 2 challenges in making perfect Tarkhun:
- Color. The tarragon syrup will be pale green right after you make it, but will quickly turn yellow. The role of the baking soda and the ice cubes in my recipe is actually to slow down that “yellowing” process, but it can only do so much. If you’re willing to make the recipe a bit more complicated, you could add the lemon juice at the last minute, when assembling the soda — acidity is a big factor in the color.
You can add a drop of (FDA-approved) green coloring in each glass for a vibrant result (see my picture below). If you want to reproduce the color of the commercial versions (as in the picture at the very bottom of this post), you would probably need to add some blue coloring too. Or you can just choose to consume the all-natural yellow version.
- Clarity. Chances are your soda will still contain small tarragon particles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want a clearer beverage, you should consider using a 100-micron superbag. Now THAT will make you a true Tarkhun aficionado!
Yields about 6 servings
8 oz sugar
3 oz water
1/8 tsp baking soda
0.35 oz tarragon leaves
3 oz ice cubes
1.5 oz lemon juice
- In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring constantly. Mix in the baking soda and tarragon, cook for 1 minute and remove from the heat.
- Transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Add the ice cubes and lemon juice and process again. Pass through a fine chinois and refrigerate.
Yields about 6 glasses
36 oz sparkling water
green food coloring (optional)
- For each glass, Mix 2 oz syrup with 6 oz sparkling water and a drop of food coloring. Top with ice. Enjoy!
In Georgia, walnut-stuffed eggplant rolls are almost as popular as khachapuri. In Abkhazia, too, apparently, as I adapted this recipe from an Abkhaz cookbook! These rolls make for a very satisfying appetizer, and the filling strikes the perfect balance between spices, fresh herbs, moist onions and rich walnuts. My partner doesn’t even like eggplant, and she liked these!
Walnut-stuffed eggplant rolls
Yields about 24 pieces
1 1/2 lb Italian eggplant
4 oz olive oil
6 oz very thinly sliced onion
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
4 saffron filaments
8 oz shelled walnuts
2 tbsp chopped mint
4 tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette
4 oz pomegranate juice
- Remove the stems from the whole eggplants, and slice the flesh lengthwise into slices about 3/16″ thick, discarding the skin-side slices. Generously season the slices with salt on both sides. Let rest for 15 minutes, then brush both sides with a wet paper towel.
- Sauté the eggplant slices in olive oil in a hot frying pan until brown on both sides. Reserve on paper towels.
- Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until golden brown. Season with salt, mix in the saffron and let cool.
- In a food processor, process the walnuts, mint, parsley, piment d’espelette and pomegranate juice to a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the onion preparation. Place some mixture on one end of each eggplant slice, and roll into a cylinder. Refrigerate and take out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving.
Unlike some of my previous dishes questionably named after Eastern European cities, this recipe truly was inspired by something I ate in Telavi, Georgia. Against all odds, the deserted restaurant in the town center featured brains on its menu, and they were delicious! The whole dish has a very mild flavor and melts in your mouth, and the way it’s prepared makes it easy for the squeamish to forget what they’re eating.
This is a very quick recipe, the main challenge being to find brains. You can use lamb, pork or veal brains based on their availability, the only difference will be their size. It is not uncommon to have to buy a whole head, in which case I recommend you ask your butcher to cut it in half for you — cutting the head yourself at home, either with a hand saw or a hammer and chisel, is a pretty tedious task. As I learned the hard way.
Pork brains Telavi
Yields 2 servings
2 pig brains (about 8 oz)
black pepper, ground
1 1/2 oz butter
1 oz scallion, white part only, thinly sliced
2 oz wine
2 oz chicken stock
1 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp scallion, green part only, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp chili pepper, thinly sliced
- Place the brains into a brine made with 1.5% kosher salt, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
- Drain the brains and gently pat dry with paper towels. Coarsely chop into 1″ cubes, and season with salt and pepper. Melt 1/3 of the butter in a pan over medium-high heat until brown (not black!). Add the brain cubes and scallion whites, and cook until golden brown, stirring regularly. Add the wine, reduce by half, then add the stock and cook until completely reduced, still stirring occasionally. Mix in the egg and the rest of the butter, cook for a couple minutes, and remove from the heat.
- Transfer to a bowl, top with the scallion greens and chili pepper, and serve immediately.