Kerdzebi, Part 1

Earlier this week we had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with the ladies of the Sagarejo Municipality Youth House.

sagarejo - 1 (1)

Because of our Peace Corps experience, McKinze and I have been to a lot of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) all over Georgia and have seen all different levels of activity. It’s great to see this Youth House experiencing so much success!

You could see the pride in the faces of the women as they told us about their various projects and accolades: young people learning how to design and code apps for mobile devices, a successful youth camp just wrapping up and another one in the works, paintings earning a spot in a Tbilisi gallery, young men learning to play the panduri, and even a visit from the US Ambassador. გილოცავთ, ყველას.

But it was food that brought us to their organization on this trip. For two whole days, these generous ladies rolled out the red carpet and opened their kitchen to us, teaching us how to make a variety of their favorite Georgian kerdzebi (კერძები – dishes).

sagarejo - 71

Some of the dishes we made with them were fairly new to us. Others, like khachapuri and khinkali, we know quite well but still learned how these women made it. What was important to them and why. Plus, we learned how to fold khinkali in “tevzis pormashi,” i.e. in the shape of a fish!

sagarejo - 62

sagarejo - 63

It’s so interesting to see how people make the same food in slightly different ways: because that’s the way it’s done in their region, or that’s the way they were taught, or that’s simply what they like. Some things — like how many fresh herbs to put in the soup — are open to interpretation. Others — like which side of the grape leaf is on the outside of the tolma — are not.

What a great experience — exactly the kind this trip of ours is all about. We can’t thank the ladies in Sagarejo enough!

Here, in no particular order, are a few pics of what we made over those two days, with more to come in the next post.

Mtsvadi (მწვადი)
This classic Georgian dish is all about the meat — in this case, pork. The meat is first seasoned liberally with salt (and other spices, if you so desire), then skewered onto long spears.

sagarejo - 30

sagarejo - 31

A fire is made from wood and dried grapevines, traditionally on the ground, until it has burned down to white-hot embers.

sagarejo - 32

Then the skewers are placed over the make-shift grill until crispy on the outside and tender & juicy on the inside.

sagarejo - 33

sagarejo - 35

A piece of bread is used to pull the finished chunks of meat off the spears into a bowl filled with sliced onions.

sagarejo - 36

Toss it all together and enjoy. A little bit of tkemali sour plum sauce is great on the side. Our hosts also liked a sweet pomegranate syrup.

sagarejo - 37

(Matsoni Soup) მაწონის სუპი
You may recall that this is a favorite of ours, and our former host mom in Akhaltsikhe makes a killer version from the southern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti (as documented in this post). Well, the women in Sagarejo had seen McKinze express her love for this soup on an old TV segment from our food cart days, and couldn’t wait to teach her their version from Eastern Georgia.

It started with making matsoni, not unlike plain yogurt in the States, but with a bit more sourness and “tang.” You simply put a spoonful of existing matsoni in a jar of warm unpasteurized/un-homogenized milk, wrap in towels, and a few hours later you’re holding a brand new jar of matsoni with a big smile on your face.

sagarejo - 50

Into the jar go a few eggs and some salt.

sagarejo - 46

For the base of the soup, we used white onion, green onion, a little garlic, a little water — and a bunch of butter.

sagarejo - 47

After awhile, we added some rice and water…

sagarejo - 48

…and stirred, stirred, stirred, until the rice was cooked.

sagarejo - 49

Into the pot goes the matsoni and egg mixture…

sagarejo - 51

…freshly chopped dill and green onions…

sagarejo - 52

…and how about some more butter.

sagarejo - 53

A few minutes later and it’s ready to go. Skip the spoon and just grab a mug.

sagarejo - 55

Khinkali (ხინკალი)
McKinze and I calculated that during our time in the food cart, we rolled around 100,000 of these famously juicy dumplings. One hundred thousand. Needless to say, we think we know our way around these things pretty well.

Still, there’s a difference between using mixers, dough sheeters and other equipment to crank out khinkali in a restaurant setting and making them the way they’ve been made for centuries: entirely by hand. Starting, of course, with the dough.

sagarejo - 56

After being mixed, kneaded and rolled out by hand, the dough — much softer and wetter than “restaurant style” dough — is cut into rounds with the top of a nearby juice glass.

sagarejo - 57

The rounds are then further rolled out into thin circles with a rolling pin — or an empty glass bottle.

sagarejo - 58

At last the meat mixture is spooned onto each circle and rolled up. This meat was a simple mix of fatty ground pork, salt, diced onions, garlic and cilantro. Not much water was added because there was enough fat in the meat to create the bulk of the “juice” as it cooked.

sagarejo - 59

Into the pot of water they go…

sagarejo - 60

At the dinner table there are usually plenty of leftover khinkali. Those are often sent back to be fried up in a little bit of oil or butter. You lose the juiciness but get crispiness instead.


sagarejo - 64

In addition to the “fish shaped” khinkali, we also learned first-hand how to roll these pretty awesome “double decker” khinkali, which we first saw on a YouTube video that has been making the rounds. Cool!

sagarejo - 61

Part two of our trip coming tomorrow…