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The Country, Not the State

One of the most beautiful and still somewhat unknown cuisines in the world comes from Georgia. The country, not the state. Rich in Silk Road spicing yet delicate and subtle like that of their Russian neighbors, it is truly a hodgepodge mostly created by convenient geography. Incredibly wealthy with walnuts and dairy, it is a cuisine designed to keep you warm in winter, yet also highlights the precious fresh produce of spring and summer. Family gatherings in Georgian settings are called supras and are among the most decadent imaginable. They contain no less than five courses: cold starters, warm starters, breads, meat dishes, and desserts. All this of course watered down with lavish amounts of beautiful dry red wines, such as saperavi.

Having a Russian partner means eating a great deal of Georgian food, but for some reason it took a while before I decided to embark on the mastery of this previously unknown cuisine. Restaurant after restaurant with full tables and fuller bellies left me increasingly curious as to the intricacies of the cuisine. The wealth of fresh herbs and summer fruits were inspiring, and that curious way of creating a sausage-looking thing out of grapes and walnuts, just genius. (For future reference, the item in question is called churchkhela, something I have no idea how to pronounce).

I’d come to favor many dishes, including eggplant rolled around a walnut paste and those precious pleated khinkali dumplings. However, and honestly predictably, khachapuri hit the top of the Georgian food list. And why wouldn’t it? This must-have dish at any self-respecting supra is essentially an enriched dough containing an obscene amount of cheese. Egg is often a welcome addition, particularly in the adjaruli and gurian varieties. These breads are usually huge and designed to share with at least two other people, but people’s appetites are often flexible when met with the possibly of eating large amounts of gooey and stringy cheeses. Go figure.

My personal favorite is the adjaruli khachapuri, mostly because of the runny yolk component. There really is nothing sexier than puncturing the runny yolk on top of, well, anything at this point (see “The Art of the Tomato” for my take on runny yolks and tartare), and mixing said runny yolk with gorgeous cheese and butter and gently sliding it around the crust is incredibly satisfying. But the flavor that hits your mouth when you feed it large pieces of bread is simply epic. All the comfort of eating a really good breakfast sandwich but with the pomp that comes with tasting something exotic comes together in a neat boat shape curtesy of the seaside Adjaruli region from whence this particular variety originates.

Since said Russian partner and I are currently living two continents and an ocean away from each other, going on dates is quite expensive and time consuming, so we’ve had to be quite creative. This week’s outing ended up being a virtual cooking session, which made sense because we’d been known to spend hours cooking on Saturdays when Israel shuts down. So I broke out the YouTuber tripod and we got to work. Now normally, making any kind of khachapuri from scratch takes hours since the dough needs to rise and it takes a while and a good bit of arm strength to grate a kilo of cheese. But this is possibly the one instance where going on keto has actually saved me time. A few seconds of research found me an adapted recipe and so I went out to drop a wad of money on almond meal and three kinds of cheese.

Well. The cooking process was one of the strangest I’ve had in a while. The dough itself contained large amounts of cream cheese and mozzarella and required microwaving as part of the steps. People get awfully creative on the alternative diets, and with the growing popularity of using shortcuts, the results can be quite peculiar. But I was willing to give it a chance since there was no Instapot or air fryer required. So we did the best we could to have a lovely bonding experience cooking one of our favorite foods and complained about burning our hands on the freshly microwaved dough. Even filling the dough with literal cups of cheese was an adventure since the recipe called for far more than could possibly fit in those little carb-free portions of beauty. And this is coming from two people who are known to put away whole wedges of brie in one sitting. My partner in particular ran into trouble because of that cursed imperial system who’s only goal is to confuse non-Americans. And Americans too for that matter.

We managed to get these impostors into the oven and peered through the doors expecting to watch the cheese turn into puddles of delectable goo. Now American quality is clearly to blame for this, but instead of melting down, mine went straight into a golden brown. How this came to be is still a great mystery, and though it was a source of great annoyance, it gave me an opportunity to loudly complain about the nonsense that the United States sells as food. My partner’s khachapuri faced different issues. Since the oven in our Israel apartment got used quite a bit during my time baking obsessively (thank you COVID), it is now tired and slow, so while my pretend Georgian food got burned to a crisp, his resolutely remained pale and cranky even with an extra ten minutes of cooking time.

Though the product of our cooking date was quite frankly garbage on both ends, we had a fabulous time experimenting with the strange cooking methods, remembering many fond dining experiences ending with waddling and belly rubs, and looking forward to curried sausages in Berlin next week!

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