Georgia – recipes and cookbooks
There’s a delicious build up to travel; the long term planning, the considered purchases, the mounting excitement, the last minute shopping and, for me, a part of that process is reading. As well as factual travel guides online and in print, I like to read something else about the place and find fiction helps me understand a place in a different way to the guides; for example In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar before I went to Libya, Amin Malouf and Khalil Gibran prior to Lebanon, or titles like Midnight’s Children and The White Tiger paving the way to India. It was too late to order the national poem of Georgia – The Knight in the Panther’s Skin – and I couldn’t find anything else relevant (although now intrigued by these titles), so turned to my shelves of cookery books to see if there was something that could provide more context, without much hope it must be said:
Feast – Nigella Lawson
Who would have thought that Nigella would provide a the first clues to the country and cuisine, and she ate her one and only Georgian meal in St Petersburg! She recreates a Georgian feast in Feast, with a caveat about its claim to authenticity and that she’d “certainly cringe at the thought of presenting it as such to someone who came for Georgia.” The menu contains melon with hot pepper relish (adzhika), a plate of herbs, stuffed chicken, beetroot puree, green beans in yoghurt and some walnut crescents. In hindsight it’s an approximation of some of the dishes we were served there but hints at the flavour combinations and the size of the feasts that we ate every single time we sat down to eat. She also gives a recipe and fantastic step by step photographs for Nana’s Hachapuri – stuffed cheese bread – which we came to know as Khachapuri while in Georgia. Is it authentic? It certainly looks like one of the many different versions we tasted (there are over forty varients). As for the walnut crescents – after eating MANY different Georgian feasts – I would say these are the least authentic. Dessert seems to be an alien concept in Georgia.
The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean – Paula Wolfert
Cook book author and culinary anthropologist justifies her inclusion “the Republic of Georgia, a country that, although it has no Mediterranean shore, is Mediterranean in spirit and agriculture.” She mentions the use of red pepper pastes “I often felt I was meandering down a ‘pepper trail’ from the Syrian coastal village of Latakia to the bustling Georgian capital, Tbilisi” and states “I found a core simplicity of approach that, in my opinion, is the mark of culinary sophistication.” A myriad Georgian recipes are sprinkled throughout the book including Georgian beef pie in the style of Svaneti, Georgian dumplings with cracked black pepper (khikali), Caucasian marinated pork kabobs, eggplants stuffed with walnuts, Georgian chicken Tabaka with a walnut sauce (badza) and blackberry sauce (isrim makvali), sour plum sauce (tkemali) and of course, Georgian home-style cheese bread pie (khachapuri). What she also conveys is the exceptional hospitality offered by the Georgians as she was welcomed into their homes (in the mid 1980’s when Georgia was still part of the Soviet Union).
Footnote: I was sad to read that Paula Wolfert has been diagnosed as in the early stages of dementia but very interested to hear how she is coping through amending her diet and by cooking.
Jerusalem – Ottolenghi and Tamimi
Trust Ottolenghi to be spot on the zeitgeist! There’s a whole page dedicated Georgia noting some similarities between dishes from Syria and Palestine and acknowledging the settlers impact on local food in the city of Jerusalem. A recipe for spicy beetroot, leek and walnut salad pays homage to this impact and there’s a very detailed description of how to make Acharuli khachapuri. This is the Georgian cheese bread with an egg baked in it – and apparently “one of the dishes most readily associated with the city’s Georgian Jewish community.
The Jews still living in Georgia make up one of the oldest surviving Jewish communities in the world probably settling there in around 586 BC and there are two synagogues in Tbilisi. Muslims make up almost 10% of the population and the majority are (very devout) Orthodox Christians. Our guide in Georgia told us there was no religious discrimination (since independence) and I certainly got the impression of religious tolerance whilst there.
Anyway….cheese bread with an egg on top anyone? Top of the ‘to bake’ list.
Diana Henry writes meticulous recipes plus she is an instinctive cook who is excited by and understands brilliant flavour combinations. Perhaps her books didn’t tell me much about Georgia but the recipes I found are a great resource and the dishes would sit beautifully on a Georgian table. Georgian chicken in walnut sauce with hot grated beetroot is found in her newest book A Change of Appetite and Georgian plum sauce in Salt Sugar Smoke. I’m going to attempt a Georgian feast (on St George’s day of course) and I’m starting here.
I’d planned to finish this post before I went to Georgia, but as mentioned before, something happened that eclipsed everything. There were a few Georgian cookbooks for sale in the Tbilisi museum shop but none looked tempting enough to ditch another bottle of wine for in my suitcase (baggage allowance). The book that everyone seems to refer to is The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein although there are mixed reviews. That there are few others is an indication of how incredible undiscovered Georgia, its culture, people and land, really is.
So have I whetted your appetite? More about Georgia, the place, the wine, the food and the people follows s-oooooo-n.
If you want to know more, these (food-centric) posts are worth browsing:
- Recipes: Khachapuri/Georgian pizza (marmitelover.blogspot.com)
- Svanetian Khachapuri With Cheese and Green Onions (georgianrecipes.net)
- Georgian grilled pork recipe (helengraves.co.uk)
- Cookies and the Caucasus (cookiesandthecaucasus.wordpress.com/
Have you tasted Georgian food or found any good sources of recipes along the way?