Sunday, 28 September 2014

Georgia on My Mind

Every Georgian dish is a poem. ~ Alexander Pushkin

The favourite restaurant among ex-pats when I lived in Moscow was a tiny, dark place with heavy wooden tables that served up the most incredibly authentic Georgian fare. I have never been able to remember the name of the restaurant, or the names of the tasty dishes, but Georgia has always been on my mind. I often tell myself that one day, if I make it back to Moscow, I'll wander through the streets until I find it.

This weekend, Moscow memories came flooding back over dinner with new friends. As we shared fabulous tales of our love of food around a massive platter of Kabuli pilau, okra and lamb curry, I told our friends of the story of this delightful Georgian restaurant. Being Russian, they knew exactly what I was talking about!  I couldn't believe it. I quickly jotted down the name of the restaurant (Tiflis, on Ulitsa Ostozhenka if you happen to be in Moscow), as well as the name of the food whose taste lingers in my mouth 16 years later.

Over my coffee this morning, instead of reading the NY Times like I normally do on Sunday mornings, I watched Georgian cooking videos on You Tube until I was ready to give it a try myself. I think it was a pretty good first attempt.

Khachapuri Georgian Cheese Bread

This is khachapuri, the traditional cheese-filled bread of Georgia, a fascinating country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. It shares in the rich Central Asian traditions of music, food and architecture common to Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc. The more I learn about this part of the world, the more similarities I find, especially in the cuisine.  Khachapuri seems to be the Georgian version of  Afghan bolani, for example. (Or, maybe it's the other way around!)

There are many regional varieties of khachapuri; specifically, this is an Adjarian khachapuri, famous for the sunny-side-up-egg that tops the cheese-filled break.

The starting point of khachapuri is, as with most of the dishes I bring home from around the world, a beautiful, round ball of wheat dough.

Next, the dough is rolled out thinly, then shaped into a boat by doubling up the sides and pinching the ends. The sides need to be doubled up so that they rise enough to create a ledge to hold in all of the gooey-cheesey-goodness.

The dough is then filled to the brim with cheese. Authentically Georgian khachapuri would use sulguni, a slightly sour, salty goat cheese that is similar to feta. I don't think sulguni is exported, so I had to make do with a simple feta cheese from the market here. I actually used a blend of Greek feta and skimmed-milk mozarella, but next time I think I will make a trip to the specialty store to find a Bulgarian feta. It's slightly saltier and is a little closer match to sulguni.

I use our BBQ for everything, but you could certainly bake this in the oven at 425F. Let the khachapuri cook on a hot ceramic pizza stone for about 5 minutes or until the dough rises and begins to just slightly turn golden. At this point, I gently shifted the cheese around using a fork, until there was a small depression, leaving just enough room to crack an egg in. The yolk splashed down into the melted cheese while the egg white spread throughout the boat and immediately began to cook. Leave for another 3-5 minutes until the egg is fully cooked and the crust is a golden brown (but, be sure to leave the yolk runny like a sunny-side-up!).

Before serving, add a small spoon of butter on top of the khachapuri, then let it mix in with the egg and cheese. A little freshly ground black pepper, or green chillies make a nice final seasoning.

***It's a good idea to watch the khachapuri very closely. I found that leaving it to cook for just a minute too long led to a scorched bottom. I ruined three before I finally got the perfect one.

Khachapuri is traditionally served with lobia, a red-kidney bean dish from Georgia that has variations throughout Central Asia. The salty richness of the goat cheese contrasts nicely with the nutty, earthy smells and flavours of the beans. Unfortunately, it took me quite a while to test this dish out today so I didn't have time to follow it up with lobia. Next time!

This made for an amazing dinner, but it is definitely something you'll want to reserve for special occasions. It is very rich and we needed three pots of green tea to wash it down, followed by an afternoon nap!

I think that next time I will experiment a little bit with the filling in order to make it a slightly lighter (and healthier!) meal. I think that cutting the cheese in half and adding spinach, kale or even potato would be a great alternative. Gluten-free dough would be possible too, of course, but I have yet to experiment to that degree with my bread machine.

I hope you enjoyed learning about this Georgian delicacy. I would love to see your pictures posted in the comments section if you make this at home, too!

The dough

1 1/2 cups beer or water
1 tbsp honey or sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 1/4 cups bread flour
2 tsp active dry or bread machine yeast

Choose the dough setting on your bread machine, or combine, gently knead and leave to rise for 1.5 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

Cut the dough into 4 parts and shape into balls (roughly 250 grams each).

The filling

For each khachapuri, I used about 5 tbsp of crumbled Greek feta cheese and 4 tbsp of skimmed-milk mozarella.

4 eggs (one per khachapuri)


  1. We know Afghans know Georgia as Gorgistan..Georgia is its English name.

  2. That makes sense! Thanks for your comment.