Imeretian Khachapuri, or Simple Georgian Cheese Bread

I’ve written countless times about khachapuri. The Georgian cheese bread is featured in each of my Georgian restaurant reviews at least once, if not more, and it appears on the menus of many Russian restaurants too. I’ve posted my Adjaran version, but I’ve never posted an Imeretian khachapuri, the simplest kind, which consists of a round bread stuffed with cheese.

The reason why I’ve waited so long is that I wanted it to be really good. I’m sure I’ve read most of the khachapuri recipes ever published, and I’ve tried a good dozen different formulas. I also had to make my own cheese, which took yet more time to perfect; I’ve posted my takes on Imeretian cheese and sulguni recently.

Georgian Cheese Bread - Imeretian Kachapuri

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Kutab, Azerbaijani Stuffed Flatbread

Kutabs are among the most popular Azeri dishes, together with plov, dolma, and of course kebabs (kebabs being a distant first: virtually the only meal you’ll ever eat in a restaurant outside of Baku). A kutab — not to be confused with kutap — is essentially a lavash filled with savory stuffing while still raw, then folded in half and pan-fried. It is often served with a sprinkling of sumac on top, a red spice which imparts a lemony note.

Baku - Mugam Club Restaurant

Classic lamb kutab, as served at Mugam Club in Baku

The most common kutab fillings are ground lamb and greens, with the occasional cheese or winter squash, but you can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as the layer of stuffing remains quite thin. In addition to the four above-mentioned classics, all of which I’m presenting here with some personal tweaks, I’ve also created two new “signature” kutabs.

My first new kutab uses foie gras and pomegranate in a nod to all the Brooklyn restaurants that feature the fattened duck liver on their menus for no apparent reason other than it’s expensive and French. Baku Palace serves kutabs and foie gras as separate dishes, so why not put them together?

The second contains actual duck meat. I recently posted a duck breast kebab, and now you can use the legs (and the wings if you’d like) to make a kutab. Then you’ve got the whole bird turned into an Azeri dinner for 4!

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Lamb Testicle Chashushuli and Cheese Khinkali

I seem to be going through an “extreme offal” phase. Only a few weeks ago, I was writing about veal brains, and here I am striking back, this time below the belt! I found these lamb testicles from 3-Corner Field Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago, and figured that lamb offal would be a good candidate for a nice Georgian stew. Chashushuli usually consists of stewed veal with tomato, onion, spices, and herbs (plus sometimes other vegetables), but there’s no real restriction on the meat you’re using.  If you want to stick to the more traditional veal, I would suggest trying sweetbreads — you can prepare them pretty much the same way as the testicles below.

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Adjaran Khachapuri, or Death by Cheese

Wherever you go in Georgia, you can be sure to eat khachapuri at least once a day. These national cheese breads come in various shapes. The Imeretian khachapuri is a round pie filled with cheese, by far the most common. The Mingrelian one is similar, but topped with more cheese. The cheese is usually whatever is produced locally, from curds to sulguni, fresh or aged.

Today we’ll look at the Adjaran khachapuri, an open-face version topped with tons of cheese, plus an egg and slices of butter for maximum artery clogging. The bread is comparable to pizza dough, and many places actually sell both khachapuris and pizzas.  If you travel to Abkhazia, you’ll find out that the exact same dish (though sometimes without the egg) is marketed as the national dish:

Don’t call it Adjaran there though — you might get shot in the head! Locals have renamed it “lodochka”, “little boat” in Russian, which is particularly funny when you know that the only boats you’ll see in Abkhazia are Russian war ships.

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Achma, Georgian Cheese Lasagna

Achma is a kind of cheese lasagna found in the Adjara and Abkhazia regions, where the crisp top crust contrasts with the tender cheesy layers. Somehow, I’ve eaten more of it in Moscow than in Georgia itself, but here it is in the picture above, next to the pomegranate juice, in a food stall in Abkhazia.

This is more time-consuming to make than it seems: count 2 1/2 hours from start to finish, as the assembly easily takes an hour. Most recipes spread the cheese mixture only on one or two layers and cover the other layers with butter, but I prefer to alternate cheese and butter layers. In Georgia, one’s choice of cheese is generally determined by local production, so feel free to experiment with any combination of rustic cheeses. It’s best to avoid mixing too many different cheeses, though, or the result will have a nondescript, generic cheesy taste that will make you regret you tried so hard. Here, I’m using two cheeses with complementary flavors: a tangy brynza (Bulgarian feta would be a good replacement) and a rich Ossau-Iraty (a firm sheep’s milk cheese from the French Pyrénées).

Yields one 9″ x 13″ pan

11 oz flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 oz milk
3 oz butter, very soft
8 oz brynza (or Bulgarian feta), coarsely crumbled
8 oz Ossau-Iraty, coarsely grated

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, add the flour, salt and eggs, and mix over low speed until homogeneous. Add the milk, and mix for another 2 minutes. Form a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Using a pasta machine, roll each piece to the next-to-finest setting. Grease a 9″ x 13″ Pyrex pan with some of the butter. Cook one pasta sheet in salted boiling water for 1 minute, shock in ice water, pat dry with paper towels, then arrange into the dish to form 1 layer, cutting as necessary. Cover the layer with 1/4 of the butter, spread with a knife or an offset spatula. Cook and arrange another pasta sheet the same way, and top with 1/4 of the brynza and Ossau-Iraty. Repeat this procedure 3 more times.
  • Bake the dish in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes, then finish under the broiler until brown, for 1 or 2 minutes.
  • Let cool for a couple minutes and serve.

Here is another variation for the holiday season! The butternut squash pasta dough and butter are inspired by a recipe for butternut squash cavatelli by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, found here.

Roasted butternut squash
Yield varies

1 butternut squash

  • Pierce the squash with a knife in a few places, then roast in a 350 F oven for an hour. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  • Cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out and reserve the seeds and pulp. Remove the skin, and reserve 1 lb of the flesh. Use the rest of the flesh for another recipe.

Butternut squash pasta dough
Yields enough dough for one 9″ x 13″ pan

1 lb roasted butternut squash flesh
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp honey
1/2 oz butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
10 oz flour

  • Mix the butternut squash, garam masala, nutmeg, honey and butter with a fork. Transfer to an oven-safe dish, and bake in a 325 F oven for an hour. Let cool for an hour.
  • Transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Measure 8 oz of the purée, and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment. Add the egg and salt and mix over low speed, then incorporate the flour in 2 additions, and mix for 3 minutes. Form a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

Butternut squash butter
Yields 2 1/2 to 3 oz

4 oz butter
4 oz butternut squash seeds and pulp

  • Place the butter and butternut squash seeds and pulp into a small saucepan, and cook in a 325 F oven for 1 hour.
  • Pass through a chinois and reserve.

Butternut squash achma
Yields one 9″ x 13″ dish

butternut squash pasta dough
butternut squash butter, melted
8 oz brynza (or Bulgarian feta), coarsely crumbled
8 oz Ossau-Iraty, coarsely grated

  • Assemble and bake as the regular achma above.