Khachapuri: Georgian Cheese Bread

Khachapuri2_2
My version of adjaruli khachapuri.
khachapuri
My version of megruli khachapuri.

Khachapuri is probably the most famous Georgian dish, and for good reason. It is incredibly simple to make and very tasty. If you like cheese and bread, you will love this dish.

There are several different varieties of khachapuri but they are all variations on the same idea: cheese stuffed with bread. Adjaruli is a boat-shaped bread filled with cheese and topped with egg and butter, mixed before serving. Megruli is a round-shaped bread filled with cheese and/or egg, sometimes with cheese on top. If you have enough dough and cheese, you can make both types at the same time.

In Georgia, khachapuri is filled with Georgian cheese, typically suluguni. I use a mix of mozzarella and feta or goat cheese. The idea is a cheese with the consistency and melt of mozzarella but with saltiness and tang. If using goat cheese, I would not use the rind.

This recipe is adopted from BigGeorgeHighlander and also this New York Times recipe for khachapuri (where I got the cheese mix idea).

Ingredients
Flour
Yeast
Salt
Cheese (equal parts mozzarella and feta or goat cheese)
Egg
Butter (optional, for adjaruli)

Directions
1. Make a dough out of flour, warm water, yeast, and salt. Knead this for ten minutes, then rest covered in a warm place for 1 hour.
raised dough

2. Mix your cheeses together with an egg white and a bit of salt depending on how salty your cheeses are. Mix well until you have produced a cheese mix of solid consistency.

cheese1cheese2

For Adjaruli:
3. When your dough has finished resting, take a piece and roll it out into an oblong shape. Not too thick or thin, maybe 1/2 cm thick.
roll dough

4. Roll the long edges of the dough inwards and press the ends together to make the boat shape. Experiment with shapes; some people make a more fat and round shape, some twist the ends together, etc.
shape dough

5. Fill the dough boat with cheese. You can brush the dough with egg yolk if you want the resulting bread to have an extra golden crust.
fill cheese

6. Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the filled dough onto a pan lined with parchment paper or oiled foil. (It may be easier to fill the dough directly on the pan so you don’t need to move it). Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

7. Take the bread out, make a small indentation in the middle of the cheese, and crack an egg onto it. Return the pan to the oven and let it bake for a few minutes longer until the egg white has set.
put_egg

8. Cut two slices of butter and stick into the cheese on each side of the egg. Mix everything together well before eating.
khachapuri_mix

For Megruli:
3. When your dough has finished resting, take a piece and roll it out into a round shape. Not too thick or thin, maybe 1/2 cm thick. Place a ball of cheese on top. You can mix the cheese together with egg yolk, but make sure it doesn’t get too runny.
make_round1

4. Fold up the edges of your dough around the ball of cheese.
make_round2

5. Press down to flatten the ball into a round disc of dough. Flip the dough back and forth a couple times to widen out the disc.
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6. (Optional) Brush the top of the bread with egg yolk and sprinkle some extra cheese on top.
make_round4

7. Rip a little hole in the top of the bread. This is an important step that will prevent the bread from rising up and bursting inside the oven.
make_round5

8. Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the filled dough onto a pan lined with parchment paper or oiled foil. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Enjoy…
khachapuri with chakhokhbili

 

Khachapuri2

Beshbarmak – Central Asian Nomad “Lasagna”

Beshbarmak_1
My version of beshbarmak.

Beshbarmak looks like something a nomadic horseman would eat: wide pasta topped with big hunks of meat and onion. It doesn’t look particularly appetizing. But believe me when I say it is something special.

I added bell pepper to my version to give it some color, but it is entirely superfluous. The magic is in the rich, savory meat broth and the tender pasta sheets. My wife, upon seeing it for the first time, called it an “open-faced lasagna.”

Beshbarmak as served in Kazakhstan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Beshbarmak literally means “five fingers” due to the way it used to be eaten. It originates from the nomadic peoples of Central Asia, and nowadays this type of dish is enjoyed all across the region: as beshbarmak by the Kazakhs, Kygryz, Tatars, and Bashkirs, as turama or dograma in Karakalpakstan and Turkmenistan, and naryn by the Uyghurs. Truly a pan-Central Asian dish!

Traditionally, beshbarmak is cooked with all sorts of different lamb and horse meat cuts, as well as kazy (horse meat sausage). I have a hard enough time finding lamb meat here in NYC, so I just used lamb shoulder chops. It would work well with beef, too.

My version is a little different from the traditional dish. Traditionally, the meat is boiled (I sautee it then simmer) and there are no vegetables other than onion. I was inspired by this Uyghur video which is actually for a different dish entirely. Stalic has a video for beshbarmak, as does Abdulaziz Salavat (both videos in Russian). The Russian Wikipedia article for Beshbarmak has everything you would want to know about its etymology and its different national variants.

Ingredients:
Flour
Egg
Salt
Oil
Lamb meat
Onion
Cumin seed
Bullion cubes/powder
White or black pepper
Bell pepper (entirely optional)

Directions:
Noodle making
1. Make a dough out of flour, egg, salt, water, and a bit of oil. Knead for 10 minutes and set aside, covered. Let it rest for at least half an hour.

2. Roll the dough into a cylinder and use a knife to cut off a small piece. Lightly oil the piece.
CutDough

3. Use a rolling pin to flatten out the piece into a big, thin, pasta sheet. Continue until you’ve used all the dough. Make sure to space out the pieces so they don’t stick together.
RollDoughPieces

4. Bring some water to a rolling boil, lightly salt, and put in the beshbarmak pieces one by one. After the water has returned to a rolling boil, let it cook for another 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the noodles – you want them al dente.
CookNoodles

5. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water. Layer the noodles in a plate.
PlateNoodles

Making the topping
1. Sautee the lamb meat in oil over medium-high heat until browned.

CookMeat
2. Add in the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add salt, cumin seeds, and white or black pepper. Mix well.

CookOnion
3. Add bouillon/water until the contents are barely covered.
4. When it starts to boil, turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
CookBroth

5. Open the lid and add in the bell pepper. Cook this briefly over medium heat.

AddBellpepper
6. Pour some hot broth over the noodles to warm them up. Put the topping on the noodles. Ash bolsun!

Beshbarmak

Kutab: Azerbaijani “quesadilla”

Kutab

Kutab (qutab, кутаб) comes from Azerbaijan: a Turkic country on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Although they don’t share a border, Azerbaijanis can understand Turkish and vice versa to some extent.

Kutab is a wonderfully simple dish that makes a great brunch: thin dough stuffed with filling and grilled on a saj (or in my case, a frying pan). The filling can be vegetables, cheese, and/or meat; I made mine with cheese and realized how similar it was (at least in concept) to a quesadilla.

This recipe is from Abdulaziz Salavat, video here ( in Russian ).

Ingredients:
Flour
Salt
Oil
Cheese (your preference; I used a mix of mozzarella and feta)
Greens (up to you; I used spring onions and cilantro; dill, basil, or parsley would be nice too)

Directions:
1. Make your filling: mix the cheese, greens, and some oil together in a bowl.

MixCheese

2. Make a dough of flour, water, salt, and oil. It will be easier to roll out the dough if you let it rest for a bit (30min-1hr, covered so it doesn’t dry out). No need if you’re in a hurry, though.

DoughPieces

3. Break the dough into small pieces as above. Lightly oil a piece, then roll it as flat and wide as you can. It should be almost paper-thin and slightly translucent when it is thin enough.

RollDough

4. Spread the filling on one half.

FillDough

5. Fold the dough over and press hard around the filling so the dough seals.

FoldDough

6. Cut a nice round shape out of the dough.

CutDough

7. In a frying pan or on a griddle, grill the kutab on medium heat until the bottom has golden brown spots (should take 3-5 minutes). Flip the kutab over. The other side will get done much more quickly, so be attentive – after 1-2 minutes it should be nice and golden brown. Eat by itself, or with melted butter, sour cream, or yogurt. Enjoy!

Grilling

Kutab2

Uyghur “bagels” (Girde nan)

Bagels

We covered the iconic round Uyghur nan bread in another post. Another one of my favorite Uyghur breads is “girde nan”, which resembles a bagel, or more precisely, a bialy. It’s shaped like a bagel but the hole doesn’t go all the way through. They cook it in tandoor ovens just like nan, slapping it onto the walls and prying it off with tongs when done.

BagelsPile600px

BakingBagel600px

Making these yourself is actually really simple, and way easier than the big disc-shaped bread because you want it to be thick. The instructions are the same as for nan, but shaping them is much easier. You can put your favorite bagel toppings on them too; I like putting garlic even though that isn’t really common in Xinjiang.

Directions
1. In a large bowl, make a mountain of flour with a hole in the middle. Pour warm water into the middle, add 1/3-1/2 packet of dry yeast, salt, and a bit of sugar. Mix well and let stand for a few minutes. When it has gotten frothy, add the egg in. Then mix everything well, adding water as needed.
FlourYeast

2. When you have a somewhat firm mixture, flour a surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes.
kneading

3. Oil a bowl and put the kneaded dough ball in, cover with a cloth and let rest for 1 hour in a warm place. Preheat the oven to 500 F at this stage.

4. When the dough has finished resting, punch it down and knead it a bit more.
RisenDough

5. Take a piece of dough and roll it into a ball; flatten it a bit with a rolling pin and use your thumbs in the center to make a deep indentation. Use a fork and poke holes all around the edge of this indent and in the center so it doesn’t rise.

6. Coat the outside with egg or oil, and add your favorite toppings: sesame, nigella seeds, poppy, garlic, onion, etc. Bake on a pizza stone for ~10 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!

girde_nan

Chakhokhbili: Spicy Georgian chicken stew

Chakhokhbili1
Chakhokhbili with khachapuri (cheese bread)

Georgian food is quite different from Central Asian food; if I had to describe it simply, it’s like a fusion of Russian and Turkish cuisine. I’ve only had Georgian food in restaurants here in NYC, but loved what I’ve tried. Some foods, like the famous khachapuri cheese bread, are rich and hearty, reminiscent of Eastern European cuisine; others, like khinkali dumplings or tolma stuffed grape leaves show the influence of Central Asia or the Middle East.

Chakhokhbili is a Georgian dish of stewed chicken made with a special mix of herbs and spices called khmeli-suneli. Reading the label, khmeli-suneli has: marjoram, dill, thyme, basil, celery, mint, parsley, coriander, safflower, summer savory, red pepper, hyssop, black pepper, fenugreek, and bay leaves. I found it in Kalustyan’s. If you can’t find it, just use your favorite herbs. Probably just marjoram and thyme would be a decent substitute.

This recipe is from BigGeorgeHighlander, watch his Youtube recipe here (in Russian).

Ingredients
Chicken, chopped into medium sized pieces – 1lb
Onion, diced – 1 medium sized onion
Garlic, finely diced – 4-5 cloves
Basil, roughly chopped
Cilantro, roughly chopped
Diced tomatoes – 1 can or a few tomatoes
Black pepper
Khmeli-suneli spice mix
Red chili pepper, finely diced
Salt
Sugar

Directions
1. Sautee the chicken in oil over high heat.
CookChicken

2. After the chicken is browned, add the onion and cook until soft.
ChickenOnions

3. Add the red chili pepper and cook everything for a bit.
4. Add black pepper and a few teaspoons of khmeli-suneli and mix everything together.
AddSpices

5. Add the diced tomato and a bit of sugar.
AddTomato

6. Turn to low heat, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
Stew

7. Add salt, garlic, and the basil and cilantro. Cook everything together for a bit. Complete!
FinishedCooking

Chakhokhbili2

 

 

 

Uyghur Nan Bread

Newnan5
My version of Uyghur nan bread, with nigella and sesame. The bread stamp gives it the nice patterns.
NanBread2_3
Uyghur nan bread made without a bread stamp.

My quest for perfect Uyghur nan bread is still ongoing. In the seven years since I was in Xinjiang, I have never eaten anything like the freshly baked nan bread sold in the streets. Of course, there are countless different varieties of bread being sold – but my favorite was the big, disc-shaped bread. Thick around the edges and thin in the middle, slightly oily and usually topped with sesame and sometimes onion or other spices, it is sold on the street in every city in Xinjiang for only 1-2 kuai.

naan
Selling Uyghur bread in Kashgar.

I’ve eaten at several Uighur, Uzbek, and other Central Asian restaurants in the US since then and I’ve never found it. They serve a bread called лепёшка(lepyoshka) in Russian that is thick and bready, but nothing even resembling the big disc bread.

LepeshkaBrightonBeach
“Lepyoshka” bread from Cafe Kashkar, an Uyghur restaurant in Brighton Beach.

The big oily round bread is not the only type of bread in Xinjiang.  One other variety is a big, round, thick, extremely dry bread that can be stored for a long time. Other nationalities in the region (like Kyrgyz, Kazakhs) make this bread too. I remember visiting a Kyrgyz yurt where the hosts kept a big partially eaten round of dry bread in the corner covered with some cloth. They took it out and served it to us with tea. This bread is usually eaten with soup, sauce, or other liquid as it is too dry to eat on its own. Yet another common variety resembles a bagel, or more precisely, a bialy. We’ll cover this variant in part 2.

Turpan Nan Selling
Various types of Uyghur bread being sold in Turpan.
UyghurBagel
Baking Uyghur “bagels” in Kashgar.

My own attempts have been getting better after many tries and many burned or misshapen breads. I’ve gotten good results with a pizza stone, but I suspect the perfect nan bread requires a tandoor oven. FarWestChina has a good post and video about how Uyghur bread is made in Xinjiang.

Before buying some bread stamps in Uzbekistan for cheap ($2-3 for each one), I bought an Uyghur bread stamp from Taobao – just do a search for 囊戳子 and you’ll find plenty of them. You can sometimes find bread stamps on Ebay or Etsy as well. The stamp certainly helps give the bread the right look, but I have used a fork plenty of times with decent results. Finally, in New York, Fortuna grocery in Brooklyn sells bread stamps (they keep them behind the cashiers where they sell plates and teapots).

Chekich
My Uyghur bread stamp.

This bread tastes good by itself and especially with soup or sauce (like dimlama or dapanji). I also like eating it for breakfast with kefir or yogurt.

Ingredients
Flour (experiment with all purpose or bread flour, they will give different results)
Egg (optional)
Warm water. Ratio of flour to water by volume: 3 to 1. By weight: 1.5:1.
Yeast
Salt
Sugar

Directions
1. In a large bowl, make a mountain of flour and indent the middle. Pour warm water into the middle, add 1/3-1/2 packet of dry yeast and a bit of sugar. Mix well and let stand for a few minutes. When it has gotten frothy, add the salt and the egg in. Then mix everything well, adding water as needed.
FlourYeast

2. When everything is well mixed, flour a surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes until it no longer sticks to your hands.
kneading

3. Lightly oil a bowl and put the kneaded dough ball in, cover with a cloth and let rest for at least 40 minutes in a warm place.

4. When the dough has finished resting, punch it down and knead it a bit more. You will have to eyeball how much dough you want to use for how big/thick you want your bread.
RisenDough

5. Roll the dough out into a round, flat circle. It should not be too thick or too thin, maybe a bit less than 1cm thick. Do not let the dough get too thin, or it will burn when you bake it! Let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.
BreadDough

6. Form an edge all around the bread with your hands. If you’ve rested the dough for long enough, it should mold easily without resistance.
Bread1

7. Time to stamp down the center. If you have a bread stamp, stamp concentric patterns all around the center, making sure to press hard so the spikes go all the way through. If you don’t have a bread stamp, use a bottle or other round object to stamp around the center. Then use a fork to poke holes, poking all the way through. There should be holes all over the center. This helps prevent the center of the bread from rising up (we only want the edges to rise in the oven).
StampBread

8. Lightly brush oil all over the top and sides of the bread. Then put the toppings onto the center, pressing in lightly so they stick. I usually use sesame and nigella seeds, sometimes with very finely diced onion. Some people also put black pepper and/or cumin seeds. Experiment with what you like; there is no fixed recipe.

BreadToppings

10. Ready to bake. Put the dough into your 500F preheated oven (I use a pizza stone) and bake until the bread is golden brown all over (10-15 minutes). If you like, you can lightly brush the bread with oil after it is baked. Enjoy!

NanBaking
NanBread_3

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