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Khachapuri

Khachapuri – Georgia’s Answer to Pizza

Georgian specialty stands a good chance of becoming the Next Big Thing: the khachapuri.

Mimino Restaurant - Imeretian Khachapuri 
Khachapuri is a cheese bread, the word coming from khacho (ხაჭო), for “cheese curd,” and puri(პური), for “bread.” Wherever you go in Georgia, you can be sure to eat it at least once a day, even for breakfast. Khachapuri can be small or large, eaten solo or shared, consumed as an appetizer or a whole meal, store-bought or home-made. It’s such a staple food that the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University created the Khachapuri Index, an indicator of inflation in different Georgian cities calculated from the cost of a basket containing only the ingredients needed to cook one Imeretian khachapuri (flour, cheese, yeast, eggs, milk, and butter), plus energy costs (gas and electricity). Just as there are pizzerias, there arekhachapurnayas, and in fact some khachapurnayasdouble as pizzerias.
Make It: Khachapuri

Many regions have created their own versions of khachapuri, especially in Western Georgia. Let’s start with the classic, the Imeretian khachapuri, of Khachapuri Index fame. A round pie filled with cheese, this is the one cheese bread you’re guaranteed to find nearly everywhere in Georgia. I’ve had Imeretian khachapuri in places where the nearest store was several painful hours away, weather permitting. You can make it in a baker’s oven, a Soviet oven, an antique wood-fired stove, and even, I believe, in a frying pan on a stovetop.

Lentekhi - Bakery 
More than the Imereti region itself, it is named after Imeretian cheese, which is the preferred choice of filling. Imeretian cheese is a fresh cow’s milk cheese originally from the Imereti region, although there are many local variations. If you go to a market in Georgia, what you want to look for is chkinti-kveli, low-salt, unripened Imeretian—cheese curds, essentially. The rationale is that if you plan to have leftovers, the cheese will still be soft and therefore pleasant to eat even without reheating the bread, which might constitute khachapuri’s claim to superiority over pizza. Some people, however, choose to not worry about leftovers and add in some sulguni, a stretched-curd cheeserather similar to mozzarella but made from chkinti-kveli. As for the dough, there are many possibilities—yeast vs. baking powder, milk vs. yogurt—the main point being to use a leavened dough.
Lentekhi - Bakery

The Mingrelian khachapuri is where decadence begins. This specialty from the Samegrelo region is similar to its Imeretian cousin, but topped with yet more cheese (almost alwayschkinti-kveli). Then there’s the Adjaran khachapuri, the ultimate artery-clogging dish. This open-faced version is topped with an egg and a generous chunk of butter—the more the better, some say—which you’re supposed to mix with the cheese so you can dip the crust in them. Batumians, the inhabitants of the region’s capital, are quite opinionated about what makes a good Adjaran khachapuri, and often frown upon imitations from Tbilisi. Everything is codified: the dough (bread dough; light and airy inside, crispy outside), the shape (oval with two pointy tips of dough, and thin crust at the bottom), the cheese-to-dough ratio (1:1). Not to mention the emphatic sayings typical of Georgia’s meridional culture: “After eating an Adjaran khachapuri, you must feel full yet want to devour another one.” Curiously, the cheese seems to be left to your discretion—Imeretian, sulguni, or a blend thereof.

Kachapuri4

This specialty is also claimed by another Georgian region, separatist Abkhazia. The belligerent Abkhaz decided that this was their national dish, but since they couldn’t conceivably keep the same name for it (what kind of would-be independent country names a dish after a region of their neighboring enemy?), they opted to reinforce their allegiance to Russia by calling itlodochka, or “little boat” in Russian.

Kachapuri5

There are more. Mountainous Svaneti is known for its impossibly rustic chvishtari, a pancake-like mix of Georgian polenta and cheese. Ossetia makes a version called khabizgini, filled with potatoes and cheese. Guria has its own Gurian khachapuri, a kind of calzone filled with cheese and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Abkhazia (them again) also makes achma, a kind of cheese lasagna. The penovani khachapuri is somewhat in a league of its own, as it doesn’t belong to any particular region; its name comes from pena (ფენა), meaning “layer,” due to its yeast-leavened puff pastry (like a croissant).  At Restaurant Kazbek in Kiev, I even ate a khachapuri kebab—a skewer with cheese, cherry tomatoes, and basil, all wrapped in pastry.

Market - Cheese

Making a khachapuri at home doesn’t have to be daunting. I favor a soft dough made with yogurt and baking powder, which can be prepared in no time. You could also buy dough from your local pizza parlor. (In New York City at least; if you made the ill-advised choice to live elsewhere, your mileage may vary.) While I’ve tried to make my own Imeretian cheese andsulguni, a mixture of mozzarella and feta is commonly used outside of Georgia, even by Georgian immigrants.

Central Market - Flour

Since khachapuri is eaten so often, it makes sense to have a recipe that can be prepared quickly. With a little bit of practice, you can have a delicious cheese bread made from scratch in about an hour.

Hurry before the chain pizza joints of the world get word of it and start ruining everything.

BY FLORIAN PINEL

Source: MUNCHIES