Chanakhi (Georgian lamb stew)

ChanakhiWow!  This is a remarkable dish.  I made it last night for the first time, and it blew me away.  I dream about dishes like this: a slow-braised lamb stew with cubed potatoes and eggplant, and enormous amounts of chopped herbs.  The flavors melt together in a clay pot and create an intensely flavored broth.  Darra Goldstein, in her fantastic cookbook The Georgian Feast, recommends braising in the oven.  But it’s also an ideal recipe for a Crock Pot.  Just make sure that for this recipe, you’re using at least a 6-quart pot.  The 4-quart variety isn’t nearly big enough. Continue reading

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Charkhlis Mkhali (Georgian Beet Salad)

BeetsThe Georgian table is always filled with a vast array of salads and appetizers.  Often at a Georgian restaurant, I don’t even make it to the main dish because I stuff myself on starters.  This is one of the culprits.  Mkhali (or pkhali) is a general term for a vegetable puree mixed with herbs and ground walnuts.  Yesterday I made the version with beets.  You could just as easily substitute spinach or other greens.  This recipe comes almost verbatim from Darra Goldstein’s masterpiece The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Continue reading

Lobio (Georgian bean salad)

LobioAlong with generous amounts of khachapuri, the other item that I almost always order in a Georgian restaurant is lobio.  It comes different ways.  This particular recipe is fairly standard.  This recipe is a perfect example of how the Georgians can take something as ordinary as kidney beans and turn them into something wondrously exotic.  If your friends are deathly allergic to walnuts, you can leave them out, and the dish doesn’t suffer too much.  This dish can be served either at room temperature or hot.  The hot version usually has the consistency of a stew and is often made with hot pepper. Continue reading

Khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread)

KhachapuriKhachapuri may be the most popular food in Georgia, and each of its many regions has its own distinct style. Imeretian khachapuri, the most common, is circular and filled with cheese.  Mingrelian is similar, but with more cheese added on top.  Adjarian khachapuri is shaped like an open boat and topped with a raw egg. Abkhazian khachapuri (Achma) is made of multiple moist layers of pasta-like dough, almost like lasagna.  Ossetian khachapuri has potato in the filling.  The economics school at Tbilisi State University has recently developed a “khachapuri index” to measure Georgian inflation, using as its market basket the limited set of ingredients used to make khachapuri, including the energy used to power the oven.

This recipe is a combination of the dough used in Darra Goldstein’s recipe in The Georgian Feast (the ultimate Georgian cookbook, in my opinion) and my favorite filling from Anya von Bremzen’s recipe in Please to the Table.  The picture above is what I produced yesterday.  It was very good, though not exactly the most common look. Continue reading

Yellow Lentils (Dal Tadka)

Yellow DalLast weekend my wife and I went out to dinner with a friend from college to Bollywood Bistro, a fun Indian establishment in old-town Fairfax, Virginia.  The service was enthusiastic (if a bit overbearing with the water-glass refills).  And one of my favorite dishes was the yellow dal, which is a very common dish in Indian cuisine.  I was inspired to try it myself the next evening at home, and it was quite satisfying.  I started with a popular recipe from Ruta Kahate’s book 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices, and adjusted it to my available ingredients and cooking preferences.  I came up with the recipe below.

A note for those who appreciate the health benefits of herbs: Indian cuisine is filled with turmeric, which has potent anti-inflammatory effects when used in generous quantities.  It has also been shown to have some anti-cancer effect, and researchers are also investigating its possible effectiveness in Alzheimer’s disease.  To maximize its bio-availability, it needs to be combined with black pepper, which works synergistically with turmeric’s most active constituent, curcumin.  Hence, I’ve added black pepper to this recipe.  Enjoy this tasty opportunity to contribute to science! Continue reading

Baklava

Baklava overheadI first made baklava at home in Fort Worth, during my high school years, using a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook, one of the best volumes in my mother’s shelf of cookbooks.  This was probably the recipe that got me started in cooking, as I discovered that with a little time and effort, I could make something with my own hands that could impress and delight people.

Many years later, when I traveled to Florida to meet my future wife’s Greek-American family for the first time, I brought them a pan of my tried-and-true homemade baklava.  Yiayia Katty, the 87-year-old matriarch of the clan, was impressed.  “It’s very good,” she said in her old-country accent. “But… there’s just one more thing.”  She reminded me never to put hot syrup on hot baklava right out of the oven, which makes it soggy.  Instead, let the syrup cool before pouring it onto the hot baklava, or alternatively, pour hot syrup onto cool baklava. And ideally, let the syrup soak in for several hours before serving.

I’ve sampled baklava around the world, and the best I’ve tried is this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. My Greek in-laws agree that this is πόλη νόστιμο. Continue reading

Olivier Salad (Салат Оливье)

Salat OlivieThis is quintessential Russian salad, and an indispensable part of every New Year’s Eve table.  Since my first visit to Russia in 1987, I can remember being served this salad in various forms and combinations.  On New Year’s Eve 2012, we decided to make it for friends, and I searched my Russian cookbooks for a recipe.  Inevitably, Anya von Bremzen, in her classic Please to the Table, included a quirky variation from her childhood, made with shredded cabbage, which bears no resemblance to any salat oliviye I’ve ever tasted. The version from the Russian-language cookbook had no measurements — because what self-respecting Russian housewife would ever write down the amount of peas, carrots, ham, potatoes, and eggs she uses in a salad?  So I improvised based on the ingredients I remembered, and this version came out pretty well.  When I try it again, I might use a little less potato. Continue reading