REGIONAL FOOD SPECIALTIES IN RUSSIA
Lamb, rice, and yogurt predominate the cuisine while soups and stews are the favored forms of cooking. A custard of eggs sprinkled liberally with fresh green herbs forms the final garnish to many dishes, and exotic seasonings include saffron, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, and the dried powder of plums and barberry. Other Central Asian dishes include pilafs (a base of seasoned rice served with meat or fish together with vegetables or fruits) and shashlyk (skewered broiled meats). Kyurdyuk, the fat rendered from Entailed sheep, is used liberally both in cooking and as a final flavor fillip (like a dab of butter). The keufta or meatballs are astonishing in size, many weighing several pounds, sometimes cooked with a whole chicken inside. But it is piti, the Azerbaijan thick lamb soup served in earthenware bowls that is considered the outstanding specialty. Generally, a preference for tart and sour flavors predominates, an example being dovga, a thick soup of yogurt, rice, and greens served as dessert.
Eastern Mediterranean cuisine predominates in this region with rice as the staple, along with stuffed vegetables, yogurt both as beverage and ingredient, and great variety in fruits and vegetables. Lamb is the favored meat, lamb fat is preferred for cooking, olive oil is used for salads and stuffed vegetables, while butter is used only occasionally in baking.
This area’s unleavened wheat bread is made only with flour and water. Onions and garlic are much beloved; walnuts and pine nuts are pounded into sauces or used in dishes and fillings, While the exotic fragrance of rosewater, cumin, mint, and coriander enhance many other dishes.
A huge area in large part consisting of a dried-up sea basin whose plateaus and deserts are visited with extremes of climate, the Soviet Central Asian republics include Turkmen and Uzbek, Tadzhik and Kirghiz and the Kazakh republic north of those.
Nomads still roam the lands with herds of horses and camels, goats and sheep, yaks and cattle and live primarily on cheeses, lamb, mutton, and horsemeat. Their beverages include green tea and the fermented mare’s milk called kumiss. When meats and rice are available, they are cooked usually by steaming in a sheepskin pouch that is lowered into a pit of hot coals then banked with earth or sand. Open fires are used for broiling skewered meats and heating water for tea.
The rest of Central Asian cuisine is similar to Azerbaijan cookery with few exceptions. These include the use of sauces made of crushed garlic and broth, and crushed garlic and yogurt to be poured over meats, general use of carrots in most Uzbek dishes, and the popularity of stuffed steamed dumplings of which manty is the most famous. Pilafs are the most popular rice dishes while many types of flat almost unleavened breads accompany most meals.
Other than the nomads, the peoples of Central Asia live in permanent homes and consequently have a wider variety of cooking utensils and techniques which include chopping foods into small morsels and cooking by stir-frying; steaming foods in a type of double boiler; and cooking foods by dipping into a Mongolian hot pot where the food morsels are eaten first and the broth served later. Staple vegetables include pumpkin, onions, and turnips and more recently tomatoes and potatoes. Fresh green herbs, spicy hot peppers, onions and garlic all add zest to what is basically a well-balanced diet of meats, milk and cheeses, seasonal fruits (or preserved fruit syrups) and vegetables.
Some Central Asian specialties are:
- Bozbash: a thick Azerbaidzh mutton and veoetable soup.
- Chikhirtma: a chicken or lamb soup finished with beaten yolks and lemon juice.
- Chup Oshi: an Uzbek dish of tossed cooked noodles, fried onions, and sour milk.
- Dyushbara or Byushperc: the Caucasian form of dumplings.
- Palov: the Uzbek name for pilaf.
One cannot think of Georgian cuisine without thinking of walnuts. Pounded into a paste and combined with garlic and fiery-hot peppers, walnuts make a sauce that is used to flavor and garnish many dishes. But that is not all. Walnut oil is used in cooking, walnuts are made into candied treats, and chopped walnuts are a nutritious ingredient in stews, soups, and appetizers. Corn and many varieties of beans as well as soured milks (sheep, buffalo) and curds form the staples, but in good times there is also an abundance of stone fruits eaten fresh and dried and used as syrups, sauces, preserves, and even in soups.
Fresh green herbs are often eaten out of the hand as snacks or liberally used in the form of garnishes, salads, or seasonings. Eggplants, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, radishes, onions and scallions precede most meals of which a plate of beans is usually a part, together with stewed or roasted lamb, kid, or fowl.
Georgians enjoy wines but are not big sweet-eaters. A great variety of bread from the thin crisp lavashi to the heavy corn bread called tchadi or mchadi as well as the elliptical puri baked from wholegrain wheat and leavened with sourdough starter is a part of all meals.
Some Georgian specialties are:
- Chicken Tabaca: young chickens split, flattened, butter-browned, and served with pickled vegetables.
- Khadja Puri: a dessert of hot bread filled with cheese.
- Lobio: a cold appetizer dish of cooked beans dressed with Satsivi, one of the walnut sauces, or a sauce of pomegranate seeds and juice.
- Tchadi or Mchadi: a coarse heavy bread of cornmeal often baked with a layer of cheese or onions in the middle.