georgian cuisine: 2 posts

Yellow Marigolds and Blue Fenugreek : Georgian Spices

I didn’t know that tagetes were edible until I went to Georgia. My grandmother cultivated several varieties for her flower beds, and I loved the spicy, green scent of the flowers we affectionately called chornobryvtsi, the black-eyebrowed ones, since dark eyebrows are one of the hallmarks of classical Ukrainian beauty.  On the other hand, I never knew that they have an equally alluring flavor and that it forms the main accord of Georgian cuisine.

Several varieties of tagetes are edible, but the most common one is tagetes patula. That’s the same flower woven into Indian garlands to decorate gods and honored guests, but only in Georgia is it used as food. The flavor of tagetes is earthy, spicy, with a hint of green apple and orange. It plays a base note in the finished dish, lending a lingering brightness to chakhokhbili, chicken stew with tomato and herbs, spice blends, chili pastes, or walnut sauces.

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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.

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