Cookbook review: Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus
For the last 13 years, I have been blessed to teach students from over 100 countries, including many Georgian students… I quickly fell in love with their sense of humor, language, and most of all, their culture, dance, wine and cuisine. My students and I had many discussions about the merits of various types of khachapuri, khinkali, and Georgian supras, feasts with a range of cold dishes liked stuffed vegetables, dips and cheeses, hot stews, vegetable dishes, dumplings, barbequed and grilled meats, and you’ll find all of these dishes and more tucked between the pages. Georgian hospitality is legendary, and Georgian tamadas, or toastmasters, take toasting duties seriously; the toasts go on for hours well into the next day.
Nestled between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, Georgia’s cuisine is unsurprisingly influenced by its geographic neighbors (Russia to the north and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south), the rolling hills and fertile valleys birthing a cuisine that is at once exotic and familiar at the same time.
Carla Capalbo’s Tasting Georgia focuses on Georgia’s ancient winemaking tradition using qvevri, large terracotta vessels that are sealed with beeswax. If cared for, a qvevri can last for decades or even centuries. The book begins, most appropriately, with one of Georgia’s most iconic recipes that is also finding newfound fame in the United States: khachapuri, cheese-filled breads. There are regional variations around Georgia including versions with potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. There are also numerous pages devoted to khinkali, handheld stuffed dumplings said to have arrived with the Mongol invasion that can include goose, meat, potato, cheese, soup dumplings, and other variations.
Several seasonings are unique to Georgian cuisine, including marigold, jonjoli, and tkemali (plum-based sour sauces). Coriander and blue fenugreek are also frequently used. Like Persian cuisine, there is liberal use of pomegranates (and plum sauce) to add a sour element to dishes. Crushed walnuts and walnut sauce are frequently used to dress vegetable and meat dishes.
Divided by region, you’ll find mouthwatering food photography interspersed with scenes of markets, farms, and everyday life. The included dishes are unfussy and feel delightfully homestyle; vegetarians will rejoice as there are many vegetable-forward recipes in Georgian cuisine, such as eggs with green beans, leeks with walnut paste, eggplant rolls stuffed with walnut paste, pumpkin with walnuts, tarragon and egg pie, bread stuffed with beet greens, etc. Recipes feature the name in English and Georgian as well as US and metric ingredients, which I appreciate as I prefer to cook by weight rather than volume (particularly for baking).
In addition to in-depth discussions of winemaking and profiles of local vintners, chefs, and home cooks, Carla has also included detailed travel tips on local markets, restaurants, cafes, etc. that make this a great travel companion as well. A recipe and meal planner and bibliography and travel information are also provided.
Carla has renewed my interest in visiting the beautiful, inviting country of Georgia, and I am happy to finally be able to recreate the recipes that my visiting students longingly described in great detail. I hope one day to be able to visit in person, but in the meanwhile, I’ll be in the kitchen paying tribute to the rich cuisine of Georgia with a glass of Georgian wine in hand - გაგიმარჯოთ!