Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus, written by Carla Capalbo, features the beautiful cuisine of a small country nestled between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea. More than just a cookbook, Carla has created a detailed travel guide with information on 40 family wineries, local restaurants and wine bars, and Georgia’s best chefs, cooks, and markets. Highlights include Megruli Khachapuri, Pkhali (Vegetables with Walnut Paste), Kubdari (Spiced Meat Bread), Elarji (Cornmeal with Cheese), Tskhare Neknebi (Spicy Ribs), and Achma (Baked Layered Pasta). I will also be sharing her recipe for Kartopilis Khinkali, Small Potato Khinkali Dumplings, from southern Georgia.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Interlink Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Carla Capalbo is a food and travel writer, freelance journalist, and photographer currently based in Georgia, London, and Italy. She was born in New York City and grew up between Paris and London. Her work can be found in Decanter, Zester Daily, Cook_inc, and many other publications. She is the author of fourteen other books on food and wine, many of which have received awards such as the André Simon Award for Collio: Fine Wines and Foods from Italy’s Northeast. She is also a member of the British Guild of Food Writers, the Circle of Wine Writers and Slow Food.
Chapters are divided according to region: Georgia: A Short History; An Introduction to Georgian Wine; An Introduction to Georgian Food; Religion, Song and Dance and the Georgian Feast; The Elements of Georgian Cuisine: Ingredients; How to Cook Georgian Food; Tbilisi; The Centre: Mtskheta and the Kartlis; East to Kakheti; South-West to Samtskhe-Javakheti; West to Imereti; The Black Sea Coast: Guria and Adjara; West to Samegrelo; North-West to Svaneti; West and North to Racha-Lechkhumi; and North to Kazbegi and Upper Mtskheta Mtianeti. The table of contents also includes a list of recipes under each chapter for easy reference.
Carla begins with a history of Georgia and how it has developed over the years into the country it is today. Nestled between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, Georgia is small country roughly the size of West Virginia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the south. For those new to Georgian cooking, she includes a guide for common and lesser known ingredients such as Ajika, lobio (beans), types of khveli (cheese), herbs, meats, and spices.
While I tend to focus on the recipes, the main star of Tasting Georgia is the travel guide and abundance of stories. Carla’s first visit to the country was to explore the ancient winemaking culture (winemaking in Georgia has been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage due to their traditional way of making the wine in large terracotta vessels called qvevri) and she became equally entranced by the food and hospitality. Her stories and photos really make me want to see the country and experience its food firsthand. For wine lovers, she describes the process from start to finish with the different variations, types of grapes, and efforts to preserve thousands of years of traditions.
Carla also provides the beautiful photography. The pages are filled with 390 photographs featuring the dishes, scenery, people, food, and traditions. Every recipe is accompanied by a full-page photo of the finished dish. Step-by-step photos are also included for filling and forming more intricate items like breads and dumplings.
The titles of each dish are listed in English and Georgian (Romanized and the Georgian script- Mkhedruli). Measurements are provided in Metric and US Customary (measuring by weight is recommended). Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, tips, preparation and cooking times, menu ideas, and serving size.
This book is a great pick for those interested in Georgian cuisine, wine, or wish to visit the country. The recipes are designed for those who are new to Georgian cooking as well as those who have already discovered this wonderful cuisine. I love Carla’s style of writing the recipes and her guides. They were very easy to follow. She does provide substitutes and adapts some recipes to account for ingredients like certain cheeses that are rarely available outside of Georgia. No desserts are included as she did not come across them frequently in her travels, rather ending the meal with fresh fruit, nuts, churchkhela, or fruit leather.
Kartopilis Khinkali (Small Potato Khinkali Dumplings)
I especially love the assortment of Khinkali (and Khachapuri!) highlighted in Tasting Georgia. The one I am featuring is called Kartopilis Khinkali. These small dumplings from Southern Georgia are simply filled with mashed potatoes and topped with a caramelized onion butter mixture. Others found in the book include the most popular Meat-Filled Khinkali and Tushetian Potato and Cheese Khinkali.
The kids especially enjoyed the smaller size of the Kartopilis Khinkali. The dough is rolled into a thin sheet, cut into circles slightly larger than 2 inches, and filled with mashed potatoes. The edges are pleated around in a circle and twisted at the top to close and seal in the filling. The dumplings are boiled until cooked through and served with onions that have slowly caramelized in butter.
The recipe doubles easily (which is what I did- 18 dumplings doesn’t last very long in this house).
I also made Tutmaji (Noodle and Yogurt Soup), Adjarian Khachapuri, Soko Tsiteli Tsitsaki (Mushrooms and Red Peppers), and Shkmeruki (Grilled Chicken with Garlic Sauce).
Tutmaji is another recipe from the south of Georgia. This noodle and yogurt soup uses only a handful of ingredients, but is unique with its use of texture. The pasta dough, made with just flour and water, is divided in half and formed into two separate types of noodles. One half is cut into short strips while the other is made into little balls and pan-fried until golden. Everything is boiled together, then yogurt is added for an interesting and comforting soup.
The Adjarian Khachapuri may just be one of my new favorite foods in all the world. I first tried it while at Oda House in NYC and this version from Carla definitely did not disappoint. Homemade Khachapuri dough is formed into a boat-like shape, filled with a variety of cheeses, and baked until golden. It is topped with an egg and slice of butter which is stirred into the cheese right before serving. To eat, break off edges of the bread and dip them into the cheese mixture. So so good. For extra deliciousness, Carla even includes grated cheese in the dough edges that are rolled up to form the boat, almost stuffed crust pizza-style. As traditional Georgian cheeses are rarely available outside of Georgia, Carla recommends a combination of cheddar, Emmental, mozzarella, and cottage cheese.
Soko Tsiteli Tsitsakit, Mushrooms and Red Peppers, is a quick and easy dish from Svaneti. Mixed mushrooms are sautéed with onions and red bell peppers until just cooked and served with garlic and fresh herbs. The dish can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold.
Shkmeruli is another fairly easy dish. Chicken thighs or legs are marinaded overnight in a spiced garlic oil, then grilled until cooked through. The chicken is served with a garlic and sour cream sauce. This one was a favorite for Chad.
Kartopilis Khinkali (Small Potato Khinkali Dumplings) Recipe
Kartopilis Khinkali (Small Potato Khinkali Dumplings)
Excerpt from Tasting Georgia
350 grams (12 ounces) potatoes
30 grams (1 ounce, 2 tablespoons) butter
For the Dough:
200 grams (7 ounces, 1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
120 milliliters (4 fl ounces, 1/2 cup) water
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the onions:
115 grams (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) high quality or clarified butter
170 grams (6 ounces, 1 1/4 cups) chopped onion
Boil the potato until it’s just soft. Strain, peel and mash it with the 30 grams (1 ounce) of butter. Salt to taste. Set aside.
Mix the flour, water, and salt together by hand or in a food processor until they form a ball (add a little more flour or water, if necessary, to make the dough hold together). Turn it onto a floured surface and knead for 4-5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean tea cloth while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Prepare the onions: in a heavy-bottomed, small saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the onions and cook, over low to very low heat, until the onions and butter are starting to turn golden-brown. Check to make sure the onions are not cooking too fast: the butter should be lightly bubbling and the whole process should take 20-30 minutes. Swirl the pan every few minutes.
When the color begins to deepen, swirl it more often, removing the pan from heat if the color deepens too much. You’re looking for a rich nut brown. Don’t let it burn! You’ll be rewarded with delicious sweet-tasting onions. As soon as the onions are done, remove the pan from heat.
Divide the dough roughly into thirds. Sprinkle a flat surface lightly with flour. Make a ball with one third and roll it out to a thickness of about 6 mm (1/4 inch). (Keep the remaining dough covered while you work.) Use a small cutter 5.5 cm (2 1/4 inch) in diameter to form the dough circles. Roll them out further before filling them with the potato mixture.
Place a spoonful of filling into the centre of a rolled-out circle and begin pleating the dough edge, gathering the top like a cloth pouch to trap the filling in the center. When you have pleated all the way around, pinch the top edges together firmly- you can even give them a little twist- to make sure the khinkali are well sealed. (If you don’t want the stems, lightly press the top-knot down into the dumpling with your finger.) Set the finished khinkali on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper and continue with the remaining dough.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Lower the khinkali into the water and stir carefully with a wooden spoon without piercing the dumplings to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Boil until the float and are cooked through.
Serve the boiled khinkali with the bowl of hot buttered onions on the side.