The other day, I was invited to help make several traditional Georgian dishes.
In the morning, my host sister-in-law and her adorable child were working together to make churchkhela , which is a traditional Georgian candy that you can often find in markets. This sweet treat is made of unfermented grape juice, flour, and walnuts. Before processed foods, my host father told me, Georgian warriors would take churchkhela with them to war because it is so high in calories.
To begin, you double thread about a foot of string with a needle. Tie a knot at the bottom. Then begin to string the walnuts on the thread. After 6 inches, stop, tie a knot, and begin again. My host father told me that during the harvest time, people will make 100s of these in a single batch.
The gummy part that you dip the string of walnuts in is a caramel made of grape juice and flour boiled in a pot. While the mixture is still boiling, take the nuts and cover them with the caramel (we used a wooden spoon to help). Hang your churchkhela on a stick outside, and they’ll be ready in 2 weeks depending on the weather.
Now, the best part of this process is the left over caramel which you just eat with a spoon and the left over walnuts.
We also made mother’s bread (puri is bread), which is a long flat bread that families in the villages will make batches of once or twice a week. My host grandmother is in charge of this process; however, since she is older, a neighbor comes over to help her. Baking the bread was a day long process that I only saw parts of between my naps so some of these steps are based on assumption. The women made several batches of a double rise dough (remember this bread is bread for the entire family/business for the week, and we eat bread at every meal, so the batch is HUGE). Then they made a fire in the outdoor stove, which is about hip-high, 4 feet across, and resembles a chimney. As the fire was cooling off, we (yup, this is where I came in) made small little boules (everyone was impressed with my bread shaping-I think may have redeemed myself from the basil fiasco), which the neighbor would then stretch, flip it back and forth between her hands to elongate it, then slap them to the side of the oven beginning at the top. She continued this process until the oven was full. Each loaf takes about 20 minutes to cook. When the loaf was ready, she would scrape them off the sides of the oven.
Cultural Side Note: I made a Georgian faux pas yesterday when I placed the bread wrong side up. That is to say, the side that was attached to the oven (it usually is darker with some black specs), should never face up. I don’t know why. My host father said “TIG,” which means This Is Georgia. Basically, this is a catch all phrase for the things that are Georgian, but on the surface don’t make sense.
Finally, my host sister taught me how to make khachapuri, which is cheese bread. I had learned how to make one kind before from my friend Inna; however this was “Eastern” Georgian khachapuri, which is a little different. Although it is super simple to prepare. You make smaller boules from the mother bread dough, and then flatten it with your finger tips. Once flattened, you add a huge heap of shredded cheese to the middle of your dough. Then take one side, and slowly pinch the edges together into a dumpling shape. Tear off any extra dough. Flip your khachapuri so that your pinched edges are on the bottom and begin to flatten with your finger tips again. Once you think it is a good height, check the bottom to make sure there are no holes, and throw it into the frying pan. You’ll know it is time to flip the khachapuri when the bottom is a bit brown. Flip. Add butter. Cook. Then place on plate with more butter. Cut into fourths. You must eat with your hands.
I had a lot of khachapuri that day. I think next time I make this dish, I will add scallions to the cheese mixture to give it more depth in flavor.