Thursday, September 1, 2011

Recipes from Abkhazia

Recipes from Abkhazia
Like pretty much everyone else who has done this, I'm going about it systematically. In alphabetical order. Which brings us to our first nation: Abkhazia.

In case you don't know anything about Abkhazia (and who doesn't!), it's a country of around 200,000 people, which population-wise makes it roughly the size of Modesto, California. Hmm, no wonder its status as an actual independent state is under dispute. Its closest neighbor is Georgia, and it was once a part of the Soviet Union, which if you have a basic understanding of geography should give you an idea about where it is located. It is mountainous, it rains a lot and the climate is mild. Major agricultural products include tobacco, tea, wine and fruits such as tangerines.

Abkhazia is that tiny yellow spot.

So, how exactly does one find traditional recipes from a country that is about the size of Modesto? Well, considering that there are whole websites devoted to the cuisine of Modesto (seriously), I hoped that there would be at least one or two authentic Abkhazian recipes posted on line. And that's exactly what I found, one or two recipes.

Here's the first one:


Here's how you pronounce it:

I don't know.

So call it what it is, "Chicken in Peanut Sauce." These are the ingredients:

  • 6 chicken thighs (the original called for a whole chicken, but my husband detests meat on the bone so I figured thighs were a fair substitute)
  • 6 ounces shelled peanuts
  • 1 1/2 onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp adjika (recipe to follow)
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 1/3 bunch cilantro
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried fennel
  • 1/2 tsp savory
  • 1 1/2 cups reserved chicken broth
  • White wine vinegar
  • Pomegranate juice
  • Salt to taste
(Note: I've lost the source for this recipe. Does anyone know it?)
Seemed straightforward enough, except for the part about "adjika." What the hell is that.

After a little research I got that adjika is basically a condiment used in several countries in that part of the world, including Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. Of course, methods for making adjika vary depending on which one of those countries you happen to be in. Although I'm sure the recipe for Abkhazian adjika is in the hearts and minds of every Abkhazian grandmother, apparently Abkhazian grandmothers haven't made it onto the internet yet because all I could find were vague references to the sorts of things that generally go into an Abkhazian adjika. So here is my very best guess at the ingredients, based on the few sources I was able to find.

Abkhazian Adjika
(from Georgian Recipes
  • 2 red jalapenos (I'm sure the Abkhazians use some other kind of spicy red pepper)
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp chopped dill
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (give or take)
  • 2 tbsp chopped walnuts
  • pinch of salt

Every meal needs a side dish, so I settled on one that seemed easy. Yeah, it was a bit of a cop out, but it was also one of only one or two Abkhazian side dishes I actually found anywhere on the internet.

Here it is:

Walnut Lobio
(from Georgian Recipes)  

  • 1 can red kidney beans (the original recipe wanted dried kidney beans, but I don't have that kind of time)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 ounce butter
  • Salt to taste
OK, so here I go.

Now, bear in mind that my children were trashing every room in the house as I was preparing this meal. I can't actually think of a good reason why it's important for you to bear that in mind, but please do.

The first thing to do is put the chicken thighs in a pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water and thighs to a boil, and then start on the adjika:

Walnuts and green herbs give this version of adjika a distinctive flavor.

You can do this the old fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle, which is probably how the Abkhazians did it in days of old. Personally, I don't waste time with tradition when I have a perfectly good food processor. When I was making this, I basically just dumped all the dry ingredients in, pulsed, and then added oil until I got a nice paste. I don't know how accurate this recipe is, but it smells beautiful!

(Yeah, you caught me. I didn't actually chop anything before I put it in the food processor. I couldn't be bothered.)

Next, start on the peanut sauce. The recipe says to mash the peanuts, garlic, salt and herbs in a mortar and pestle, then add the reserved chicken stock. Again, in my kitchen mortar and pestle were displaced by Black and Decker. I just mashed it all up in the food processor with the chicken stock until it was a nice, saucy consistency.

The peanut sauce, with its admittedly unpleasant-looking greenish hue.

Meanwhile, transfer the chicken to a skillet with the butter, onion and adjika:

The adjika smells pretty yummy as it cooks in butter with the chicken and onions.

When the chicken is done cooking, pour the peanut sauce over it and bring everything up to serving temperature.

At this point in the process, I realized I hadn't even started on the lobio yet. Meanwhile, the kids were continuing to trash the house.

Fortunately, lobio is a pretty easy dish. Simple instructions:

Drain the kidney beans and place in a pot with a small amount of water. Warm over low heat.

Chop the walnuts, onion and garlic and cook in melted butter for 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the beans from the stove and pour away most of the water. Mash the beans, then add the onion mixture and the chopped cilantro. Add salt to taste.

Here's what the finished product looks like:

Lobio is a kind of bean mash, flavored with herbs and garlic.

So once finished, I dished up and called my kids to dinner. Here's what happened:

Five year old Hailey took one look at her plate and burst into tears.

Six year old Dylan retreated to the other end of the house, then stood on the couch and shouted out me, using phrases such as "a piece of green poo" to describe what he just had seen on his plate.

Three year old Natalie politely said: "I don't yike this." Though she didn't actually try it or anything.

One year old Henry ate everything in front of him, except for the part he wore. Which is pretty much what he does at every meal.

Now frankly, I thought it was pretty yummy. Though I guess I can see what Dylan was talking about. It's certainly not the most attractive thing I've ever cooked. I don't know, maybe a sprig of cilantro would have improved its appearance.

The presentation. Green poo? I don't know what Dylan was talking about.

The real food critic in our house, though, is my husband Martin. He gave the meal a nine out of 10, so that's a real kudos to Abkhazian cuisine.

As far as my kids are concerned, though, that's an 0 for 1. So far, they approve of exactly 0% of world culinary cuisine. Better luck next time, Abkhazia. Next week: Afghanistan.


  1. I just made this meal tonight! My husband and I both enjoyed it a great deal! The only thing that I wasn't sure about is that the pomegranate juice and white wine vinegar weren't mentioned in the instructions. So I threw them into the peanut sauce as well?

  2. This may be the only authentic Abkhazian dinner I ever make in my life, but yes I'm gonna make it! It looks good. Thanks!


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