When former Williams College Russian professor Darra Goldstein first wrote about food in the Republic of Georgia, she knew the region well from having traveled there since 1978. Her award-winning book, “The Georgian Feast,” which came out in 1993, has just been revised in a 25th anniversary edition.
Tourists took their time discovering the Republic of Georgia after what Goldstein calls “the lawless 1990s,” when the US State Department issued travel advisories to the former Soviet republic (it gained independence in 1991). Today, all that has changed. The capital, Tbilisi, is thriving, the people are welcoming, the wines are becoming better known, and everywhere you go there’s khachapuri, the Georgian cheese bread made many ways. One of the most popular in restaurants is Adjaruli khachapuri, with a yeast dough formed into individual boat shapes, filled with cheese, and baked in a wood-fired oven. Right before it comes out, an egg yolk is dropped into the center of the cheese and cooked for seconds.
Khachapuri is made in every home, writes Goldstein, but instead of yeast, the dough is mixed with baking soda and yogurt. She calls her favorite one “feministuri khachapuri” (if you know these cheese breads, you may recognize this as khachapuri Imeruli). Goldstein writes that the Georgian student who gave her the recipe initially thought that the cheese pies represented women’s unending ties to kitchen duties. Then on one visit home, writes Goldstein, the young woman “discovered in the community of women working together a rhythm and a camaraderie that was actually quite beautiful. The sensual experience of being enveloped in flour and cheese as she worked the dough gave her pleasure.” Goldstein settled on the word “feminist” because “it offers a less rigid understanding of what feminism is, one that includes women’s generosity and solidarity.”
(Home-style Georgian cheese bread)
This home-style Georgian cheese bread is shaped from a dough made with baking soda and yogurt. In “The Georgian Feast,” author Darra Goldstein writes that the pastry here is usually made on a board with the flour mounded and the butter grated into it. She offers a quicker way using a food processor. The dough seems very soft when you first make it, but after 2 hours in the fridge, it rolls nicely on a floured counter. The ratio of feta and fresh mozzarella is up to you; feta is salty so add more or less, as you like. (The recipe in the book adds 4 tablespoons grated butter to the cheese filling but it’s rich enough without it.) Use a rimmed baking sheet because cheese escapes at the edges of the pastry during baking.
|½||teaspoon baking soda|
|1||cup (2 sticks) butter, cut up|
|1||whole egg plus 4 extra yolks|
|1||cup plain, whole-milk yogurt, or more if needed|
|Extra flour (for sprinkling)|
|1½||pounds mixed feta and fresh mozzarella cheese|
|1||teaspoon cold water|
1. In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Pulse to blend them.
2. Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture forms crumbs.
3. In a bowl, combine the whole egg and 1 cup yogurt. With a fork, blend them thoroughly. Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and pulse just until a soft dough forms.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and pat it all over with flour. Divide in half. Shape each into a flat disk and wrap each in foil. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
5. Meanwhile, in a bowl, crumble the feta. Using the large holes on a grater, grate the mozzarella into the feta. Add 2 of the egg yolks and stir until they are thoroughly blended; the mixture will not be smooth. Refrigerate.
6. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
7. On a floured counter, roll out 1 piece of the dough to an oval 17 inches long and 10 inches wide. Lift it onto the rolling pin and ease it into the baking sheet (the long ends may hang over a little, but they’ll be tucked under later). Sprinkle it with the cheese filling to within 1 inch of the edges.
8. Roll the other piece of dough to the same size oval and lift it onto a rolling pin. Ease it onto the first oval. Tuck the edges all around the pastry like a hem, pressing them slightly.
9. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 yolks with the cold water. Brush the mixture all over the pastry.
10. Bake the pastry for 40 minutes, or until it is golden brown (it may ooze filling at the edges). Let it sit for 5 minutes before serving in wedges. Sheryl Julian. Adapted from “The Georgian Feast”