Georgian Chicken Stew with Tomatoes and Herbs : Chakhokhbili

Before the tomato season ends I would like to share a recipe for chakhokhbili, a Georgian chicken stew. It’s a dish that tastes and smells of summer, and I try to make it as often as I can during the months when ripe tomatoes are available. The idea is to cook chicken with onions and towards the end add almost twice its weight in tomatoes and herbs. The tomatoes are cooked only to soften them, which gives the stew a bright, sunny flavor. Few other preparations showcase the simple ingredients–chicken and tomatoes–to such advantage. And if you haven’t cooked Georgian food before, I urge you to start with this recipe and be ready to be dazzled.

Georgia is a country of about four million people wedged between Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In my travels through Georgia it never failed to amaze me how such a small country could produce so many outstanding writers, artists, sculptors and dancers, from painter Niko Pirosmani and poet Tizian Tabidze to ballerina Nina Ananiashvili and choreographer George Balanchine. Today, however, I want to give you a taste of the famed Georgian cuisine, because it’s a heritage worthy of being enshrined by UNESCO, along with Georgia’s unique polyphonic singing.

Although the word khokhobi in chakhokhbili means “pheasant”, the stew today is more commonly cooked with chicken. There are many variations on this traditional and much loved recipe, but the one below is my favorite. The chicken is tender and velvety, bathed in a bright red sauce and perfumed with basil, coriander and other fresh herbs.

The cooking time is around an hour, perhaps even less if your chicken is young and tender. This means that all of the flavors are clean and vivid, while the dish is fairly light. Of course, it goes without saying that with such a generous amount of herbs it’s a healthy way to enjoy a stew. Georgia, by the way, has some of the longest living people in the world.

Georgian Chicken with Tomatoes and Herbs (Chakhokhbili)

Serves 6

Chakhokhbili has plenty of sauce, and in Georgia it’s served in bowls and eaten with bread. If I serve it on plates, I make sure to line them with flatbread to soak up the delicious juices.

I learned this recipe almost 10 years ago from a woman called Milena, who lived in Tbilisi and shared traditional Georgian recipes via her blog (if you read Russian, you can find her archive here). After tasting dozens of chakhokhbili variations in Georgia, I found that Milena’s ranks among the best.

Yellow marigold, or Imereti saffron as it’s known in Georgia, is used to give a yellow color and a fruity-earthy flavor to poultry and vegetable dishes. It’s available from herb shops, but if you can’t find it, omit it. Your dish has so many flavors already that it won’t suffer. P.S. Since there was so much interest in this spice, I did some research and found that it’s a type of tagete called tagete patula. It’s the same yellow blossom used in Indian flower garlands.

1 chicken, around 2kg (4lbs)
4-5 medium onions, peeled and cubed
1-2 red bell peppers, seeded, cored and sliced into medium strips
1 teaspoon dried yellow marigold petals (see note above)
1.5kg (3lb) fresh tomatoes
2 bunches of fresh cilantro, coriander leaves
1 bunch of fresh parsley
1 bunch of fresh dill
3-4 stems of basil
1-2 fresh hot chili pepper (optional), minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt to taste

Cut chicken into 12-14 pieces. If your butcher won’t do it, you can take a look at my attempt with nothing more than kitchen shears. Smaller pieces absorb the flavors easier, since the cooking time is fairly short.

Set a heavy stew pot on medium heat and add chicken pieces skin down. No oil is necessary, but if your chicken is lean, add a spoonful of vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Once the chicken starts to turn golden, turn it over and cook for another 5 minutes. Add all of the onions. Stir well and cover the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring time to time. Add red bell pepper, dried marigold petals if using, salt and cover the pot. Turn heat to medium-low. Leave to cook for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Onions and chicken usually release enough liquid, but if yours do not, add a few spoonful of water.

Meanwhile, prep the tomatoes and herbs. Wash tomatoes, peel and seed them. Save the seeds and strain them. Set the liquid aside. Cut tomatoes into medium cubes.

Wash herbs, remove tough, thick stems (thin, soft ones are fine), and mince them finely. Georgian bunches are typically smaller than the ones in the US or Europe, but in the end you should have 3 cups of chopped herbs. Add minced garlic and minced chili pepper to the herbs.

When chicken is tender, add the chopped tomatoes and the reserved liquid from tomato seeds. Cook for 5-7 minutes. Add salt to taste. Add all of the herbs, garlic, chili. Let the stew boil for 2-3 minutes and turn off the heat. Let it rest for the flavors to amalgamate and serve in bowls. Enjoy!


Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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46 Comments

  • Karen A: Looks delicious! Thanks for helping me figure out what to make for dinner! September 25, 2017 at 7:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Please let me know how it turns out. It’s such a great way to take advantage of fresh tomatoes, and although there is no butter or cream in the recipe, the sauce tastes suave and velvety. If you want peppers to disintegrate into the sauce, you can chop them even finer, but I like bigger chunks. September 25, 2017 at 7:39am Reply

      • Karen A: Made it last night, and it came out great! (no marigold petals, but still super tasty!) Thanks so much for sharing the recipe. September 26, 2017 at 7:30am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m so happy you liked it! Sometimes I also don’t add marigold. September 27, 2017 at 2:01pm Reply

  • Sandra: Any creative suggestions on how to make this dish vegetarian? September 25, 2017 at 8:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Swap fried eggplant for chicken? But of course, don’t cook it for as long. Just add it at the end. The beauty of this dish is the tomato-herb sauce. September 25, 2017 at 9:06am Reply

      • Victoria: You can also try this sauce on fish, if you eat it. I also would add it at the end. September 25, 2017 at 9:12am Reply

        • Sandra: Made this today with the eggplant! De -lish!
          Served it along side or on top of israeli couscous October 1, 2017 at 2:53pm Reply

          • Victoria: Sounds delicious! So glad you liked it. October 2, 2017 at 8:49am Reply

    • Sandra: Thank you V! September 25, 2017 at 2:28pm Reply

  • Maria: I will try it for sure! Thanks Victoria! September 25, 2017 at 8:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Please let me know how it goes! September 25, 2017 at 9:07am Reply

  • Jeanne: Thanks for this recipe Victoria! I have so many ripe beautiful tomatoes on my counter right now, and more in the garden. Since I’ve already canned several quarts of tomatoes this year, I’m going to try this dish with the ripe ones. I need hurry so that I can use all my garden herbs (basil is such a cold weather wimp) before we have a freeze here in Colorado! September 25, 2017 at 9:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Georgian food uses lots of herbs, which is such a discovery if previously one relied on them merely as a garnish. You can change the proportions of herbs to your taste, following the basic recipe. September 25, 2017 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Filomena: This sounds yummy! I’m Italian and make one quite similar but always like to vary it from time to time. Reading the recipe and looking at the photo made me hungry. Thank you! September 25, 2017 at 10:21am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I love all of the Italian tomato-based stews. September 25, 2017 at 2:54pm Reply

  • Trudy: This looks delicious. I always mourn the end of tomato season and try to get my fill before they are gone. I will make this within the next few days for sure! Thank you. September 25, 2017 at 10:55am Reply

    • Victoria: I also think that I need to make it at least one more time this season. September 25, 2017 at 2:54pm Reply

  • Jennifer Shaw: This color/food combination sounds incredible! I am eager to make this for a beautiful dinner this week. September 25, 2017 at 1:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you enjoy it! September 25, 2017 at 2:55pm Reply

  • EVANGELIA: Thanks Victoria for this delicious post. We are great funs of Georgian Landscapes, Culture and that includes its cuisine and the famous wines!
    I will try your recipe that’s for sure. I see that your chicken is quite dark. Is it a special breed or it it free farminng? Usually the specific type of chicken is important for a good result! September 25, 2017 at 2:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s just a regular Belgian chicken. I don’t think that it’s any specific breed. I don’t think that it matters that much in this recipe. Of course, if you’re using a hen, you’ll need to add water and cook it for much longer to get it tender. September 25, 2017 at 2:56pm Reply

  • Sarah: Thank you for sharing! I’m looking forward to making it once the weather cools off here a bit. September 25, 2017 at 4:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a comforting dish for the crisp days, although I’d eat it year round too. September 27, 2017 at 2:02pm Reply

  • Becky K.: Very nice pictures – that always helps with recipes. This looks like a fun experiment with organic marigold petals from the garden – although they may not taste the same as the ones from the Republic of Georgia! September 25, 2017 at 4:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: Marigold petals have such a nice taste. Like an earthy apple. September 27, 2017 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Sherry: Thank you Victoria for the recipe! I happened to have a large basket full of tomatoes gifted from a generous neighbor, and two Cornish hens in the freezer. I made the stew without the marigold……it was a huge hit, I had guests last night and the kids were having second or third servings.

    I originally thought maybe the herbs were too much, only added half. After tasting, I added the other half. It was indeed a sublime recipe and thanks for sharing! September 26, 2017 at 10:38am Reply

    • Victoria: So happy to hear that you liked it! Yes, the amount of herbs seems insane, but the taste is worth all of the effort to mince them and it’s not sharp at all. I have another Georgian recipe for lamb in herbs, which is something I should share as well. September 27, 2017 at 2:04pm Reply

  • Mia: Hungry! What a marvelous recipe, thank you. Georgian food is delicious, even though I have only eaten it in Georgian restaurants, not in Georgia. Happily there are a couple of very good ones near. September 26, 2017 at 2:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lucky you to have a Georgian restaurant nearby! Georgia, by the way, is worth visiting. It’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve traveled in. September 27, 2017 at 2:06pm Reply

  • Severine: I like your genuinely inquisitive approach towards global cuisine. Too often I have noticed celebrity TV chefs appropriate Asian and Mediterranean dishes, while pejoratively slagging them off. For instance, “Turkish Delight” is supposedly cleaves to the palate, while Rose Water is “grandma’s bubble-bath”, or Baklava and Indian Gulab Jaman “bludgeon with sweetness.” That makes me sad.
    I appreciate your food write ups because they respect cultures. September 26, 2017 at 6:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s too easy to dismiss things one can’t understand, especially when food is taken out of its context. Baghlava is sweet, but it’s meant to accompany bitter coffee or tea, etc.
      Anyway, the best part of food is that it’s a shared experience and each dish has a specific history behind it. It’s good to see how something made traditionally and then experiment to make a dish your own. September 27, 2017 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Carla: Thank you for this recipe. Tbilisi and it’s surrounds felt so romantic when I went there in May 2001. I saw an opera at the old opera house on the main avenue and had a taxi take me to some old churches in the green hilly countryside. I had a delicious meal at a famous restaurant but sadly don’t recall the details. I know Nigella Lawson was clever enough to note the details of a Georgian meal she had in Russia in her book “Feast”. September 28, 2017 at 2:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a beautiful city. I need to return soon, because it’s such a pleasure to visit and to explore. September 29, 2017 at 3:09am Reply

  • Charlene: Please, tell me about marigold petals. Do you dry them on the stem, or heads in a paper bag, as I do fresh herbs, and are they used fresh?
    I’ve never heard of a culinary use for them, although I very often use fresh petals as a raw garnish. Are they used elsewhere that you know? Thanks! September 29, 2017 at 1:10am Reply

    • Victoria: The variety used in Georgia is called Tagetes patula, and its color is dark yellow. But other marigolds have a similar earthy flavor, if not the color. In Georgia I bought just dried petals, not heads. You crush them with your fingers before adding them to food. They go especially well with the walnut based sauces. September 29, 2017 at 3:07am Reply

  • Heidi: Just made this tonight, and we both loved it. Thank you so much for expanding my culinary horizons — I don’t comment nearly enough here for the amount of joy your work brings me! October 2, 2017 at 8:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Heidi! I’m very happy that you tried it and that it was a success. October 3, 2017 at 5:09am Reply

  • Kathy: Should have written sooner, because the day you posted this, I stopped by my community garden on the way home from work, and got the fresh herbs and some more tomatoes. Followed your excellent directions to the letter, and we had one of the best new dishes we,ve had in awhile. My husband mentioned days later that he wants Georgian chicken again! I never would have thought that much fresh dill would blend in, and the way the onions cooked with the meat was a new method for me.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Kathy
    Bloomington, IN October 4, 2017 at 12:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for letting me know! Yes, it seems crazy to add this much herbs, but it really works, and since they are not overcooked, the flavor is bright and harmonious. October 6, 2017 at 4:34am Reply

  • maja: This sounds great. I have some marigold oil my mother makes by infusing marigold petals in a sunflower oil so will try to add one teaspoon to see what effect it will produce on the dish. Anything with tomatoes and herbs gets my attention. 🙂
    And, Supra goes on my wish list, thank you for being informative and generous as always. October 5, 2017 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: She uses calendula or tagetes? Calendula has a slightly bitter taste, so I’d add only a tiny bit. The marigolds used in Georgia are the kind we call chornobryvtsy in Ukrainian. Or the kind that are used for garlands in India. October 6, 2017 at 4:36am Reply

      • maja: It’s calendula since she mostly makes it for medicinal purposes. I googled chornobryvtsy and my mother has those too (we call it kadifice) but I didn’t know those were edible. 🙂
        Ok, I will use only a bit and see how it goes. October 6, 2017 at 11:46am Reply

        • Victoria: On another thought, don’t use it. I just tried my dried calendula petals, and the flavor is completely different. Better to skip it altogether and wait for your mom’s next kadifice harvest. 🙂 October 6, 2017 at 11:49am Reply

  • Nadja: This was, as others have said, lovely. I think the only thing I might alter the next time (besides tracking down marigold petals–I’m always excited to eat more flowers!) is perhaps to add the herbs to our bowls? I missed some of the vibrancy in the leftovers.

    As we move more deeply into fall I am looking forward to again making the cauliflower with saffron you posted last year. October 6, 2017 at 12:03am Reply

    • Victoria: You can definitely garnish it with more herbs as you serve. I usually just serve fresh herbs on the side.

      I was actually planning to make the saffron pickled cauliflower this weekend, since a friend sent me some nice Iranian saffron earlier in the summer. October 6, 2017 at 4:38am Reply

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