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Book Excerpt: The Silk Road Gourmet PDF Print E-mail
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Book Excerpt: The Silk Road Gourmet
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An Excerpt From:

Silk Road cover

The Silk Road Gourmet

A Journey through the Cuisines of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka


By Laura Kelley

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright 2009

372 Pages

$34.95

ISBN 9781440143076

Available on Amazon.com here.









 

Republic of Georgia
Main spices and flavors: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sweet basil, bay leaves, caraway seeds, dill, fennel, tarragon, mint, fenugreek, savory, sour cherries, sour plums, marigold, saffron, savory, turmeric, coriander, cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg
Souring agents: pomegranates, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemons, oranges
The modern life history of Georgia begins with two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks as Iberia in the east and Colchis in the west, around the shores of the Black Sea. It was to the wealthy kingdom of Colchis that Jason is said to have sailed the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece, which at that time lay at the reaches of the known Western World. Rome extended it's reach east to include Georgia, Armenia, and several central Asian states by 66 CE, but before this time, eastern Georgia was strongly influenced by the Persians and western Georgia by the Greeks. Georgia remained a client state of Rome for several hundred years until the empire's ability to maintain its eastern territories disintegrated.
Sassanid Persians ruled Georgia and Armenia after Rome, and their rule was characterized by cosmopolitanism and tolerance. Georgian culture and Christian religious practice were allowed to flourish, as were the cultures in the rest of their empire, which ranged from North Africa to southern Russia and into parts of central Asia.
Persia and all of its holdings fell to the Islamic conquest in the seventh century as Islam slowly spread. Arab rule during the hundred years of the Umayyad dynasty brought many elements of Arab culture to Georgia and Armenia, which were incorporated either by choice or by force. By the mid-eighth century, the mixed Persian-Arab Abbasids reasserted Persian control over the empire, and cultural tolerance was again extended to conquered territories. The Georgians quickly resumed most of their indigenous cultural practices, but many foreign practices and cultural elements-- including some foods and dishes--that had been introduced were incorporated by choice. By the mid-tenth century, the Georgians had rebelled against the Persians and gained autonomous rule, creating the Georgian Kingdom, which one hundred years later was ruled by the Armenian Bagrationi dynasty.
By the mid-twelfth century, the Mongols swept through the region, destabilizing and subjugating it and causing Bagrationi central authority to wane and a period of local despotic rule to ensue. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Georgian Kingdom had completely dissolved, and the country was ruled by the Persians in the east and the Ottomans in the west. Seeking liberation from the Persians, the Georgians made an allegiance with Russia and by the mid-eighteenth century were drawn into the Russian sphere of influence. Formal incorporation of Georgia into the Russian empire took place in 1801 but was not fully accepted by the Georgians until ten years later.
After the Russian Revolution, Georgia declared independence and had a brief period of self-rule that lasted until 1936 when it formally became part of the Soviet Union. Since 1990, when Georgia held the fist multiparty democratic elections in the former Soviet territories, Georgia has been independent of Russia. Recent events in which Russia claimed to "protect" two of its provinces, however, throw its future independence into question.
Traces of all of these foreign influences on Georgian history can also be found in its material culture, including its culinary arts. For example, the Georgians share with the Persians many native Persian ingredients, including the common use of unsweetened pomegranate juice, sour cherries, and plums along with the use of fenugreek and cumin. Similar recipes can be found in the region as well, including vegetable and nut omelets called kukus by the persians, the enjoyment of skewered meats both marinated and made with ground meats called kebabs, and similar types of layered rice pilafs.
Georgian cuisine is the most closely related to Armenian cuisine--not only because of their shared border, but because Armenia (or its own rulers) ruled at least part of Georgia for almost one thousand years. From the seventh century onward, Georgians engaged in political, economic, and cultural contact with the Islamic world, and elements of Arab, Turkish, and Persian cuisines also can be found in the Georgian repertoire of flavors and foods. Although staunchly clinging to their Christian roots during periods of Islamic rule, the Islamic influence in Georgian food is undeniable.
Fiery Lamb Chops in Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Sauce
This dish combines the intense heat of lots of grounds and slightly pickled red chili peppers in Adzhika with the rich sweet and sour flavor of Pomegranate Sauce to form a complex, layered taste for lamb of pork. When eaten, the heat is kept in check by the sauce, so it never overwhelms but rather teases and tantalizes diners for another bite. Free-range lamb would give this a truly authentic flavor causing diners perhaps to break out in song and ask you to refill their glasses with more Khvanchkara wine!
Adzhika (see following recipe)
Pomegranate Sauce (see following recipe)
4-6 lamb or pork chops (the thicker the better)
1/4 cup beef broth
1. Wash and dry chops. Using a fork, pierce the chops on both sides in several places.
2. Spread the adzhika paste all over the meat. When the chops are lightly covered on both sides (the color of the meat should still be visible or it may become too spicy), place in a lightly oiled ovenproof pan or dish and refrigerate several hours or even overnight before cooking.
3. Preheat oven to 375. Pour a small amount of beef broth to just cover the bottom of the dish and place in the oven. Cooking times will vary according to whether the chops have been boned or not. For chops with bone in them, cook about 20 minutes on each side--gently turning them with a spatula to leave the adzhika crust intact. For chops without the boon, cooking times are approximately halved.
4. When the chops are done, transfer them to a serving platter, ladle some hot pomegranate sauce over them, and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro leaves. Serve the remaining pomegranate sauce in a gravy boat so diners can add more if they desire.
Adzhika
This is a hot and spicy ground paste of chili peppers, sweet peppers, and spices that is widely used in the Georgian kitchen and on the table. It is usually prepared in large batches and used over the course of several weeks. Cooks use it to add spice to dishes; diners use it like a condiment to add a little heat to dishes that lack a bit of zing. Sometimes it is even used as a main spice in meat recipes, like the chop recipe offered earlier in the chapter. The ingredients lend many layers of flavor, which become deeper and richer as the days pass--so prepare it several days in advance of using it.
1 cup hot, dried, red chili peppers
1 celery stalk
1 red sweet bell pepper, cored and defleshed
1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. In a blender or food processor, combine the sweet red pepper, celery, chili peppers, chopped garlic, and vinegar, and grind until you have a light pink paste.
2. Add the dill, tarragon, fenugreek and the coriander and grind again until well blended. Add salt (if desired).
3. Spoon into container, seal, and refrigerate until needed for use.
Makes about 1 cup.
Pomegranate Sauce
This wonderful sweet and sour sauce is a Georgian-Armenian take on a common Caucasian and Caspian flavor. Throughout northern Iran and through Azerbaijan, pomegranates are used as "souring agents" for dishes and sauces, not unlike how tamarind is used in South, Southwest, and Southeast Asia. The take that the northern Caucasus and Caspian countries offer is a slightly sweetened pomegranate. In this sauce, the sweetness is provided primarily by sweet basil, but a bit of sugar can also be used. My advice, however, is to hold off on the sugar until you've tasted the sauce without it.
1 bottle pomegranate juice (unsweetened) (4 cups)
1/2 cup red onions, finely diced
1 heaping teaspoon coarsely chopped garlic
1/8 cup finely chopped fresh basil or 1 heaping teaspoon dried basil
1 small bunch fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped (15-20 sprigs)
1-2 hot, dried red cili peppers, crushed
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste (if desired)
1. Empty the pomegranate juice into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat. After the juice has come to a boil, reduce heat, bring to a steady simmer, and cook uncovered until reduced by half until about 2-2 1/2 cups of juice remain.
2. When sauce is at least halfway reduced, add onions, garlic, basil and coriander. As the coriander begins to thicken the sauce, add crushed pepper (if desired) and cook for another 15 minutes or so. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper, if desired.
3. Just before roasted or grilled meats and vegetables are served, reheat the sauce, add enough to the dish to flavor without saturating the meal, and pour into a gravy boat to allow guests to add as little or as much additional sauce as they wish.

Republic of Georgia

Main spices and flavors: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sweet basil, bay leaves, caraway seeds, dill, fennel, tarragon, mint, fenugreek, savory, sour cherries, sour plums, marigold, saffron, savory, turmeric, coriander, cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg


Souring agents: pomegranates, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemons, oranges


The modern life history of Georgia begins with two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks as Iberia in the east and Colchis in the west, around the shores of the Black Sea. It was to the wealthy kingdom of Colchis that Jason is said to have sailed the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece, which at that time lay at the reaches of the known Western World. Rome extended its reach east to include Georgia, Armenia, and several central Asian states by 66 CE, but before this time, eastern Georgia was strongly influenced by the Persians and western Georgia by the Greeks. Georgia remained a client state of Rome for several hundred years until the empire's ability to maintain its eastern territories disintegrated.


Sassanid Persians ruled Georgia and Armenia after Rome, and their rule was characterized by cosmopolitanism and tolerance. Georgian culture and Christian religious practice were allowed to flourish, as were the cultures in the rest of their empire, which ranged from North Africa to southern Russia and into parts of central Asia.


Persia and all of its holdings fell to the Islamic conquest in the seventh century as Islam slowly spread. Arab rule during the hundred years of the Umayyad dynasty brought many elements of Arab culture to Georgia and Armenia, which were incorporated either by choice or by force. By the mid-eighth century, the mixed Persian-Arab Abbasids reasserted Persian control over the empire, and cultural tolerance was again extended to conquered territories. The Georgians quickly resumed most of their indigenous cultural practices, but many foreign practices and cultural elements—including some foods and dishes—that had been introduced were incorporated by choice. By the mid-tenth century, the Georgians had rebelled against the Persians and gained autonomous rule, creating the Georgian Kingdom, which one hundred years later was ruled by the Armenian Bagrationi dynasty.


By the mid-twelfth century, the Mongols swept through the region, destabilizing and subjugating it and causing Bagrationi central authority to wane and a period of local despotic rule to ensue. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Georgian Kingdom had completely dissolved, and the country was ruled by the Persians in the east and the Ottomans in the west. Seeking liberation from the Persians, the Georgians made an allegiance with Russia and by the mid-eighteenth century were drawn into the Russian sphere of influence. Formal incorporation of Georgia into the Russian empire took place in 1801 but was not fully accepted by the Georgians until ten years later.



 

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