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The Silk Road GourmetVolume One: Western and Southern Asia
By Laura Kelley
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Laura Kelley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRepublic of Georgia
Main spices and flavors: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sweet basil, bay leaves, caraway seeds, dill, fennel, tarragon, mint, fenugreek, savory, sour cherries, sour plums, marigold, saffron, savory, turmeric, coriander, cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg
Souring agents: pomegranates, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemons, oranges
The modern history of Georgia begins with two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks as Iberia in the east and Colchis in the west, around the shores of the Black Sea. It was to the wealthy kingdom of Colchis that Jason is said to have sailed the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece, which at that time lay at the reaches of the known Western world. Rome extended its reach east to include Georgia, Armenia, and several central Asian states by 66 CE, but before this time, eastern Georgia was strongly influenced by the Persians and western Georgia by the Greeks. Georgia remained a client state of Rome for several hundred years until the empire's ability to maintain its eastern territories disintegrated.
Sassanid Persians ruled Georgia and Armenia after Rome, and their rule was characterized by cosmopolitanism and tolerance.Georgian culture and Christian religious practice were allowed to flourish, as were the cultures in the rest of their empire, which ranged from North Africa to southern Russia and into parts of central Asia.
Persia and all of its holdings fell to Islamic conquest in the seventh century as Islam slowly spread. Arab rule during the hundred years of the Umayyad dynasty brought many elements of Arab culture to Georgia and Armenia, which were incorporated either by choice or by force. By the mid-eighth century, the mixed Persian-Arab Abbasids reasserted Persian control over the empire, and cultural tolerance was again extended to conquered territories. The Georgians quickly resumed most of their indigenous cultural practices, but many foreign practices and cultural elements-including some foods and dishes-that had been introduced were incorporated by choice. By the mid-tenth century, the Georgians had rebelled against the Persians and gained autonomous rule, creating the Georgian Kingdom, which one hundred years later was ruled by the Armenian Bagrationi dynasty.
By the mid-twelfth century, the Mongols swept through the region, destabilizing and subjugating it and causing Bagrationi central authority to wane and a period of local despotic rule to ensue. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Georgian Kingdom had completely dissolved, and the country was ruled by the Persians in the east and the Ottomans in the west. Seeking liberation from the Persians, the Georgians made allegiance with Russia and by the mid-eighteenth century were drawn into the Russian sphere of influence. Formal incorporation of Georgia into the Russian empire took place in 1801 but was not fully accepted by the Georgians until ten years later.
After the Russian Revolution, Georgia declared independence and had a brief period of self-rule that lasted until 1936 when it formally became part of the Soviet Union. Since 1990, when Georgia held the first multiparty democratic elections in the former Soviet territories, Georgia has been independent of Russia. Recent events in which Russia claimed to "protect" two of its provinces, however, throw its future independence into question.
Traces of all of these foreign influences on Georgian history can also be found in its material culture, including its culinary arts. For example, the Georgians share with the Persians many native Persian ingredients, including the common use of unsweetened pomegranate juice, sour cherries, and plums along with the use of fenugreek and cumin. Similar recipes can be found in the region as well, including vegetable and nut omelets called kukus by the Persians, the enjoyment of skewered meats both marinated and made with ground meats called kebabs, and similar types of layered rice pilafs.
Georgian cuisine is most closely related to Armenian cuisine-not only because of their shared border, but because Armenia (or its own rulers) ruled at least part of Georgia for almost one thousand years. From the seventh century onward, Georgians engaged in political, economic, and cultural contact with the Islamic world, and elements of Arab, Turkish, and Persian cuisines also can be found in the Georgian repertoire of flavors and foods. Although staunchly clinging to their Christian roots during periods of Islamic rule, the Islamic influence in Georgian food is undeniable.
Lamb, beef, and fowl of some kind are the most commonly eaten meats in Georgia. However, pork is eaten as chops, roast, or ground as part of a stuffing, and fish-usually whole or fillets-are also regular parts of the Georgian diet. Eggs of all sorts are also eaten-especially on a seasonal basis. When lamb is unavailable, the gamier, tougher mutton is used with extra steps taken to sweeten and tenderize the meat. Most meats are seasoned or marinated for hours (or even days) before cooking with pungent herbs and piquant spices-and more often than not, served with an accompanying sauce or as part of a flavorful stew.
Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Walnut Sauce
To begin on a high note, this is my favorite Georgian recipe. This meal once provided a welcome respite for me on a cold, wet evening in Moscow, and since that time it has been one of my all-time favorite meals. The flavor of chicken blending with the dill and fenugreek of the Khmeli-Suneli spice mixture is delicious and stands strongly on its own when either grilled or baked, and then there is the addition of the Garlic and Walnut Sauce-or garo-that produces a simply heavenly and original combination of flavors that I have experienced nowhere else.
1 chicken cut into pieces or 2-3 pounds of meat on the bone, rinsed well and dried 1-2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 serving Garlic and Walnut Sauce (see Georgian Sauces and Spice Mixtures)
Marinade 1/2 cup light sesame oil or peanut oil 1 1/2 cups lemon juice 2-3 tablespoons Khmeli-Suneli spice mixture (see Georgian Sauces and Spice Mixtures) 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Salt and pepper the chicken with an even coat of spice. If using a whole bird, season the inside as well.
2. Combine marinade ingredients in a container large enough to hold all of the chicken pieces and whisk well. Add the chicken pieces and marinate in a cool or cold place at least overnight-turning the meat and spooning marinade over them occasionally. If the temperature is cold enough, feel free to marinate the meat for 24-48 hours to deepen the infusion of flavor. When the meat is done, remove it from the marinade, reserving the liquid.
3. The chicken will taste best if grilled outside over coals, but if using a broiler indoors, make sure the grill is very hot before placing the chicken on it. Grill for 10 minutes per side for most pieces and a bit more for the larger ones. Meat is done when the juices run clear on an average size piece of meat. Whole birds can be done on an indoor or outdoor rotisserie, if desired. When meat is done, remove from the flame and arrange on a serving platter. Pour a bit of Garlic and Walnut Sauce (Garo) over them and serve.
Skewered Beef with Basil
This is a quintessentially Georgian skewered or "shish" kebab recipe that marinates the meat in unsweetened pomegranate juice spiced with onions, garlic, and a lot of fresh basil before grilling it over hot coals. The extra spices added to the meat just before cooking form a delicious crust around the tender, flavorful meat. Serve with rice or bread, chopped and lightly grilled tomatoes, and onions.
1 pound stew beef, cut into bite-size pieces 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened pomegranate juice 2 tablespoons peanut oil 1 medium onion, peeled and diced 2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and diced 2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 1/2 cup fresh sweet basil, chopped
1. In a large bowl or sealable plastic bag, combine the pomegranate juice, peanut oil, diced onions, garlic, and half each of the salt, black pepper, and fresh basil. Place meat inside bag and seal, ensuring the marinade evenly coats the meat. Place on a plate and marinate at least 3 hours, flipping the bag several times during the marinating process. The point is to infuse the flavors of the pomegranate and basil into the meat, not to appreciably soften the meat.
2. When meat is ready to cook, remove from the bag, discarding the marinade. String on skewers, leaving some space between pieces, and season with remaining salt, pepper, and basil (basil will have dried out somewhat-this is fine). Cook on a very hot grill or under a very hot broiler for about 5 minutes per side or until meat is browned outside and still pink inside. Serve with rice or a pilaf, and grilled onions and tomato wedges. Offer Pomegranate Sauce or other Georgian sauces for diners to use at will.
Grape Leaves Kebab
Grilled ground meats like this are eaten across the Caucasus, the Caspian, and Southwest and central Asia and do not belong exclusively to any one cuisine. I've adapted the original recipe so that it can be cooked in a Western broiler-oven instead of on the flat, swordlike skewers often used. If you'd like to try the traditional cooking method, skewers are available in most Persian markets. A helpful hint for skewering soft meat is to roll the meat right after blending, lightly flour, and then refrigerate for at least an hour before skewering. The cooking fire and grill must be very hot to cook the meat quickly and deeply. No matter how you cook them, the kebabs are great when served with plain rice or a pilaf with Sour Plum Sauce or a pickled vegetable nearby.
1 pound ground lamb or beef 1 medium-large red onion, peeled and chopped 2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and chopped 1 medium tomato, diced 1 teaspoon ground cumin Zest of two lemons, finely diced 4 hot, dried, red chili peppers 20 grape leaves, well rinsed and stems removed 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients-except the meat-and blend lightly so that the vegetables are chopped but still have their form. Then add the meat to the mixture and blend well. Transfer into a bowl and chill for several hours to firm the mixture up.
2. Preheat broiler on highest setting. Remove from refrigerator and roll the kebabs into sausages about 3 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place on a baking sheet that has been oiled or sprayed.
3. Cook about 6 inches from the flame for 5 minutes per side. If meat still feels soft to the touch, cook another few minutes, but do not let the kebabs burn.
Beef and Mushrooms in a Tomato-Tarragon Sauce
This is one of my favorite dishes-especially on a chilly autumn afternoon. It's warm and flavorful with a rich tomato sauce of great depth-like one of Georgia's great fresh-water lakes. Once again, both sweet and sour flavors are evident. This time, tarragon provides the sweetness while sour plums offer up their tart essence. I like this dish in particular because the combination of spices from other cuisines-tarragon from the west, fenugreek from Persia, and coriander and cumin from South and Southwest Asia-come together to form a taste that is uniquely Georgian. Thousands of years of Georgian life went into this recipe, so sit back, relax, and taste the history with each bite.
2 tablespoons light sesame or peanut oil 1 pound stewing beef, cut into bite-size pieces 3 medium onions, peeled, and roughly chopped 1 cup beef broth (more as needed) 2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste 4 hot, dried, red chili peppers 1 tablespoon coriander seeds 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds 1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste) 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, cracked or coarsely ground 1/2 cup dried sour plums, pitted and chopped 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced 1 medium tomato, chopped 2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped 1/2 cup walnut pieces, finely chopped or coarsely ground 1 small bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (15-20 sprigs) 2 tablespoons butter
1. Heat oil in a sauté pan and when very hot, add beef and sauté quickly to sear the meat and seal the juices inside. When meat begins to brown on the edges, remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside. Lower heat to medium and add onions. Cook onions, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes or so, or until they start to become translucent and color.
2. Combine 3/4 cup stock and tomato paste. Stir well until all of the paste is dissolved in the liquid. Grind coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, and chili peppers into a fine powder. Add the tomato mixture to the onions together with the ground seeds, ground spices, salt, and peppercorns. Stir to mix well. Cook for 3-5 minutes to warm and blend spices.
3. Add meat and accumulated juices back to the pot and mix well. Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered until the beef starts to soften, about 30 minutes. Add more stock, a few tablespoons at a time, if the liquid in the sauté pan reduces too much.
4. In a separate pot, bring water to a boil and cook egg noodles until softened but still firm. Cover and remove from heat.
5. Add dried sour plums to the stew and mix well. Stir in the garlic, walnuts, mushrooms, cilantro and tomatoes; cover and continue to cook another 15 minutes or until the beef is tender. Drain egg noodles. Add butter and a pinch of salt and pepper, and place in serving dish.
Fiery Lamb Chops in Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Sauce
This dish combines the intense heat of lots of ground and slightly pickled red chili peppers in Adzhika with the rich sweet and sour flavor of Pomegranate Sauce to form a complex, layered taste for lamb or pork. When eaten, the heat is kept in check by the sauce, so it never overwhelms but rather teases and tantalizes diners for another bite. Free-range lamb would give this a truly authentic flavor causing diners perhaps to break out in song and ask you to refill their glasses with more Khvanchkara wine!
See recipe for Adzhika (see Georgian Sauces and Spice Mixtures) See recipe for Pomegranate Sauce (see Georgian Sauces and Spice Mixtures) 4-6 lamb or pork chops (the thicker the better) 1/4 cup beef broth
1. Wash and dry chops. Using a fork, pierce the chops on both sides in several places.
2. Spread the adzhika paste all over the meat. When the chops are lightly covered on both sides (the color of the meat should still be visible or it may become too spicy), place in a lightly oiled ovenproof pan or dish and refrigerate several hours or even overnight before cooking.
3. Preheat oven to 375�. Pour a small amount of beef broth to just cover the bottom of the dish and place in the oven. Cooking times will vary according to whether the chops have been boned or not. For chops with the bone in them, cook about 20 minutes on each side-gently turning them with a spatula to leave the adzhika crust intact. For chops without the bone, cooking times are approximately halved.
4. When chops are done, transfer them to a serving platter, ladle some hot pomegranate sauce over them, and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro leaves. Serve the remaining pomegranate sauce in a gravy boat so diners can add more if they desire.
Chicken and Tomato Casserole
This casserole has a flavorful red wine-, tomato-, and basil-based sauce that simply permeates the chicken, making it moist and delicious. I've adapted the original recipe from a stovetop-based one to an oven-based one to allow the flavors of the sauce to really work with the chicken instead of getting lost in the sauté. Wonderful when served with plain rice, simple pilaf, or boiled new potatoes.
2 tablespoons butter 1 chicken, cut into parts, or chicken parts on the bone, for 4 people 2 medium onions, peeled and diced 2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and diced 1/2 cup chicken stock 1/4 cup red wine 1/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 1/4 cup fresh sweet basil, chopped 3 bay leaves 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (15-20 sprigs) 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350�. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken parts and set aside. Melt the butter in a deep sauté pan and sauté onions until they become translucent. Add garlic and cook until garlic swells and starts to color. Add chicken stock, red wine, and pomegranate juice and cook to heat.
2. When hot, add the tomato paste and stir well until dissolved. Add salt, pepper, basil, bay leaves, and cilantro and stir again. Add tomatoes and stir well. Cook covered for 5-8 minutes-stirring occasionally-or until the tomatoes start to give off their liquid. Remove from heat.
3. Spoon about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce into a covered casserole. Add chicken parts and spoon the rest of the sauce over them, taking care to coat them evenly. Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, basting at least once as the chicken bakes. After 30 minutes, flip the chicken, baste, cover, and cook another 30 minutes, basting at least once during that time period. Chicken is done when it is loose on the bone to the touch.
Excerpted from The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley Copyright © 2009 by Laura Kelley . Excerpted by permission.
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