Kaukasis: A Culinary Journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan & Beyond, written by Olia Hercules, features the incredibly diverse cuisine of the Caucasus region that bridges together Europe and Asia. Olia shares over 100 recipes from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Russia, and Turkey with specialties such as Dyushbara, Basil Sherbet, Khachapouri, Saffron Plov, Lyulya Kebabs, and Fish Lavangi. I will also be sharing her recipe for Qutab, an Azerbaijiani flatbread stuffed with lamb, onion, and pomegranate molasses.
Disclosure: I received the UK version of this book from Weldon Owen in exchange for my honest review. The US version was recently published in October 2017. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Olia Hercules is a chef, food writer, and food stylist. She was born in Kakhovka, Ukraine with Siberian, Jewish, Bessarabian (Moldovan), Uzbek, and Armenian roots. She lived in Cyprus for 5 years before moving to London for school, receiving a BA in Italian followed by a MA in Russian and English. Her interest in cooking grew and she trained as a chef at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. Her work can be found in Sainsbury’s, The Recipe Kit, and the Guardian. I also reviewed her first book, Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe, in October.
The chapters are divided according to food group: Introduction; Roots Shoots Leaves & All; Flour & Ash; Beasts from Land, Sea & Air; Pain, Be Gone!; and Sweet in the Tooth.
Olia’s Armenian family, originally from Nagorno-Karabakh, inspired her to write this book. The first thing I noticed about Kaukasis was its beauty, from the striking cover design by Grace Helmer to the photos found inside. Once I started looking through the pages, I became more and more excited to find so many recipes I had never come across before. Her descriptions and stories of her and her family’s experiences continued to draw me in and connect me to the recipes on a more personal level.
The beautiful photography is provided by Elena Heatherwick with food styling by Olia Hercules and prop styling by Tabitha Hawkins. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a full page photo, generally of the finished dish. Step-by-step photos are also included for some of the more intricate techniques such as forming pasta and dumplings, arranging pies, and folding breads. Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, stories, tips, serving size, and often variations. The names of the dishes are listed in English or their original language (Romanized).
This book is a great pick for those interested in learning more about food in the Caucasus region, particularly Georgian and Azerbaijani cuisine. There is a wonderful assortment of recipes, from easy to more complicated and appetizers to drinks and desserts. There are also plenty of vegetarian dishes. A handful of ingredients may be difficult to locate. Olia does include a guide to lesser known foods such as blue fenugreek, Alycha plums, barberries, and purple basil with descriptions, uses, where to find them, and possible substitutes along with a list of suppliers (since I had the UK version, the suppliers listed were for that area). Having markets nearby that feature Central Asian and Middle Eastern ingredients will be helpful for items like saffron, rosehips, wild thyme, filo, buckwheat groats, pomegranate molasses, cardamom pods, and sumac.
Qutab (Azerbaijani Stuffed Flatbread)
Olia includes three different filling recipes for the Qutab, an Azerbaijani Stuffed Flatbread. I made the lamb, onion, and molasses version. The other options include an herb & cheese filling (feta, dill, basil, tarragon, and cilantro) and a squash & pomegranate filling.
This particular recipe makes 10 medium sized Qutab. A basic bread dough is kneaded together until smooth and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes to allow the gluten to activate and make the dough easier to handle. The small rounds are rolled out on a lightly floured surface, as thin as possible, before the desired filling is spread across one side and the dough is folded over to create a half-moon shape. The Qutab are cooked in an ungreased frying pan until speckled with dark blisters on each side and the meat is cooked through. Adjust the heat as needed to make sure the meat has a chance to cook before the bread gets too dark. I mostly stuck to medium. While still hot from the pan, they are brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a little sumac. I took Olia’s advice and served the Qutab with yogurt mixed with mint and a squeeze of lemon juice (plus a dash of hot chili sauce if you want a little extra heat).
Sumac is a spice made from the berries of the sumac bush and is common in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It is available in berry or ground form. Sumac has a lightly bitter, lemony taste and a deep brownish red hue. There are no good substitutes for the flavor. I have been able to find it in the spice section of some international grocery stores and recently at Whole Foods. Watch the ingredient list and color of sumac. It should be a deep red. Bright red spices may have added coloring and some have added salt. It is also available of Amazon: Sumac 4.0 oz by Zamouri Spices.
I also made the Nutty Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Khingal, Khanuma, and Chicken Chigyrtma.
I made the Nutty Tomato and Cucumber Salad at the beginning of fall as a way to use up my last remaining purple and green basil. The basil is tossed together with tomatoes, cucumbers, spring onions, garlic, cilantro, and dill. Right before serving, the mixture is coated in a light honey and vinegar dressing. It was a light and wonderful start to the meal.
I first made Khingal a few years ago, but it had been awhile since preparing it again and I realized how much I missed it. This Azerbaijani dish is quite the comfort food. Homemade pasta triangles are boiled until just tender and topped with crisp spiced lamb, yogurt, and herbs. I already can’t wait to make it again.
Khanuma was another wonderfully comforting meal. A basic pasta dough is rolled into a thin sheet, then wrapped up with a caramelized onion filling. The resulting rope is twisted to seal and sliced into pieces before serving with a homemade chicken broth.
Olia’s version of Chicken Chigyrtma is an easy one-pot meal with pieces of chicken combined with saffron and turmeric spiced onions and an egg yogurt mixture before baking in the oven until everything is cooked through and golden. This one was a particular favorite for Chad. Olia recommends serving it with Saffron Plov and other dishes to create a large feast.
Qutab (Azerbaijani Stuffed Flatbread) Recipe
Qutab (Azerbaijani Stuffed Flatbread)
Excerpt from Kaukasis
200 milliliters (7 fl oz, ~3/4 cup) cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten
Pinch of fine sea salt
500 grams (1 pound 2 ounces, ~3 1/2 cups) plain flour, plus extra for kneading and dusting
Lamb, Onion & Molasses Filling:
350 grams (12 ounces) minced lamb (or a 50/50 mix of minced beef and pork)
150 grams (5 1/2 ounces) onions, finely diced or grated
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Melted unsalted butter, for brushing
Ground sumac, for sprinkling
To make the dough, mix the measured water, egg and salt together in a bowl, then gradually add the flour, combining it with your hand. Tip the dough out on to a well-floured work surface and start kneading it. The dough should be firm but not too dry and should stop sticking to your hands after kneading in some extra flour.
Divide the dough into 10 ball-shaped pieces and leave to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, covered with a damp tea towel or clingfilm.
To make the Lamb, Onion & Molasses Filling: Mix all the ingredients (except the butter and sumac) together.
Test the filling for seasoning by frying a little piece of the mixture in a small pan until cooked through and then tasting- it should be well seasoned.
Roll out each piece of dough on a lightly floured work surface as thinly as you can into a 20 cm (8 inch) round.
Spread 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) of the filling on the bottom half of each round, then fold the top half over the filling and pinch the edges together to create. half-moon shape.
Heat a large frying pan until hot- don’t use any fat, as we are dry-frying here. Add 1-2 qutabs and cook over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side until the flatbread is golden and speckled with dark blisters. If you are using a raw meat filling, try to cook the qutabs at a slightly lower temperature, making sure that the filling is thoroughly cooked through.
Brush the cooked qutabs with a little melted butter as soon as they come out of the pan and sprinkle over some sumac.