In the global gastronomic culture, the Caucasus is known as a “culinary pot” where Georgian cuisine has a special place. Even in Soviet times, Georgian food was regarded as an elite cuisine. No one argues this today, despite the fact that Georgian cuisine has not been modernized and developed as well as it could in recent times. Yet, it still remains a remedy for satisfying hedonistic aspirations. Georgian cuisine suits a variety of tastes and has something to offer vegans, vegetarians, people of different confessions, and gourmands. One can take gastronomic delights from Georgian brand food: Khachapuri, Satsivi, Khinkali and many others, all through the year. This principle of seasonal dining is impaired worldwide, but in ancient Georgia it was a very important thing. Based on different studies, scientists assert that Mankind has been eating seasonally since the very beginning of existence. The special foodstuffs of different dishes become more intense according to the seasons. People used to eat according to the rhythm of nature and this was the basis of keeping strong health.
You will not find brand ham from Racha, (a Georgian “colleague” of gammon) if it is not a special order, Megrelian Kupati, Kharcho with walnuts or Satsivi of turkey in the summer, as Georgians knew well even in ancient times that such food makes your body unhealthily “hot” and so in the high season instead ate soft and refreshing food. Georgia’s climatic conditions and its biological diversity give us an opportunity to have special authentic tastes every season. This luxury is also accompanied with wine, as Georgia is the cradle of the craft.
The main features of Georgian cuisine can be found in its versatility and distinguishability in the regions, but they also have much in common. We all like vegetables and no one can imagine a Georgian feast without greens and different sorts of cheese. But, in general, we are regarded as meat-lovers.
I want to focus on coriander, which is one of the most important greens here in every season and especially in the summertime when markets and other gastronomy shops become enlivened with fresh dark green coriander, striped mint, vivid green tarragon and green and rosy-leg spinach, saying nothing of the popular leek, nettle and allium. Just imagine, it is possible to preparedishes from all the above-mentioned greens, but coriander is added everywhere and brings such a special aroma. Greens from Western Georgia, and more concretely from Kutaisi, are regarded as the best.
Four new geographical markings have been created in the scopes of the ENPARD (European Neighborhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Developments), and greens from Kutaisi has an honored place along with potatoes from Akhalkalaki, Tkibuli tea and Machakhela honey.
Geographical marking is the name of a geographical area used in order to highlight those products which are directly connected with unique natural conditions, such as soil, water, traditional production methods, etc. Why did I mention these? Because on hot summer days these products are wholesome, ecologically clean, and light. Chopped and minced vegetables (pkhali) is one of the extravaganzas of Georgian cuisine, in addition it is a nice aperitif and very healthy if you pair it with Rkatsiteli wine in Eastern Georgia and Tsolikouri in the west.
The first dish that appears in Kakheti in the spring after Orthodox Lent is Chakapuli. In this period mint becomes awesome in aroma, cherry plum begins to blossom, new garlic gets darker and each of the above, with coriander and other greens, “accompany” veal or lamb while boiling. It is a real symphony, where each “instrument” plays its specific role and all together create a wonderful harmony.
Greens and vegetables perfectly pair with pastry, dairy products or chicken in the summertime.
There are also several variations of preparing nettle, for example minced and chopped nettle with walnuts or oil, nettle with Matsoni (Georgian yoghurt) and coriander. Also scrumptious chopped leeks that, aside from walnuts, can be enjoyed with Tkemali sauce, fresh coriander and dressed with roasted nuts from Guria. It is also possible to use almonds, sunflower or sesame seeds instead of nuts.
Eggplant with walnuts is such an important dish of Georgian cuisine that it can be served in every season. Isrim-makvali (unripe grape and blackberry sauce)… I say these words and all my sensory organs ignite. It is a very distinguished sauce and I don’t know if it has an analogue in any other country. Juice of unripe grape is mixed with blackberry sap in Imereti and one also adds there crushed fresh garlic, fennel, coriander leaves and seeds, sometimes hot pepper and salt. This extraordinary sauce is truly fit for a king!
We should not forget about sorrel, which grows in every region, but which people prepare in their own way in the different corners of Georgia. Sorrel soup is very wholesome and is often served in the summer when human bodies crave moisture. Sorrel with different greens and Georgian Matsoni, in partnership with warm cornbread or bread, is a true delight.
Mint is regarded as a refreshing plant and according to legend, once there was a governor of a subterranean kingdom who had a lover. The wife of the governor used magic to turn her into a gentle and aromatic mint plant, which in Georgian cuisine is often used to aromatize different dishes. One of these dishes is Megrelian Gebzhalia. “Bzha” wich in Megrelian means milk and sun. The main component of Gebzhalia is new cheese and, while rolling, it is filled with crushed mint, fresh coriander, garlic, salt and green, hot pepper and afterwards it is put into sauce of milk and Matsoni, aromatized with mint. In Samegrelo it is usually served with hot millet and is considered the dish of the Gods. Gebzhalia is regarded as a summer dish because it is light and refreshing.
I also want to mention the summer dish “Dzrdz” – Matsoni dressed with various greens and mint.. Another version is Matsoni with Ajika sauce, served by Abkhazian nobles with boiled goat.
Georgian summer salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, basil and other greens is a very popular and refreshing dish. In Imereti, this salad is often served with vinegar, in Guria with walnuts or nuts, while Kakhetians prefer this salad with natural sunflower oil, traditional “Mother’s bread” and Guda cheese.
On the subject of Imereti, it is impossible not to mention chicken in garlic sauce, cornbread cooked in an earthenware frying-pan and kneaded beans in an earthenware pot which has a distinguished and authentic taste only in Imereti.
Actually, Imereti, with its wonderful city Kutaisi, is one of the hearts of Georgian gastronomic culture. Kutaisi was also mentioned in the chronicles of Apollonius of Rhodes as a regional center and one of the parts of the Silk Road. Thanks to it, Imereti has much developed and refined its gastronomical features, for example with unique and aromatic spices.
Georgians love everything provided by their mother nature and the rest is just creativity and taste. For example, the mushrooms Nikvi, Qama and Manchkvala are one of the gourmet dishes of spring and summer and wonderfully pair with the Imeretian wine Tsolikouri.
Most Georgian families know the smell of roasted vegetables in the summertime and it is because of Ajapsandali, a kind of Ratatouille. This is a remarkable combination of tomatoes, eggplants, Bulgarian pepper, potatoes and lots of greens fried in oil which can be served warm or cold.
The main components of the summer menu include fresh and cold dishes, but it doesn’t mean that Kakhetians all summer long only eat greens and vegetables. Cold boiled hen is a very popular dish, as well as Kakhetian barbeque with “Mother’s bread,” as lovely as a mother and baked in the Georgian traditional stone oven (tone).
Khashlama, one of the brands of Georgian cuisine, is for the summer season too, as well as Kakhetian Tolma wrapped in a vine leaf, in combination with Wine from Qvevri clay vessel which wine which is included in UNESCO’s intelligible cultural heritage list, and delicious dessert Tatara or Kakhetian grape and peach.
When it’s hot, everyone wants to escape the high temperatures by heading to the sea and if you’re a gourmand, or just interested in gastronomic delights, Adjara is the right destination for you. This region has much to offer you, the awesome mix of high mountains and sea climate create gentle and healthy aromas. That’s why on hot summer days Adjarian Khachapuri tastes so marvelous. A very popular dish: dough kneaded in milk and then shaped like a boat and filled with new cheese and an egg as a symbol of the sun. Borano is also a very interesting and scrumptious dish made of skimmed and whittled cheese. Goatfish, crab and other seafood are more than appetizing here… Influenced by the neighboring countries, there are lots of vegetable dishes in Adjara and the sweet Baklava. This region is also home to the eastern dish Chanakhi, made in a clay pot with meat, sweet pepper, tomatoes and eggplants.
As you see, in our versatile homeland food is diverse and some of it is so unique, that it can be served anytime, in every season. This refers to Khinkali – belonging to the mountainous regions of Georgia: Tusheti, Pshavi and Khevsureti. Pastry with different fillings, such as Megrelian and Imeretian Khachapuri (cheese) and Lobiani (with beans) have no seasons, like the Megrelian Elarji, and Chvishtari and Shkmeruli from Racha.
Bread is the most significant food in Georgia – an essential part of any feast in every season and coming in diverse varieties according to region. As in many other countries, food is not only vitally important for health, but it is also a kind of ritual and an expression of gratitude to God.
PHOTO: ANA BOKO