A Moveable Coma: reviewing Tiko Tuskadze’s Supra5 min read
The place was home; the time, irrelevant. The year was the year of sourdough starters and dalgona coffee and ambitious recipes to kill time and fill your Instagram feed. That’s when Supra: A Feast of Georgian Cooking arrived in the mail.
As author Tiko Tuskadze explains in her introduction, family, tradition, and food are inextricably linked in Georgian culture. This cookbook, then, is not only an instructional guide, but a celebration of family and memory. Supra is filled with both appetizing food photography and intimate family portraits. Likewise, descriptions of culinary technique are presented alongside short but rich stories about Tuskadze’s family, especially her foremothers, who taught her how to cook.
The first thing you learn about Georgian food is that it is delicious. Georgia, despite its tiny size and relatively low international profile, has taken the food world by storm in recent years. Culinary tourism to Georgia is on the rise, and with each passing year magazines and websites take greater notice of Georgia’s palette of rich, hearty dishes.
That’s the second thing you learn about Georgian food: if made correctly, it will kill you. A Supra shopping trip will run you several kilos of butter, potatoes, and cheese. And, if you’re a traditionalist, your meal will be served with generous amounts of wine. But oh, what a way to die!
The month was May, I think, and a cold snap killed half my poor vegetable garden. To console myself, I turned to Surpa’s heartiest, most nourishing dishes, starches that warm your fork and fill your stomach on a chilly day: lobios supi, a thick bean stew that comes smooth and savoury with just a tap of heat from that ubiquitous Georgian adjika, red chili paste; and akhali kartophili, fried potatoes served crispy, tender, and soaked in the fragrant oil of hot green peppers. Many of the recipes in Supra are simple variations on solid international classics (boiled beans, fried potatoes) that dare you to add a bit more chili than you might otherwise have ventured.
But let’s not kid ourselves. You don’t buy Playboy for the articles, and you don’t buy a Georgian cookbook for the potatoes. The first thing I did when Supra arrived was flip straight to the section on khachapuri. Khachapuri, for the babes among you who haven’t yet tried it, is Georgia’s cheese bread, their answer to pizza if the question pizza asked was “What could be better than me?”. Different varieties have emerged from different regions of Georgia, although the most famous is undisputedly the adjaruli khachapuri, with its distinctive boat-like shape and iconic egg drop.
I believe the only reason khachapuri hasn’t replaced pizza as the gut-buster of choice in North America is that its signature ingredient, sulguni cheese, is difficult to source. Sulguni is ubiquitous in Georgia, but although Americans keep sending people to space, they haven’t yet figured out how to replicate this slightly sour, slightly salty, intensely stretchy feat of dairy engineering. In khachapuri, baked sulguni brings a flavour, elasticity, and richness that no other ingredient can match.
Or so I thought. Tuskadze, the author of Supra, is also the chef-owner of London’s Little Georgia restaurants, and she has had to make do without a constant supply of Georgian ingredients for years. Her approximation of sulguni, as presented in Supra’s recipe for adjaruli khachapuri, is a revelation that will make khachapuri accessible to almost everyone.
Tuskadze’s secret – and here I feel like Prometheus stealing fire, or perhaps Pandora opening the box containing all the world’s calories – is a simple blend of two parts feta cheese to one part mozzarella, with a bit of milk spooned on top. If the feta is sufficiently crumbled and the cheeses are blended well, the mix will melt into a salty, stretchy, and rich filling that’s pretty damn close to the real thing.
A caveat: Some of Tuskadze’s ratios seem a bit off, or at least a bit unusual. Her recipe for adjaruli khachapuri calls for 8 cups of flour and 1 cup of liquid (the standard ratio for yeast bread is 5:3). I spent nearly half an hour kneading dough as rough as sand before heeding the siren’s call of the kitchen faucet and adding an extra quarter-cup of water. The recipe for akhali kartophili calls for an astounding 25 grams of dill, which is more than an American eats in a year (although admittedly about average for an appetizer in Eastern Europe). Tuskadze’s soko ketze, mushrooms with cheese, are made with equal parts cheese and butter; they are richer than some of her desserts.
Likewise, some of the portions in Supra are comically large. The lobios made for a hardy dinner Monday night; on Tuesday night, I thickened the leftover stew with flour and egg and fried it into savoury pancakes; and by Wednesday, I was able to pass off the last of it off as taco filling. In the introduction to her recipe for adjaruli khachapuri, Tuskadze cheekily writes that the dish is “very filling so is best shared among a few people”. One wonders, then, why her recipe yields 6 of those dreamy monstrosities.