Georgian cuisine with Tiko Tuskadze
and her recipe for khachapuri

Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgia

The cuisine of Georgia (ქართული სამზარეულო) is as elegant and unique as the script that flows from the hands of its people. The warmth of this Caucasian community is expressed through their extraordinary hospitality and in particular through their traditional feasts, in which they welcome strangers and acquaintances alike with copious amounts of food and wine.

Can you tell me about the food you ate growing up?
“We used to have a traditional supra almost every day. Supra is the Georgian feast and was a very important concept in my youth. We lived with my father’s family, which is (or was) common in Georgia. You never knew how many people would join for dinner. Friends, family members, neighbours. My grandfather, who had a high role in the communist apparatus, would often unexpectedly bring 15 people over too.

“My grandmother was a great cook. She basically had two jobs: being the principal of a boarding school for blind kids, and running our ‘home restaurant’. It was the only school for blind children in the country, so many came from afar. This meant that some kids would stay over the weekend because their parents couldn’t pick them up. My grandmother would then cook extra meals at the school too. If there were only two or three kids left behind, she’d bring them over to our place to stay with us the entire weekend. That’s the hospitality I grew up with.”

Do you think every Georgian family was like that?
“Well, the supras we had might’ve been a bit bigger and more frequent than those of others, mainly because of my grandfather’s job, but otherwise this warmth is essential in Georgian culture. When I would come back from school and smelled that a neighbour was baking something, I knew: we’ll have cake today! There’s no way the neighbours would keep it to themselves.

“This nature helped Georgian people through difficult times, like in the nineties, during the civil war and the war in Abkhazia. We didn’t have food or electricity. You had to queue for bread, and you’d only get as much as needed for the number of family members you had. It was a time of distress, but simultaneously we had the best times. There was a sense of unity. Rather than going to a bakery to get bread, we’d bake it ourselves and share it amongst each other.

Georgian market



“We would always get all our fresh food from the market, but there was nothing available during these tough times. No vegetables or meat, no sugar, no tinned food, nothing. We had a cupboard on the balcony, and I remember one time when I found a can of peas in there. I was so happy, but at the same time I thought: how on earth can you make tinned peas taste good?

“We only had some onions, garlic and herbs, and my grandmother made the most amazing dish with these peas. We learned to make food exciting in new ways; it forced us to get creative. Soybeans became popular in Georgia around the same time. We made soy ‘meatballs’. It’s the cheapest thing imaginable, but it was delicious! My grandmother came up with a thousand new recipes for beans back then. Truly inspirational.”

Do you take inspiration from your grandmother’s creativity when designing the menus for your own restaurants?
“I try to keep the flavours traditional. I don’t want to turn Georgian cuisine into fusion. We do experiment a bit, but I always think: how would it be done in my family? How would my grandmother have done it? My mum is here with me in London, luckily, so not a single dish makes the menu without her approval.

“I don’t have a culinary degree and neither do the cooks I have in my restaurants. They are all Georgian housewives and they allow me to present Georgian home cooking to my guests. They give you a sense of generosity and sincerity.”

Georgian landscape

What do you miss about Georgia?
“Honestly, I miss my past because I can’t say there’s anything about Georgia nowadays that I miss in the same way. It’s just not the same as it used to be. The spontaneity; the liveliness. You never knew what was going to happen and what the day was going to bring… I’m lucky to live in Hackney (London) now though, where there’s a great sense of community as well.”

Which Georgian ingredients do you cherish?
“Herbs bring me straight back to my childhood because they’re so seasonal. The smell of spring is the smell of tkemali, a plum sauce, and new potatoes with dill. Spring is my favourite time of the year, and there’s no better way of celebrating the season than with tkemali.

“I also love pink basil in the summertime. It’s perfect for salads as the flavour is a lot more subtle than that of green basil. Tarragon is another one of my favourites. There’s a delicious tarragon pie recipe in my book Supra. Its intense flavour is paired with delicate and creamy boiled eggs. It’s heart-warming.”

Tkemali, plum sauce

Georgian plum sauce, tkemali

Are there any dishes that evoke strong memories or feelings for you?
“There are many. Every dish has its story and a place of birth for me. But I love ajapsandali - aubergine stew. It reminds me of summer.

“When we would come back from summer holiday the city was still dreadfully hot. You could smell the pavement. But there was always this anticipation: are the neighbours back yet? Are the children back in the garden? The first thing I would do was run to the fridge, hoping my grandmother had made the stew. You knew you were back home when the stew was there. Whenever I make it now, it instantly recalls the seemingly never-ending summers I spent with my family.”

What would you say defines Georgian cuisine?
“It’s so diverse and so rich. Every region has completely different dishes or different twists to the same dishes. Georgia is one of the countries that was on the Silk Road, so there are countless influences from other areas of the world.

“A Turkish family is running the little liquor store here and quite often they have a break around lunch or dinner time. The shopkeeper’s wife always makes him a meal, and I always ask what they’re having. They always invite me to join them, but I don’t accept; I just like to watch because it reminds me of home. It’s something about the way they combine the ingredients: beetroot salad, carrot salad, some stew, some bread. It’s so similar and familiar.”

Ajapsandali, Georgian aubergine stew

"The first thing I would do when returning from holiday was run to the fridge, hoping my grandmother had made ajapsandali, aubergine stew."

Tiko Tuskadze

Did the Soviet times have a strong influence on Georgian cuisine?
“Luckily, it didn’t change the cuisine. It’s the opposite actually; Georgia was absolute food heaven for Russians. My grandfather had friends in Moscow who often came and visited us. We would always give them fruits, cheeses, wine. Georgia has always been a very hospitable place.

“But something did happen after Soviet times, which was the emergence of restaurants and cafés. We didn’t have a restaurant culture in Georgia. Every family had a ‘restaurant’ in their homes. Even weddings: you’d make the food at home and only hire a location for the party because you couldn’t host 250 people at home.

“When communism left and capitalism came, people started opening small businesses (which wasn’t allowed before). It was so exciting for us. We had never gone to a restaurant or café! But it has also led to the fact that fewer people cook at home nowadays, unfortunately.”

Khachapuri

The Dish

Khachapuri is a delicious cheese-filled bread and Georgia’s iconic national dish. The traditional recipe requires Imeretian cheese, a soft cheese made from fresh cow’s milk native to the Imereti region of Georgia, but popular throughout the country. It’s almost impossible to find elsewhere, so this recipe mixes feta and mozzarella for a similar result.
“It took me a long time to find an alternative that I was happy with. The combination of feta and mozzarella combines to give a lovely, salty flavour and melts into tantalising strings that reveal themselves when you cut into the bread.”

The bread comes in many shapes and sizes, but the boat-shaped one is the most famed. What’s the history behind it?
“The story goes that when the fishermen would go fishing, the wives would make the bread in the shape of the boat. The egg yolk on top would symbolise the sun.”

What are your most vivid memories of khachapuri?
“I was looking at my colleague the other day… she was going to bake khachapuri and suddenly, the way she used her hands was so beautiful. I’ve seen so many women work that dough. I realised that I would remember women by their hands, not by their faces. This came to mind when I was watching my colleague. It was such a profound moment. Ever since I was a little girl, I was fascinated by watching women working the dough.”

Do you like making khachapuri yourself as well?
“I’m scared of the dough. I love baking, but I feel so much responsibility when I have to make khachapuri. I get so nervous. My colleagues say, you’re using too much dough! I get panic attacks. I just love watching them work the dough like I’ve seen thousands of women making it before me. I’m sorry” says Tiko, her eyes filled with tears, “it’s just… I miss Georgia now.”

The Ingredients

1 tsp
fast-action yeast
330 g
plain (all-purpose) flour
0.5 tsp
salt
0.5 tsp
sugar
1.5 tbsp
soft butter, plus extra for greasing and serving
1 tbsp
vegetable oil or sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
330 g
feta cheese, crumbled
160 g
mozzarella cheese, grated
4.5 tbsp
milk, plus extra for brushing
3
eggs
1 tsp
fast-action yeast
11.5 oz
plain (all-purpose) flour
0.5 tsp
salt
0.5 tsp
sugar
1.5 tbsp
soft butter, plus extra for greasing and serving
1 tbsp
vegetable oil or sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
11.5 oz
feta cheese, crumbled
6 oz
mozzarella cheese, grated
4.5 tbsp
milk, plus extra for brushing
3
eggs

The Recipe

Total preparation time: 2.5 hours | Yield: 2 breads | Category: starter

  1. Place 1 large baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7.
  2. Put the yeast in a small bowl and dissolve it in 1 tablespoon of lukewarm water.
  3. Sift the flour into a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt, sugar and butter and use your hands to rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in 4 tbsp lukewarm water, the dissolved yeast and oil.
  4. Using your hands or the mixer on low, bring the dough together and knead until smooth. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea (dish) towel. Set aside in a warm place for around 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
  5. Place the cheeses in a large bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
  6. Once the dough has proofed, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knock it back to remove any air bubbles that have developed. Divide it into 2 equal-sized pieces and roll each piece into a 40 x 20 cm/16 x 8-inch oblong. Divide half of the cheese mixture between the centres of the dough rounds and bring up the two sides to make a boat shape and enclose the filling. Pinch the dough together firmly down the central seam to seal. Flip the filled breads over so the seam faces down and use a sharp knife to cut a central seam down the centre of each smooth top, leaving the dough intact at the top and bottom of each oblong. Using your hands, spread the dough from the central seam you have just created.
  7. Mix the milk with the remaining cheese and use this mixture to fill the centre of the breads. 
  8. Beat 1 of the eggs together with 1 tbsp of milk and use this mixture to brush around the edges of the breads. Transfer to baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until almost golden. Remove the breads from the oven and crack an egg into the centre of each, return to the oven and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the eggs are cooked but still runny.
  9. Serve hot, garnished with some butter, if you like.
< Sudanese Agashé Bolivian Paiche en tacuara >