Once upon a time, I was a Russian enthusiast. As an early 20-something nerd, I fell deeply in love with mid-19th and early 20th century Russian novels, resulting in a double major in Russian and Comparative Literature. I spent years studying Russian intonation patterns and Lermontov’s unreliable narrators.
The most memorable part of that pursuit was the six months I spent going to university in Moscow, and then the following months where I traveled by train across the full expanse of the country. As you would probably guess, I had the chance to try some delicious, and really interesting food. The most surprising of which was probably yak-fat tea. But hands down, the most delicious, was any time I splurged and went to a Georgian restaurant.
Khachapuri is a Georgian bread that can come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, but is almost always stuffed with melted cheeses. It’s simple, easy to make and devastatingly delicious. Khachapuri is typically served as a side or as part of a breakfast. This version is based on the traditional Acharuli Khachapuri from the Ajara region. Georgianrecipes.net is a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about Georgian cuisine.
Baked into the shape of a boat, you crack an egg in the center to finish it off, and then once served, stir the egg into the yummy cheesy goodness in the center, pulling off pieces of the bread and dipping them into the center mixture to eat. Have I mentioned yet that I love food that encourages you to eat with your hands? This recipe can also be made with pre-made pizza dough if you want to speed things up.
With this beautiful weather we’ve been having, we’re already into spring foraging season and I went out and gathered a nice big bag of nettles last weekend, one of our amazing local wild superfoods. If you’re picking nettles, look for a good open area of previously disturbed ground that receives plenty of light. Typically well-drained fields or old avalanche chutes are good spots to try. One of my favorite things about picking nettles is the beautiful herbal mint smell they give off when fresh, but be careful! Nettles are covered in small, stiff, sharp, hollow hairs that will sting you through most clothing. I wear full-grain leather gloves when I pick nettles, and then once I get them home I use tongs to transfer them between washing and cooking. As soon as nettles begin to wilt, whether it’s through a hot water bath, saute or roasting, their sting is gone. You can use them in any recipe you’d use spinach, and nettle tea is a very popular wild brew.
Nettles Khachapuri or Georgian Cheesebread with Nettles
Serves: 4 (or more)
Time: Active 30 minutes, total 2.5 hours
¼ cup warm water
½ tsp yeast
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 tsp salt
¼ – cup water
¼ cup milk
1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
Warm up ¼ cup water and stir in yeast and sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until bubbly. Place flour in bowl, mix in salt and then make a depression in the center of the flour. Add yeast mixture, remaining water, milk and oil. Mix together from the center, out until dough forms a rough ball. Dump out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and soft, about seven minutes. Return to the bowl, cover with Saran wrap or a moist towel and let stand in a warm place in the kitchen (I use the top of my fridge) until doubled in size, about 2 hours.* Punch down, sprinkle with flour, dump out onto a lightly floured surface and knead dough. Divide into 2 equal balls and let stand while you prepare your filling.
*If making ahead of time, cover in Saran wrap and let rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes before you store the dough in the fridge (where it will continue to rise) for up to 36 hours. If you make your dough ahead of time, pull it out of the fridge and let stand for about half an hour before punching down.
You can also substitute store-bought pizza dough.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups fresh nettles (or substitute spinach)
¾ cup fresh mozzarella, shredded
½ cup feta, crumbled
2 eggs for serving, plus one egg for wash
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using tongs, wash nettles in a large bowl of cold water. Swish around and then lift out, letting dirt/debris stay in the water. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium/high heat. Add nettles and saute, about eight minutes. Remove nettles from saute pan and wrap in towel to squeeze out excess water, then rough chop. Mix grated cheeses and nettles together and set aside.
The Whole Shebang
Flatten out each ball of dough into a flat football shape, about ⅛ inch thick and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Scoop half of the filling into the center of each piece of dough, smoothing out to about 1 inch away from the edge. Fold edges of dough up around the filling to create the boat, leaving the center open. Bake until browned, about 10-12 minutes. If using an egg wash, scramble an egg with a little bit of water. Once the boats are browned, pull out and brush the egg-wash over the exposed bread. Crack an egg into each boat and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the egg whites are almost set, but still a little runny (it will continue to cook in the cheese and nettles after you pull it out). Serve! Mix the egg in with the cheese and nettles before eating.
• Erin Anais Heist is a food blogger in Juneau. Readers can contact her at foodabe.com, or on Instagram or Twitter at @erinanais. “Eating Wild” recipes publish every other week.