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Georgia – recipes and cookbooks

April 12, 2014

Cook books with Georgian recipesThere’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:

Nana's Hachapuri

Nana’s Hachapuri from Feast


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

Georgian plum sauce by Diana Henry

Diana Henry

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.


Have you tasted Georgian food or found any good sources of recipes along the way?

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  1. April 12, 2014 6:28 pm

    Love Ottolenghi!! Such an interesting post, thank you x

  2. April 12, 2014 7:09 pm

    I used to read cookbooks cover to cover with one of my favourites being The All Around The World Cookbook by Sheila Lukins. But, the internet and easily accessible recipes has ruined what used to be a delicious past time – truly learning about foods and other cultural cuisines. Thanks for the post and I’ll once again crack a cookbook or two to better get in touch with what we’re eating. BTW, the eggplants stuffed with walnuts sound special.

    • April 12, 2014 8:50 pm

      I must look that one up – it sounds interesting. The eggplants were divine and I’m going to make some for a Gerogian feast on the 25th (St Georges day) – but all the food was excellent…and very healthy.

  3. April 12, 2014 7:20 pm

    You have whet my appetite – Georgia is definitely on my list and yes, Diana Henry’s Georgian Plum Sauce was a regular feature in my house last summer. I’m also cooking from A Change of Appetite this weekend, too. When you are in London I’d love to meet you to visit Baltic – they often have Georgian lamb on the menu – as well as Polish food, so it’s a must-visit!

    • April 12, 2014 8:49 pm

      Can’t wait to see what you cook. I made a version of the chicken tonight – with ground marigold stuffed under the skin. I would love to meet you in Baltic too 🙂

  4. April 12, 2014 7:25 pm

    Interesting post. Which of the three Ottolenghi books would you recommend starting with?

    • April 12, 2014 8:48 pm

      I use the first Ottolenghi book the most. It’s got a really wide range of recipes and some stunners. Plenty is also excellent but all vegetarian. Jerusalem has been read a lot and cooked from the least – possibly because I live in the Middle East and am used to some of the foods. I love the background to it for pure reading though. And the lamb shawarma and lamb meatballs with broad beans is stunning. Oh just get them all (or look on the Guardian site for masses of his recipes). One thing’s for sure, he is meticulous at writing the method in his recipes – more than any other cook book author I can think of.

      • April 12, 2014 10:04 pm

        Thank you for that. Obviously the first would be a good place to start then… Amazon here I come!

  5. April 12, 2014 7:30 pm

    Great post. Like you I try to buy both fiction and non-fiction titles about where I’m travelling to. And a lot of the pleasure of travelling is in the planning and anticipation.

    • April 12, 2014 8:45 pm

      It’s a delicious build up in so many ways isn’t it.

  6. April 12, 2014 7:54 pm

    Great run-down of Georgian food from some of my favourite cookbooks. I like your description of Diana Henry’s style of cooking. I am a fan and have all her books. Do you know Silvena Rowe’s book “Feasts: Food for Sharing from Central and Eastern Europe”? A number of good Georgian recipes here.

    • April 12, 2014 8:45 pm

      You are not going to believe this but I know Silvena – she lives here in Dubai and I see her at the Farmers Market every Friday. I haven’t got any of her books – I’ve been trying not to buy too many new ones. I’m not sure if she knew I was going to Georgia – must mention it (and the food) next Friday! Thanks SO much for this comment.

  7. April 12, 2014 9:08 pm

    Lovely books! I won Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” and I love it.



    • April 12, 2014 9:08 pm

      Sorry “own”… 😉

      • April 12, 2014 9:11 pm

        It’s great isn’t it – the perfect combination of great bedside reading and well -researched recipes.

  8. April 13, 2014 5:23 am

    Thank you so much for this post, Sally! Georgian food is still a mystery to me, though it’s interesting to see familiar (and absolute favourite) cookbook authors’ names like Paula Wolfert here – food history and influence is a fascinating topic! Khachapuri is now on my baking list, after I’ve got through the couple of Easter breads (one from Northern Italy and a cardamom scented one from Slovenia).

    • April 13, 2014 8:47 am

      Will look out for your Easter breads ….in fact now inspired … 🙂

  9. April 13, 2014 5:37 am

    I am a huge fan of the cultural perspectives of food as well as the recipe which is why I love authors like Claudia Roden. Georgia is a place I know so little about but this post has whetted my appetite to find out more.

    • April 13, 2014 8:44 am

      More to follow. And Claudia informed my time in the Middle East in a special way.

  10. April 13, 2014 9:48 am

    I do no research about where we are going but I love the cookbook idea for each country we visit 🙂

    • April 13, 2014 10:15 am

      Often the head notes and introduction can give a really different insight into the country Tandy.

  11. April 13, 2014 10:14 am

    I love your posts that include your cookbook collection Sally. I often read cookbooks like novels and go back and reread them when the inspiration strikes. I haven’t visited Ottolenghi for a while – I think I need to dust the books off again! I am planning a trip to St Petersburg in the autumn so have a summer of russian literature planned – after reading this I will add a cookery book to my list – any recommendations?

    • April 13, 2014 10:51 am

      What’s on your Russian lit list? I don’t have any Russian cookery books – my Dad was Polish so lean towards the West 🙂 Met a great blogger who lives in Moscow though – Would love to visit St Petersburg – look forward to hearing all about it.

      • April 13, 2014 9:15 pm

        Now you have put me on the spot! I am starting with ‘Literary St Petersburg – A Guide To The City & Its Writers’ – to get me into the mood. That will probably spark a list of its own, but I am also planning Anna Karenina and a novel called ‘The Kitchen Boy – A Novel of the Last Czar’. I know very little about Russia, so am looking forward to our visit.

  12. April 13, 2014 1:43 pm

    Sad to read about Paula Wolfert, I hold her in very high esteem. The food of Russia is virtually unknown to me, I need to change that!

  13. April 13, 2014 3:06 pm

    We don’t travel at all much so no sure I would ever really research where we are going.
    Have a beautiful week ahead Sally.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  14. April 13, 2014 4:38 pm

    I am always aghast when I hear people say how little advance travel planning they do or that they just let somebody else do it. (I mean planning in the sense of learning about a place, what one doesn’t want to miss, etc.—not rigidly scheduling things, which itself is a horror.) For me, become immersed beforehand is one of most essential and enjoyable parts of traveling.

    • April 13, 2014 7:10 pm

      I’m with you all the way here – I hate the feeling of something regimented but also don’t want to miss something really special.

  15. April 13, 2014 8:45 pm

    Great set of books….I must get the Diana Henry book. I don’t have any of hers yet and she sounds really interesting…nice post;)

  16. andreamynard permalink
    April 14, 2014 1:15 am

    So interesting – I’m cooking my way through Diana Henry’s ‘A Change of Appetite’ too at the moment, loving it and Diana Henry’s wonderful books are my only source of Georgian recipes at the moment. Really want to try that cheese bread.

  17. glamorous glutton permalink
    April 14, 2014 3:34 pm

    Cook books are a great way to discover a country and often so much more informative than guide books. Im reading Rio De Janeiro The Cook Book at the moment as we’re off to Rio in a few weeks time. I wanted to see more than the usual tourist things and this book has pointed me in the right direction. Planning and anticipation is all part of the holiday for me. GG

  18. ramblingtart permalink
    April 15, 2014 11:08 am

    Such delicious and inspiring books. 🙂 My brother just sent me Jerusalem and I can’t wait to start cooking from it. 🙂

  19. April 17, 2014 10:15 am

    Ottolenghi changed my life 🙂 And Plenty taught my German husband that a meal didn’t have to contain a sausage to be a proper meal 😉 I bought myself Diana Henry’s Cook Simple for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and I am completely blown away by it; the first thing I cooked from it was a Georgian aubergine salad with pomegranate, walnuts and coriander and it was absolute heaven – I can’t recommend the book highly enough.

    • April 17, 2014 1:40 pm

      I’m still working on KP (and he’s British)! You’ve given me an excuse to buy another of Diana’s books (not that I need much persuading).

  20. April 23, 2014 11:18 pm

    This post was great! I now have an excuse to buy another cookbook. 🙂 I think I will try “salt, sugar and smoke”. I grew up learning how to can and preserve fruits and veggies so I’m intrigued by that title. Thanks for sharing!

    • April 28, 2014 8:05 am

      It’s not the usual preserving book – Diana brings her vibrant writing style to it and it comes alive with possibilities.

      • April 28, 2014 7:52 pm

        Sounds great! Thanks for responding.

  21. April 27, 2014 8:51 pm

    You are so right. Cookbooks are such a huge part of travel for me too. I read Paula Wolfert’s Morocco cover to cover before I booked anything. I was determined to seek out dishes I wanted to try. And having just been to Thailand and devoured David Thompson’s book it was really interesting to then visit his restaurant. His street food book was an amazing tour guide for me too.

    • April 27, 2014 8:54 pm

      That’s so interesting. My daughter is off to Thailand – an excuse to buy another cook book!

      • April 27, 2014 8:56 pm

        the streetfood one is much better than the main cookbook. visually fascinating but both give some great insights into forgotten or lesser known thai food.

  22. April 28, 2014 8:53 pm

    Thanks for the links!

    I’ve heard so many great things about “Jerusalem” and yet had no idea that it had some Georgian inspirations. Now I REALLY have to check it out!


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