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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Georgian spiced grilled lamb and chicken

Don't let all those "back to school" specials get you down - it's still grilling season! Light up your grill (or if you must, heat up your oven), invite a few friends over, and travel (so to speak) to the far away land of Georgia with our shish kabob and dry adjika blends.

The shish kabob spice, a blend of utskho suneli, fennel, Georgian bay leaf, dill, dry garlic, coriander, red pepper, and salt, goes quite splendidly on, well, kabobs. But if the thought of cubing up hunks of meat is too much to bear, than you'll be happy to know that you can just rub this blend onto lamb chops. 

Likewise, the dry adjika (a blend of utskho suneli (blue fenugreek), fennel, Georgian bay leaf, dry garlic, coriander, red pepper, and salt) adds just the right kick to grilled chicken legs. 

Georgian Grilled Lamb and Chicken Legs

For the lamb:
4 teaspoons shish kabob blend
2 teaspoons salt
4 lamb chops (preferably loin chops), cut about 1 1/2 inches thick

For the chicken:
2 teaspoons dry adjika 
4 skin-on chicken legs

For the lamb: 40 minutes before you're going to start grilling, rub a half teaspoon of the shish kabob blend and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt on each side of the lamb chops. Let sit at room temperature while you prepare the chicken. 

For the chicken: Distribute the adjika evenly over the chicken legs, rubbing the spice in with your fingers. The blend is already salty enough for my taste, so I'd only add salt after cooking. Let the chicken sit at room temperature while you prepare your grill (or your other side dishes, like grilled veggies sprinkled with utskho suneli) or a yogurt-feta sauce to go with some pita that you just happen to have on hand.

For the grilling: I'm going to now admit that I generally just light up the charcoal grill, let it get hot, and cook my food until it's done how I like it. But, if you want more of a detailed method and a very good guide to grilling lamb chops, I turn you over to this post from Serious Eats

To grill the chicken legs, I like to use a hot part of the grill and a less-hot part of the grill (or, in more technical terms, a two-zone direct fire). Sear the legs over the hot part, turning every 30 seconds or so until evenly seared, then move the legs over the less-hot part, cooking covered (with the vents open) and turning occasionally, until the chicken is done. (A meat thermometer should read 165 degrees, or you can poke the chicken with a knife and check that the meat is white and not rubbery-looking.) This can take between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on the size of the legs.

Once your done grilling both meats, let them rest for 10 minutes before digging in. I know you just want to gobble it all down, but the juices need to redistribute throughout the meat. Trust me on this.

Yield: 4 servings

This post is part of our series on Georgia cuisine. For others in the series check out:

New Georgian Spices
Georgian Eggplant Dip
Georgian Spiced Grilled Lamb and Chicken
Q&A With Jenny Holm
One of My Favorite Georgian Dishes: Kidney Beans

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Q&A With Jenny Holm

We recently caught up with local writer Jenny Holm to chat about all things Georgian food. Jenny blogs at The Georgian Table, teaches cooking classes, and hosts pop up dinners, among many other fascinating projects. Be sure to catch up with her on Facebook to stay up to date on her next Georgian cooking adventures!

Courtesy Jenny Holm
What got you interested in Georgian cooking? 

I was introduced to Georgian food by my Russian host mother while I was studying abroad in Moscow during college, and I ate a lot more of it while I was living in the southwestern part of the country for a year after graduation. I had a grant to study foodways in that region, where the culinary influence of the Caucasus is especially strong. Georgian food is ubiquitous in many parts of Russia, kind of like Mexican here. I loved how prevalent vegetables and fruits are in Georgian cuisine, the Silk Road influences I found in it (many food words in Georgian come from Hindi and Farsi), and how different the spices were from what I was used to in Russian dishes.

A few years later, I stumbled upon a program that would allow me to teach English in Georgia while living with a host family, which I took as a great opportunity to spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my host mother and others, learning to cook all the dishes I loved to eat (and a few I didn't!)

What are a few of your favorite Georgian foods? 

Two of my favorite vegetable dishes are badrijani nigvzit, which is pan-fried slices of Asian eggplant wrapped around a tangy walnut-garlic paste flavored with coriander and blue fenugreek, and ispanakhis pkhali, which is spinach that has been boiled and lightly pureed with walnuts, cilantro, garlic, and spices to make a spreadable pate. There's a saucy beef and onion stew called iakhni that I've only ever seen in the Ajara region near Turkey, where I lived. And there's a kind of sauceless lasagna called achma--they make the noodles by hand and spread each layer with crumbly, salty cheese and butter and then bake it to a crisp on top. I could go on! 

I was surprised to learn that corn is popular in some parts of Georgia. What are a few typical uses of corn in Georgian cooking?

For a long time, corn was much more prevalent than wheat in western Georgia and that influence is still visible today. You might be served a thick cornmeal porridge called ghomi rather than bread to accompany your meal. I like it best when they stir smoked cheese into it. They also fry savory cornmeal cakes called mchadi, which can also be stuffed with cheese. These are often served with an herby kidney bean stew called lobio. There's even a rustic dessert called pelamushi that they make by stirring corn (and sometimes wheat) flour into simmering, sweetened grape juice to make a kind of pudding. 

Tell us a little about the spices used in Georgian cooking: 
  • What are the most commonly used spices?
  • How is blue fenugreek different from Indian Fenugreek?
  • What are some spices that are hard to track down outside of Georgia? 

The three that define Georgian cuisine for me are coriander, blue fenugreek, and ground marigold. Ground coriander seed is used alongside fresh cilantro leaves to give a fresh, herbal brightness to sauces, vegetable dishes, stews, everything. Fenugreek adds a slightly bitter depth to things that you notice when it's missing. Ground marigold adds color and a hint of nutty warmth. Georgians sometimes call marigold "saffron": it probably came into the cuisine as a much cheaper substitute for the real thing, which tastes nothing like it. There is also a common mix of dried herbs called khmeli-suneli. Everyone makes theirs a little differently, but it might include coriander seed, summer savory, flat-leaf parsley, dill, bay leaf, blue fenugreek, and opal basil. Dried barberries, red pepper (including a spice and herb mix called ajika), and caraway seed are all widely used as well.

They are two different species of the Trigonella plant. Blue fenugreek is not as bitter as Indian fenugreek. If I'm cooking from a Georgian recipe that includes fenugreek and I only have Indian fenugreek on hand, I'll use half of the amount called for. When you buy blue fenugreek, it doesn't look blue, because they grind up the leaves, the seeds, and the pods together.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fire up the Grill

Spring is in full swing now and hopefully D.C.'s snowy season has come to an end. And, with a good weather forecast for Memorial Day, it's time to fire up the grill. No matter if you use charcoal or propane, here are some tips to spice up your grilling.

Tip #1: How hot is the grill? Carefully hold your hand just above the cooking grate to gauge the heat level and start counting how long you can take the heat:

    5 Seconds - Low
    4 Seconds - Medium
    3 Seconds - Medium High
    2 Seconds - High
    1 Second -  Sizzling

Tip #2: Spice up your food a good hour before you grill.  While there are always exceptions, a good rule for marinades and rubs is the longer you marinate/let the rub sit, the better. This za'atar marinade is great on chicken, tuna, or just about anything:

Za’Atar Marinade: (prep time: 10 min)
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbs  Za’Atar blend
2 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs garlic
1 tsp pepper

Tip #3: Once on the grill, watch carefully! Meats with sugary sauces or marinades have a tendency to burn easily.

Tip #4: Fruits and vegetables love to be grilled too! Season eggplant, zucchini, or peppers with salt while cooking to draw out excess moisture. Quickly grill chard, kale, or romaine before tossing into a salad.

Tip #5: When grilling fruits, add a simple flavorful touch simply by brushing grilled fruits near the end of cooking with melted butter, brown sugar, or honey and a light dusting of cinnamon, ginger, or allspice. For the more experimental types, try pink peppercorns or cumin, or herbs like thyme, rosemary, or mint.

Tip #6: Add a great smokey flavor to your foods by using organic wood chips, available at Bazaar Spices. Never used wood chips before? Check out these guides for charcoal and gas grills.