Georgian Cuisine
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The Cuisine of Soviet Georgia: An Introduction

But even though influences from both East and West can be detected in Georgia today, the Georgian cuisine – like ancient Georgian language- has remained remarkably consistent since the time of the twelfth century Renaissance; more than merely a compromise among the cuisine of its neighbours. For instance, Georgians still prepare their own ancient dish of pheasant roasted with green tea leaves, using the wildfowl -Phasianus colchius- which originated in the Phasis [Rioni] River Valley. And despite other borrowings, the Georgians never developed a taste for the elaborate Oriental sweets from either Turkish, Armenian or Persian kitchens. Rather, they limit their desserts mainly on fresh fruits and candied walnut preparations. Similarly, even though Georgian cooking nods to Persian by using fruits with meat, it takes as its own only those dishes yielding the sour taste the Georgians prefer. Thus one more often encounters meat stewed with sour plums and pomegranates that with the sweeter quinces or prunes. The Georgians are proud of their native culinary ken, and considering their country’s long history of resistance, this pride seems justified.

The slightly tart taste of many Georgian dishes offsets what might otherwise be cloying richness, for the use of nuts is intrinsic to Georgian cookery. Nuts are used not merely as garnish, but as an integral ingredient in a wide variety of dishes, and the cook’s ability to both temper their oiliness and highlight their nuttiness is crucial to the success of the dish. Most recipes call for an intricate balance of ingredients. Yoghurt (matsoni), pungent cheese, and immature wine (madzhani), for example often serve as counterpoints to ground walnuts; vinegar or fruit juices and leathers likewise lend symmetry.

Of the numerous nuts that are harvested in Georgia, the walnuts is especially prized. Even before green walnuts ripen, they are made into preserves by a lenghty process of soaking to leach out their bitterness. Once ripe, the whole nuts are roasted and their paper-thin inner shells sometimes used to infuse the homemade vodka or chacha the Georgians distill from grape skins. Most often however, the nuts are ground for use as a thickening and flavoring agent. Mixed with herbs and spices, walnuts form a zesty stuffing for such vegetables as pumpkins and peppers. And there are dozens of different recipes for walnut sauces alone, each requiring different proportions depending on whether the sauce is intended for vegetables, poultry, meat or fish.

The plainest nut sauce consists simply of ground nuts and spices, to which boiling water is added for a creamy consistency. Uncooked, it is commonly poured over prepared foods such as steamed green beans or leftover roasted meat. Satsivi, the most renowned Georgian nut sauce, has lent is name to the finished dish as well. This is usually made with chicken, although trout is also popular. In the standard recipe for chicken satsivi, chicken broth is used for the liquid base, to which lighlty fried onions are added. Along with the walnuts varying proportions of garlic, parsley, coriander, cinnamon, dill and vinegar are mixed in, and the sauce is simmered until the flavors have blended. Then the cooked pieces of chicken are immersed in the sauce, simmered a while longer, and left to cool. Satsivi is best served at room temperature or only slightly chilled.

Other nut sauces include satsebeli, used in the Western Georgian specialty bazha. Unlike satsivi, satsebeli, is not cooked. It calls for a sour fruit juice such as pomegranate, blackberry or verjuice to be mixed with meat or vegetable stock to yield its characteristic earthy flavor. Yet another type of nut sauce is garo. This variation is cooked and enriched with egg yolks. Interestingly, the nut sauces of Georgia differ from such Balkan and Turkish preparations as tarator and Circassian chicken in that they do not add bread for binding.

Walnuts find their way onto the dessert table, too, and they constitute the principal ingredient in two typically Georgian sweets: gozinaki and churchkhela. Gozinaki, or walnuts candied in honey, is traditionally served at the New Year’s Feast to ensure abundance in the coming year, and it is the food of choice for the honored mekvle or first New Year’s guest.(3) Churchkhela is prepared year-round. For this elaborate confection walnuts are strung on a string and dipped into fresh grape juice that has been thickened with cornstarch. After repeated dippings, the juice hardens and forms a chewy layer around the nuts. The finished churchkhela resemble long sausages and are so nutritious and long lasting that soldiers once carried them off to war.

The oil extracted from nuts is also utilized in Georgian cookery, and dishes containing walnuts frequently are gilded with their oil. This oil is not primarily used for cooking, however since its flavor is so dominant. Neither is olive oil extensively used, as it is by Georgia’s neighbours. For daily use the Georgians rely instead on vegetable oil, particularly corn oil.

In fact, the Georgians eat a great deal of corn, both fresh and processed. They make gomi, a polenta – like preparation, the mchadi or corncakes. One of the glories of Georgian cuisine is elardzhi, cornmeal mixed with a local cheese and served hot in near- liquid form. The very number of dishes that call for corn distinguishes Georgia from other countries in the Levanti which tend to favor rice or lentils for starch. While the Georgians do not make extensive use of dried beans, they confine themselves mainly to the cultivated or wild kidney bean.

3.Virsaladze, Elena (ed.), Gruzinskoe narodnoe poeticheskoe tvorchestvo (Tbilisi: Merani, 1972), p.142

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