International Cooking: Food from Georgia

Georgia (not to be confused with the US state of the same name) is part of the Caucasus region, located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

The land that is now Georgia used to be ruled by several independent kingdoms, but in the early 4th century the native people officially adopted Christianity, which helped the kingdoms come together. By the Middle Ages, the country was unified as the Kingdom of Georgia, but eventually this disintegrated due to the influence of regional powers such as the Mongols and Turks. In 1783, one of the Georgian kingdoms allied itself with the Russian Empire, which slowly proceeded to annex the country piece by piece.

Georgia became an independent republic under German protection after the Russian Revolution in 1917, but was invaded and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1922. Georgia seceded in 1991 and experienced a period of economic crisis, political instability, and ethnic conflict.

Nowadays, after a series of economic reforms, Georgia is a representative democracy with a high Human Development Index, and it was one of the first countries in the world to legalize cannabis.

What Do People Eat in Georgia?

Georgian cuisine bears some similarities to that of nearby regions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but ultimately I feel it is pretty distinctive compared to the cuisines I have tried so far.

As with many countries, the dishes you’ll find vary depending on the region. Popular themes across regions include the use of walnuts and lots of spices, with bread being a common part of many meals.

When it comes to bread, Georgians have a wide variety, with many being considered a form of khachapuri. Cheese and eggs are common fillings or toppings, and the bread can be formed into various shapes. Sometimes the bread is more like puff pastry. Khachapuri is so popular that it is considered Georgia’s national dish.

Georgians also apparently really like cheese as they have a wide range available (and, of course, it’s included in their khachapuri). This is enough on its own to me want to visit the country, because I love cheese and I don’t think I could get authentic Georgian cheese here.

Various types of meat are common, including pork, beef, lamb, and chicken. Georgian cuisine typically doesn’t include a lot of fish, but there are some dishes that make use of fish such as trout, catfish, and carp.

Georgia is the oldest wine-producing region in the world, and makes many types of wine from traditional Georgian grape varieties that are not well-known in the West. Georgia exports over 10 million bottles of wine per year!

What I Made

Salad with Walnut Dressing

Salad with Walnut Dressing

This is Georgia’s version of the cucumber, tomato, and onion salad which seems popular across many cultures. This is different because the dressing is made from ground walnuts, vinegar, garlic, and water, whereas most other versions I’ve seen are dressed with a vinaigrette based on olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar. Cilantro is also added, and there was meant to be a whole green chili on top as a garnish but I thought that seemed kind of odd so I didn’t do it. It seems like that’s not always common for this salad anyway.

I thought the walnut dressing worked well, but I think I’d prefer it if there was some oil in place of some or all of the water.

This recipe came from No Frills Kitchen.

Lobio (Stewed Kidney Beans)

Lobio (Stewed Kidney Beans)

This is a thick stew made primarily from red kidney beans, so I was a bit apprehensive about trying it because kidney beans have historically not been one of my favorites. However, it had been a long time since I had tried them, so I thought I would make this and see how it went.

This was easy to make, especially since I used canned beans (I usually prefer dry nowadays but didn’t want a whole bag of kidney beans sitting around in case I found I still didn’t like them much). I added the beans to a pot with some water, salt, and a bay leaf, and simmered for a little while to warm them through.

Then, in a mortar and pestle I ground up some cilantro, garlic, ground coriander, salt, and pepper. I was meant to include blue fenugreek too, but I didn’t have it (though I am ordering regular fenugreek in a day or two so I’ll at least have that for future weeks!). I also fried some chopped onion.

I smooshed up most of the kidney beans using a potato masher, because it was taking too long to mash them against the side of the pot as the recipe directed. Then I added the contents of the mortar and pestle as well as the onions and the oil I fried them in. I added a bit more water and seasoned to taste, and then I was done.

I served this with mchadi (next), which seems to be traditional. My beans seemed to be sucking up all the liquid so my lobio was closer to refried beans than stew in consistency, so next time I would add a bit more liquid. I was surprised to find that this was really, really good. Something about this flavor combination just worked really well, and I’d love to try it with the blue fenugreek one day since I am sure it would be even better.

The recipe I followed is from Georgian Recipes.

Mchadi (Cornbread)

Mchadi (Cornbread)

This Georgian cornbread is made from a simple mixture of white cornmeal (which is ground more finely than the yellow kind, at least the way I buy it), water, and salt. I made it into these flat patties and shallow-fried them until they were golden. I think they needed to be a bit thinner, or cooked a little longer, because they were a little underdone on the inside. But they were edible, and they went well with my lobio. I don’t think I would enjoy them on their own though.

This recipe was from Georgia About.

Adjaruli Khachapuri (Cheese Bread)

Adjaruli Khachapuri (Cheese Bread)

This is something I’ve seen posted about many times before on Reddit and various other social media platforms, and I’ve always wanted to try it. I love bread, eggs, and cheese, and this includes all three, plus it looks pretty!

There are many types of khachapuri, including a whole range of breads that can be filled with various fillings and formed into different shapes. Adjaruli khachapuri is one of the more popular versions, especially outside Georgia, and the only one I had heard of previously (often referred to simply as ‘khachapuri’). It consists of bread dough filled with cheese and topped with an egg and butter before serving.

I really wanted to make sure I had a reliable recipe for this, so I chose one from King Arthur Baking, even though it’s possible that this wasn’t the most traditional version.

The dough was made mainly out of milk and flour, with yeast, butter, sugar, salt, and a little ground coriander. For the filling, I used a combination of feta, mozzarella, ricotta, egg, and parsley. In Georgia, local cheeses would be used, but since I can’t get them here this is meant to be a decent substitution.

After the first rise, I divided the dough into two (since I halved the recipe) and shaped each piece into an oval. After a short rest, I added the filling and folded up the edges to make the shape you see in the mixture. The khachapuri rested a short while longer before I brushed the edges with egg wash and baked for 15 minutes.

At this point, the edges weren’t meant to have started browning yet, but mine were pretty brown. I was a bit concerned because I still needed to add the egg on top and bake until it was mostly set, and I thought the edges might burn. Luckily, they did not, but I might have baked a few minutes longer with the egg if not for this issue. So I would recommend that if you do follow this recipe, you might not want to go for a full 15 minutes for the initial baking stage (though this will depend on your oven).

I topped with some butter, which is traditional, and sprinkled over some fresh parsley, which might not be, before serving. This was really good! I’d love to make it again, and maybe seek out a more traditional recipe now that I am familiar with the process. I had worried about my khachapuri looking nice but the shaping actually wasn’t that difficult and I’m ultimately pretty happy with how they came out.

Khinkali (Soup Dumplings)

Khinkali (Soup Dumplings)

These are dumplings filled with seasoned meat and broth. You are meant to eat them by holding the ‘handle’ at the top and taking a bite, then slurping out the broth. Often, the handles are not eaten since they’re just dough anyway and that way you can eat more khinkali. Some images showed really pronounced handles at the top and someone on the Georgian subreddit advised me not to do this. In the end, some of my dumplings hardly had handles at all, but I think I could do better if I made these again.

The filling was a mixture of ground beef and pork, mixed with water, onion, cilantro, butter, summer savory, crushed coriander seeds, crushed caraway seeds, red pepper flakes, cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper. This was a rather unusual combination of ingredients compared to what I have seen before, but I was eager to try it. I do think there was too much water; some of it just wouldn’t mix with the rest of the mixture. I would probably use less next time; you definitely need some though since otherwise you wouldn’t get the broth.

The dough itself was a simple mixture of flour, salt, water, and egg. It was a little sticky, but I got better at working with it (or the dough itself got easier to work with) as I went. I added some of my meat mixture, then pleated (or attempted to pleat) the edges before twisting into the handle at the top.

When the dumplings were assembled, I boiled them in water seasoned with salt and bay leaves. I was worried about them losing their shape in the water, but mostly they came out intact.

Most of my khinkali weren’t terribly photogenic but they were delicious, and there was broth inside, so I consider them a success.

For these, I used a recipe from Food and Wine. If you make these, be aware that although the recipe says it yields 8 (which to me would mean it makes 8 khinkali), you actually get 24 if you make the amount in the directions. I’m assuming it is supposed to say that it yields 8 servings (probably as an appetizer).

Spinach Pkhali (Spinach and Walnut Balls)

Spinach Pkhali (Spinach and Walnut Balls)

Phinkali is a type of salad or spread that can be made out of various vegetables, often as an appetizer. I chose to make the spinach version after someone on the Georgian subreddit said it was their favorite.

First, I blanched some fresh spinach and pressed out as much water as I could. Then I pulsed walnuts and garlic in a food processor, before adding cilantro and the spinach. When I’d processed everything until well combined, I transferred the mixture to a bowl and stirred in vinegar, ground coriander, cayenne, oil, salt, and pepper. This was another recipe that was meant to have blue fenugreek, which I omitted.

I refrigerated the mixture until it was firm. Then I shaped it into balls and garnished them with pomegranate seeds.

Phinkali are usually eaten as is but, as the recipe author says, these would also be great spread on crackers or bread. I thought they were pretty good and I’m adding them to my list of things to try again once I can get my hands on some blue fenugreek.

This recipe was from No Frills Kitchen.

Kharcho (Beef Stew)

Kharcho (Beef Stew)

Kharcho is a popular Georgian beef soup, which usually includes cherry plum puree and chopped walnuts. I was unsure about making this since I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the cherry plum puree easily, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy something I might only use for one recipe anyway. But I was told tomato puree or red wine vinegar can work as substitutes, and the soup sounded delicious, so I decided to make it.

This soup also includes a popular Georgian spice mix called ‘khmeli-tsuneli’, which I made since the recipe gave directions for it. It consists of ground coriander, basil, marjoram, dill, cayenne pepper, saffron, fenugreek, bay leaves, mint, celery, and parsley. I didn’t have fenugreek or celery seeds (which I assumed was meant by ‘celery’) so I omitted those and figured I would still get something approximating the intended flavor.

To make this, I cooked some chopped chuck in boiling water until it was tender. Then I added some rice, onion, parsley sprigs, and cilantro sprigs, and cooked a while longer. At this point, I added my spice mix, as well garlic, whole red chilies, red wine vinegar, pureed tomatoes, and more parsley and cilantro. After cooking a little more, I served this garnished with more fresh herbs. I’ll admit that I didn’t really have enough cilantro left for this, since the bunch I’d bought for the week was on the small side and I had already used a lot by this point. But this was delicious anyway!

The recipe I used is from Craving Tasty. Although kharcho often seems to contain walnuts, this version did not, but the recipe is apparently originally from a Georgian cookbook so it must be fairly authentic.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week! I went from not really knowing much about Georgian cuisine at all to realizing it’s delicious! I’d love to explore it further. I think my favorite dish was the adjaruli khachapuri, followed by the lobio, but everything was really good.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Germany.

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