GEORGIAN CUISINE
Five most delicious dishes straight from the Georgian mountains
05 September, 2015
Georgian cuisine boasts immense variety, with the menu being almost completely different depending on the country’s region. Unfortunately, many dishes originating in Georgia’s mountainous regions are slowly disappearing, with people who know how to prepare them properly becoming few and far between. Ambebi.ge has invited Ketevan Adeishvili, executive editor of Gemrieli magazine, to shed some light on five most mouth-watering dishes Georgian highlands have to offer.

Ketevan Adeishvili:

- In addition to comprising the list, I also conducted a small
survey among my friends to find out which dish they liked most. Khinkali was named as the most popular dish, followed by khachoerbo, kubdari, choban kaurma and Rachan ham. Kaimaghi and pkhali-derived dishes were also mentioned. But let us start from the beginning.

Khinkali

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These enormous dumplings are considered to be a Pshav dish in origin that was gradually adopted by the rest of the country. There are also rumors of the dish being introduced by Mongols, but they are yet to be verified. However, great Georgian scholar and linguist Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani describes khinkali in one of his manuscripts as fatty mutton ham, which has absolutely nothing to do with what the dish looks like today. On the other hand, Chinese dumplings called baozi are very similar in shape to our khinkali, with stuffing and preparation method being the only differences.

Nevertheless, the dish has a whole set of rituals associated with it in Georgian highlands. Not a single festive supra (feast) goes without a massive plate of khinkali on the table. Pshavi region alone has several variations of the dish; khinkali dough is universally made from flour and water, but the list of stuffing ranges from cottage cheese and mushrooms to far more popular pork, lamb and beef. Meat stuffing always comes with salt, black pepper and onions; in addition, highlanders add mountain savory to it, while plain-dwellers prefer to use cumin instead. Sometimes meat stuffing is made with mint, which alters the taste of khinkali radically.

Unfortunately, the dish has been twisted beyond recognition in urban areas, with restaurants being the main culprits. The list of ingredients has been expanded to include starch, and very few cooks nowadays have qualms with using frozen dough and meat, the resulting dish having nothing in common with genuine khinkali. However, the warm and welcoming restaurants are also a main contributor to khinkali becoming the most popular dish in Georgia, with locals and foreign visitors alike.

Khachoerbo

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This dish is made from mixing dambalkhacho and boiled butter. The former is a type of cottage cheese made from curd that is dried using a traditional Pshav method. Cottage cheese is split into portions (roughly 300g each) and is drained of moisture. After that, it is knead by hand and put into jobani – small wicker baskets – to dry. Once the cottage cheese dries, it is put into clay pots and covered. It takes about a month and a half for it to develop a special kind of mold that is very beneficial for health when consumed. In order to make khachoerbo, dambalkhacho is grated, melted in warm butter and used as spread.

Kubdari

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Kubdari is a Svan delicacy. Many are familiar with Georgian khachapuri, which is made from dough and cheese. In case of kubdari, cheese is replaced with minced meat. The round shape of khachapuri, lobiani and kubdari has its roots deep in pagan Georgia’s sun cult. This is also the reason why they are all daubed in egg yolk before baking.

Traditional kubdari is made from yeasted dough with either mutton or veal. Pork is almost never used, and beef taken from old cattle is unacceptable. The minced meat must be kneaded by hand for half an hour while adding garlic and savory. After that, the meat is wrapped in dough and first fried on a pan and then put into an oven. Kubdari made by an experienced cook ends up crunchy on the outside with a tender and soft stuffing inside. This is achieved by making the dough thick enough to hold the meat while not thick enough to puff up in the oven completely due to yeast. Svans also have a habit of heating up cold kubdari on coals, which makes its taste even more exquisite.

Choban kaurma

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Choban kaurma is known not only in Georgian highlands, but also beyond, in the North Caucasus. “Choban” is a Turkish-derived word that means “shepherd”. As the name says, it was originally made with whatever limited methods and tools the shepherds had. A sack stuffed with meat was buried in a shallow pit and then a fire was lit above it. Once the meat got cooked, it was removed and flavored with any spice the shepherd had at his disposal – it could be salt, garlic or even wild peppermint. Despite simplicity and relative rusticity of the dish, it is immeasurably delicious when made properly.

Rachan ham

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Preparation of Rachan ham is a ritual in itself, since the traditional recipe takes six months to complete. It begins with properly raising and feeding the pig before slaughtering it, which is a very costly process both due to time it takes and the high quality of fodder it requires.

After the pig is slaughtered, it is gutted, treated with boiling water, cut into pieces, salted and smoked. The latter takes about half a year, but the result is simply mouth-watering. Rachans habitually add this ham to their lobiani, but it is almost always served whole at holiday meals.

Two other popular highlander delicacies are kaimaghi and pkhali-derived dishes. Kaimaghi is freshly skimmed cream into which finely ground cheese is dipped. The dish is Adjarian in origin, but it is very popular in the mountainous Mtskheta-Mtianeti region. As for pkhali, it is made from very finely minced and chopped vegetables, but highlanders often use it as stuffing for khachapuri instead of eating it raw. Regardless of whether pkhali is made from beetroot or spinach or chard, the methods of its preparation vary. Some cooks add grated cheese to the mix, others prefer chopped onions. However, the end result of oven-baked khachapuri with pkhali stuffing is always immensely delicious.

By Tako Esebua
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