Georgia on my Mind

My friend Carla Capalbo has just brought out another stunning book, Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus (Pallas Athene, £30). What a feast! She has spent more than two years researching it, travelling the length and breadth of this extraordinary, undiscovered country in the foothills of the Caucasus, which is bordered by the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey, with the Black Sea to the west. “Like my last three Italian books this book is about the culture of making food and wine”, explains Carla. “I like to write these books with a reading traveller (or travelling reader) in mind, so you’ll find oral histories of women in the highlands of the Greater Caucasus alongside their recipes, photos and local highlights. There are maps too, to help find these often hard-to-locate families living in rural areas of the country.”

As Nathalie Whittle wrote recently in her review in FT Weekend: “If you are thinking of striking out to this underexplored territory, Tasting Georgia would make an excellent companion; in the meantime Capalbo also offers recipes for a spread of typical dishes such as mulberry and goat’s cheese salad, egg pancakes stuffed with cheese, stuffed tomatoes and chicken with garlic sauce.”

You can, of course, strike out on your own to Georgia, Carla’s book in hand; or you can ‘travel’ there from your deckchair or kitchen through this fine book.

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Here’s a recipe for the ubiquitous Georgian salsa named ajika. Carla explains that the word comes from the Abkhazian word for salt. It’s a concentrated, capsicum-based, herb-laden relish that comes in many forms, cooked and raw, red and green, dry and wet but always super-spicy from the fresh chillies that are the star ingredient.

The picture in the header is of the one she prepared with the herbs growing in my garden: coriander (cilantro), basil, dill, parsley, lovage (in place of the celery leaf she prescribes) and both green and yellow peppers. With her she had brought loads of the typical, tiny coriander seeds and some fenugreek. Note that if you do use lovage, go easy with this pungent herb otherwise it tends to dominate the ajika. We were a little short on chilli, so we had to make do with a single piment vert (fresh green chilli) topped up with a good shake of cayenne pepper. It provided a bright, herby lift to go with barbecued lamb.

Spicy green ajika – makes about 2 cups

1 large green pepper, about 250g, de-seeded and roughly chopped
3 or 4 medium hot fresh green chillies, about 150g, de-seeded and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
a big bunch of fresh coriander, about 30g
20g each of flat-leaf parsley, basil and celery leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon ground fenugreek
2 teaspoons salt

  • Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until it resembles a pesto.
  • Transfer to a glass jar, cover and store in the fridge till needed.

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