The Georgian side of Soviet stew: Chachkokhbili

Chachkokhbili. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

Chachkokhbili. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

A great many of the dishes enjoyed as typically Russian originated in Georgia, which is probably why Russians are enamoured of Georgian food and restaurants abound in Moscow serving Georgian culinary delights. A first person account of this love affair with Georgian cuisine…

I went on a trip to Georgia last year and fell in love with the country and the food. So enamoured was I of Georgia that my husband and I then shifted base to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

On my return last time, I wrote about the visit and one of my favourite dishes, ‘lobiani’. I am now most excited about our move and the possibilities to explore. Not only will this give me an opportunity to get much closer to ‘khachapuri’ and ‘lobiani’, but it will also give me a chance to explore the food during the Soviet era from a different perspective.

Georgian food is famous in Moscow and has been since the Soviet times, which is why some Georgian recipes appear in the Book. There are Georgian restaurants almost on every corner in Moscow, and it is well known that Georgians have really lovely tomatoes, meat, dairy and wine.

The freshness of Georgian tomatoes makes you sigh especially when, cutting tomatoes in Moscow, you wonder if they are actually made of plastic! Sure, you can get really nice stuff in the Russian capital, too, but it will cost you.

In the few days that I’ve been here, I have discovered a number of fruit and vegetable stalls selling beautiful produce, a locally-stocked dairy and a butcher’s shop, where the men in charge of chicken will be back “in a couple of days!” They are either on holiday or are away getting the meat, I’m not quite sure which it is.

Oh, and I’ve also discovered a Carrefour supermarket where you can buy absolutely anything and everything; including the European cheeses Muscovites have been deprived of for almost a year, because of the food sanctions. I felt like a Soviet citizen who saw a well-stocked shop for the first time. My head was reeling and I wanted to buy everything! I told my grandmother and she just laughed.

It’s a shame that the chicken guys are away because I chose to make ‘chachkokhbili’ this week. It’s a chicken stew made with amazing Georgian spices (they’re all amazing) that goes really well with khachapuri; but then again, what doesn’t?

I had to resort to a fancy looking butcher named “Chop Shop” to get the chicken, and although I had my doubts about how authentic the recipe would be, it turned out beautifully, mainly because all the produce was very fresh, and the local chicken tasted amazing. The recipe called for some red wine, and I added some from the 2 litre bottle of homemade wine our landlord gave us when we moved in. Presenting people with homemade wine is the Georgian equivalent of Russians saying, “would you like some of my borscht”?

I am yet to find a Georgian grandmother to interrogate about the food and life in the Soviet times, but so far the lady who did my manicure, Dahli, (she didn’t look a day older than 60 to me, but said she’s a great-grandmother!) told me there was lots of food available in the Soviet times. With land as fertile as this, and so many people growing their own produce, I imagine they would have been doing alright – at least in the warm part of the year. Dahli also said the Soviet times were better, but I don’t know – something tells me she hasn’t been to Carrefour yet!

Chachkokhbili

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (or 500 grams of lamb); 2 onions; 2 Tbsp tomato puree; 1 Tbsp vinegar; 2 Tbsp red wine; 2-3 Tbsp oil; 2 whole tomatoes; salt and pepper to taste

Take a whole chicken, cut into large pieces and fry in a shallow pan filled with hot oil. Then, put into a separate large pot or dutch oven with a lid and add chopped onion, pureed tomatoes, vinegar, wine, ½ cup broth, salt and pepper.

Cover the pot and simmer for 1 ½ hours on low heat. Just before removing from heat, add sliced tomatoes.

Cut up the chicken into pieces and serve each bowl with a piece of chicken, sliced tomatoes, lemon and herbs.

It's also possible to make chachkokhbili with lamb in the same way, just slice the lamb into three or four pieces to serve.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.