For New Year’s Day my son cooked a Georgian Stew: Chanakhi. I am not talking about the Southern state in the United States but of the country in the Caucasus. This had several inspirations and is an adaptation of the recipe in the book he gave me for Christmas which I read in just a few days. He then read it in a few days and decided this was something he would make for us.
But the book is not the only inspiration. My son served in the Peace Corps in Armenia (southern neighbor of Georgia) from 2010-2012. My sister and I visited him there in 2011. We spent the first few days of our visit in Tbilisi Georgia before traveling into Armenia and staying in Ijevan and then Yerevan.
So I have a bit of nostalgia around my visit to these countries in the region. I get a thrill when there is a reference to the Caucasus in books or shows or the news.
The book is The Art of Soviet Cooking: a memoir of food and longing by Anya Von Bremzen.
This is a fabulous readable history of the Soviet Union and the way that family experienced the times and food with a few recipes given in the back of the book.
Here in the U.S.A. I grew up in the era of “Better Dead than Red” and fears of Communism and Communists, a bit later than the McCarthy Era, but close enough. In this day and age the fear is of Terrorists and how hidden they can be. Anyway back to the Soviets…they were supposedly “the Evil Empire”. But when you meet everyday people and hear from them, they are just people living their lives the best they can, just like us.
While in Georgia that year I bought a cookbook of Georgian Cuisine. The translations of the recipes are not easy to follow in that the exact ingredients and amounts are not always given. Chanakhi is in this book and can be cooked in individual clay pots or “the boiler”. I am not sure what “the boiler” is but it sounds like a large Dutch oven or stock pot. “Sheep fat tail” is not something I can find in my local grocery store. Chanakhi is basically a lamb stew with onions, eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes. Pork is more affordable than lamb so we use a Boston Butt.
The recipe we try to follow is from the Soviet book and not the Georgian. It is more “American kitchen friendly” than the book I bought in Georgia although it is a very complex recipe. This takes all afternoon to make and we fear having to eat late at night but this does not turn out to be the case. Recipe begun at 2:00 PM and we eat by 6:30 PM.
- 3-3 ½ pounds Boston Butt Bone-in Roast (my son felt that a bone-in cut would make a tender stew; it should fall off the bone on its own at the end of cooking time)
- 1 large red onion and 1 medium yellow onion, cut in wedges
- 1 large eggplant (could not find Asian eggplants in the produce section)
- 3 potatoes (russet, because that is what is in the pantry), cut in wedges
- 1 28 ounce can of whole peeled plum tomatoes and its juice; we blend a few of the remaining tomatoes into juice for the second addition);about 1 ½ cups juice needed
- Olive oil; a few tablespoons
- ½ teaspoon salt; kosher salt, several grinds of pepper; several shakes of red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 12 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 cup each of freshly chopped parsley, basil, and cilantro (we used home dried basil of about 2-3 Tablespoons, the other herbs were the fresh bunches from the produce section of the grocery store)
- One crushed bay leaf (son’s addition, just because)
Now get ready for the preparation, assembly, and cooking! To start there is a toast with vodka chased by a pickle.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. This stew will be cooked on top of the stove and then in the oven. I have a 12 inch Cast Iron Dutch oven that will be the cooking vessel.This thing weighs about 20 pounds! But the son can handle it just fine.
Mince the garlic; chop the herbs; mix together in a bowl with salt, gratings of black pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Cut the onions into large wedges or quarters.
Rub a handful of the herb mixture on the meat with a little of the olive oil. Pack the meat and the onion into the pot stirring them up to coat with the oil and herbs. Cook on high (on top of the stove) for 3-4 minutes, then cover and cook for 12 minutes. Turn the meat over and cook another 3-4 minutes.
Add 2 chopped tomatoes, 1 cup tomato juice, another handful of herbs and 1 Tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Bring to a good simmer and then put the pot in the oven. Cook until the meat is tender. We checked it at 1 hour and 20 minutes and it was good.
Meanwhile char the eggplant over the stove burner for 2-3 minutes. Our big eggplant took about 5 minutes. My son contemplated skinning this but did not.
This was then cut into 4 sections, slit and stuffed with some of the herb mixture. Potatoes were cut into wedges and tossed with the herb mixture. Four of the remaining canned tomatoes were cut into fourths and the two remaining after those were churned into juice with the immersion blender.
The potatoes and the eggplant were added to the pot along with the remaining tomato juice and vinegar, and a handful of herbs after the initial hour and 20 minutes in the oven. Now this cooked in the oven for 30 minutes. Then add the quartered tomatoes and the remaining herb mixture. Cover this and bake for 20 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 400, uncover the pot and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving straight from the pot.
This took us all afternoon because we were not sure of the steps and had to double check the next step over and over. It took us just under 4 hours. For the future after the prepping of all the ingredients, this would take about 2 ½ to 3 hours. Also, for the future, we would use the small eggplant, peel and scrape out the seeds and then just slice it so that it can mix with the other vegetables and not stand out quite so much with all its seeds and skin. I think cooking it all in the Dutch oven on top of the stove would be my preference as well.
I made a batch of popovers to go with this and the meal was a hit with all who partook.