In all of my travels, I have never actually been to Georgia.
And yet, I think of it fondly and often where it comes to its food and wine, for the Russians who have controlled this amazing part of the Caucasus on and off throughout its turbulent history, have done it at least this one favor – they have popularized its amazing cuisine and wine culture far and away from its point of origin. Which I haven’t ever had a chance to visit. Politics and peace in the region permitting, one day I still hope to go.
But, there’s no need to wait on that in order to experience Georgian cuisine. Its wines can generally be ordered via good wine traders (or even state liquor monopolies if you live in the Nordic countries), and its food, with a few specific exceptions, does not require exotic ingredients – yet at the same time, it is quite distinct in its flavors, and very, very worth trying. If you are so lucky as to have a restaurant – either specifically Georgian, or more generically regional to Caucasus, or even a Russian one that includes a few of the dishes of the region, then by all means, go. But if you don’t, and are interested in the sorts of foods that the healthy long-lived mountaineers for which the region has long been famous, eat after hiking up one mountainslope and down the next a few times to visit their neighbours, then this recipe is very easy to make at home, doesn’t require difficult advance preparation, and is a lovely, wonderful thing to eat as the weather cools. Or if you are chilled from the mountain wind you encountered while climbing whatever it is you may have been climbing.
According to the Georgian tourism blog, khachapuri are the national dish most familiar to those outside Georgia. I view it as an ambassador dish, sort of like pizza is for Italy – when people think of Italian food, that’s where their thinking goes. It is the Georgian variation of the existing-anywhere bread-based food unit that has existed since the beginnings of agriculture and the invention of grinding grains into flour, fermenting that with water, and baking it into a portable food that would keep for a few days. Add cheese, and some fresh greens on the side, and it’s a meal as worthy of a 21st century table as it was of the 12th and the 2nd, and going thousands of years back.
Every province in Georgia obviously has its own regional recipe. The one I offer today is adapted very slightly from the recipe for Adjarian khachapuri that is listed on the food section of the Georgia About tourism blog, for two primary reasons – one, because I have had Caucasian breads before and they always taste a bit undersalted to me (because often the recipe does not include any salt), and two, because it is difficult to get a hold of authentic Georgian cheeses in Western Europe, so substitutions had to be made. A third minor reason for recipe alteration has to do with the fact that those of us who haven’t, in fact, just hiked up and down the entirety of Caucasus, probably cannot eat a single pie of the size indicated in the original recipes. So I’ve adjusted sizes to about half the original size. No, please don’t think these will turn out little. They… really weren’t.
Yes, that’s a full-sized oven pan they are stretching diagonally on. In fact, although we aren’t at all dainty eaters, and these were made for a late lunch without a prior breakfast, we still had trouble finishing ours, and the title of today’s post comes from T’s answer to my question regarding how in the world would anyone manage to eat one of the (original-sized) ones if we are barely managing our half-sized khachapuri. He proposed that that’s what and how much food you’d eat after you hiked on foot from one village to another, or maybe three provinces over to visit your cousin-three-times-removed across the Caucasus mountains. So, maybe. I’m still not sure I’d eat twice as much as we did today in one sitting. Dinner is going to be a light salad affair or a delicate soup, I think.
But back to khachapuri. I do recommend that (barring the recent hiking across the Caucasus) you make them in my half-sized proportion first. Those will mostly-fill a large dinner plate. If you then feel their magnitude insufficient, by all means, double the size next time around and gorge yourself. They are certainly delicious enough.
Ingredients (makes 4
half-sized huge khachapuri):
- 600g AP or bread flour
- 300ml lukewarm water or milk
- 7g dry yeast (you can use equivalent amount of fresh yeast, but it’ll need to be dissolved in the water/milk rather than added to flour)
- 1-2 tsp salt (I use 2 tsp myself)
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp neutral vegetable oil (not-extra-virgin olive, refined rapeseed (canola), peanut, or whatever you have on hand)
- 2x 125g packages of mozzarella (or 250g Imeretian cheese if you can get it), drained and shredded – I used a box grater and persevered. Good mozzarella doesn’t like to shred neatly, but it’s doable. Neatness is unimportant here.
- 300g salzlakenkäse or feta or any similar crumbly cheese (or Sulgini cheese if you can get it), shredded
- 40g butter
- 2 eggs
- I’ve sprinkled my khachapuri with a pinch of dried ramps (wild garlic leaves). A bit of terragon would work wonderfully either, but neither is necessary.
- 1 egg per person/pie* (optional, 4 eggs total)
- Salted butter
- Mix flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water/milk, oil and egg, and stir to combine.
- Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. I use a handheld mixer with dough hooks that makes very short work of this. Since flour humidity varies, add a small handful of flour if the dough is too wet and sticky to handle (it should become well-behaved and more interested in sticking to itself than anything else, and clean up the mixing bowl).
- Oil the bowl, place the dough ball in it, and cover with cling film (plastic wrap). Set in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it doubles in size.
- In the meantime, make the filling. Mix the shredded cheeses with the softened butter and the egg. If you are short on eggs, you can skip the egg here – I realized when I began making this today that I had 1 egg total out of the 5 that I needed in theory, so I used it in the dough, and didn’t add any to filling, and it turned out fine.
- Preheat oven to 225-250C (original recipe just states ‘high temperature’). My oven went to 250C so that’s how high I preheated it.
- Line two baking sheets with pieces of baking parchment.
- Cut your dough into 4 pieces, make those into balls and let them rest 10 minutes.
- Stretch the balls into oval shapes, place 1/4 of filling into the center of each, and spread, leaving about 3-4 cm border of dough around it (the original recipe site has more pictures).
- Fold the sides in, first one then the other, over the edge of the filling, and pinch ends to make a boat shape. Place on the parchment (one baking sheet will fit about two khachapuri), and cover with a towel.
- Allow khachapuri to rise 15-30 minutes. If you wish, sprinkle the cheese filling with a bit of dried or fresh herb of your choice.
- Bake in hot oven for 12 minutes (or 15 minutes if you aren’t topping with more eggs) until bread is puffed and golden, and the cheese filling is bubbling and beginning to brown.
- If you wish to top khachapuri with more eggs, break a raw* egg into the top of each khachapuri, and place in the oven for an additional 3 minutes.
- Remove from oven, and serve hot, topped with a slice of butter.
Khachapuri is eaten with knife and fork, by cutting pieces of bread part off, and dipping them in the mixed cheese, egg and butter topping.
I imagine a bottle of good Georgian or other red wine would round this off as an amazing dinner. Since it was a midweek lunch for us, we had strong coffee and a green salad. And it was awesome, but now I need to arrange to order a few bottles of a Georgian red, and repeat the experience. In the cold dark of winter, my friends certainly won’t complain.
The good news, which I have almost forgotten about, is this – it would appear that T, who has a deadly nut allergy and up until now had a less-serious egg white allergy, has finally outgrown the latter. Cautious introduction of whole eggs into his diet has caused no reaction in the past months, which would explain to any of my longer-time readers why I am suddenly writing about dishes involving loads of whole eggs. To me, this is a dessert, cake, hallelujah!!! sort of news, which means that there will be more cakes and other such things on this blog. And while I will still suggest egg-white-free solutions for such dishes, I am, myself, now free to cook with the glorious thing that is whole eggs. And there is much rejoycing!
* A very important note on raw eggs that I need to add: I live in Finland, where, like in Sweden and Norway, all eggs are required to be, by law, salmonella-free and available to eat raw. I know that in other countries raw eggs are variously dangerous to one’s health, so my advice is that unless you have your own chickens or access to good-quality eggs from a farm you trust not to infect you with salmonella, skip the raw egg topping. The khachapuri will be delicious without it. If you decide to go ahead with it, please note that you are eating it at your own risk.