As so often with this project, I began with a bread recipe I fancied trying, and ended up becoming fascinated by a whole cuisine. This was particularly true this time, because a) Georgian food sounds awesome and b) I find it impossible to imagine quite how it tastes. None of my food references fit (Lebanese-Mediterranean-Russian? kind of? no?).
So, what do we know about Georgian food?
It’s enamoured of bold, contrasting flavours. It’s as common in Russia as the curry house is in Britain, but practically unknown in the rest of Europe. There’s a big tradition of supra, feasts consisting of many dishes and accompanied by lots of wine. Like every other delicious ingredient it seems, the Georgians have been growing vines aplenty since ancient times.
In fact, Georgia really has it all when it comes to the essentials for a rich culinary tradition: fertile soil, big mountains, a coastline, trade routes passing through it, regions that are distinct to point of being troublesome. Here is it on a map:
Khachapuri is a rich, cheese-stuffed bread. It comes in at least nine varieties (there are regions! lots of them!). This is Megruli khachapuri, which is stuffed with cheese and has extra cheese on top.
Making this was eventful, because I substituted the Georgian sulguni cheese (almost certainly not available from a cornershop near me) for a mix of mozzarella and goats’ cheese. This is because I read that sulguni is stringy like mozzarella but with a sharp and salty flavour.
Well, the goats cheese might have been good for the flavour, but it was a disaster for the consistency. The filling is meant to be stuffably solid, and instead I had to stuff my dough with a loose paste. You can imagine how that went. This photo sucks because I was making it for a dinner party and just had to snap and serve, but rest assured it looked a mess IRL too.
If you don’t fancy attempting a recipe that’s essentially untested, here are two good-looking recipes that I only discovered later:
Recipe from someone who took a class in it.
Nigella Lawson’s version.
This makes 3 khachapuri, and would serve 6-8 people as a side.
for the dough
1 cup milk, scalded
2tsp active dried yeast
3.25 cups plain flour
for the filling and topping
3 eggs, plus an extra egg yolk or two to glaze
600g sulguri cheese (I would sub this with the firm ready-grated mozzarella next time, not the soft balled one. Goats’ cheese = NO)
150g butter, softened, plus extra to melt on top
1. Mix the dough ingredients together roughly and leave to rest for 20 mins.
2. Knead the dough until smooth, then cover and leave to rise til it has doubled in size. Remarkably, this only took mine about 45 mins.
3. Punch down, and let the dough rise again til almost doubled in size.
4. Divide the dough into thirds and let them rest, covered, for about 15 mins.
5. Reserve a third of the cheese for the topping and mix the other filling ingredients together.
6. Take one third of dough and flatten it as you would a pizza. I found stretching by hand worked better than a rolling pin. Put a third of the filling in the middle and pleat the edges around it as you gather them together, moistening with a little water so that they stick. Flatten your bundle very gently into a flat, round disc, being careful not to let the cheese spill out. Your disc should have a very slightly higher border to contain the topping when it melts. Good visuals here.
7. Repeat with the other two thirds, and top with the remaining cheese, leaving the borders around the edges cheese-free.
8. Brush the borders with egg yolk, and bake immediately in a hot oven. Mine took about 30 minutes at 200 C.
9. Once they’re done, melt a blob of butter over the top.