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EURASIAN COOKBOOK  / MCHADI
03.10.2017


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Mchadi
The Other Georgia's Corn Bread
By Dr. Michael Denner
and Tinatin Mzhavanadze

  mchadi1
  Mchadi, served with soft white cheese and greens.

SRAS: Dr. Michael Denner is a professor at Stetson's Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES). A food enthusiast, he is currently translating and adapting a cookbook called Лобио, сациви, хачапури, или Грузия со вкусом (Lobio, Satsivi, Khachapuri, or Georgia with Taste) for English-speaking audiences.

As part of this project, Dr. Denner is leading a Georgian Cooking Club at Stetson to test the recipies with Stetson's diverse student group. He will also be sharing some of the recipes on our site in advance of publishing the book.

Dr. Denner will also be leading Georgian Foodways for SRAS a new, two-week study abroad course that will address topics such as climate change and state agricultural policies within the context of broader issues of food security, the place of food in social justice and ethnic identity, and the role of Georgian foodways in the current global tourism economy.

Mchadi Stetson
Mchadi, as cooked by Dr. Michael Denner and The Georgian Cooking Club at Stetson University, which Dr. Denner leads.

Dr. Michael Denner: It would be difficult to imagine Georgia without maize, what Americans call corn, though of course corn came from South America, and could only have been introduced to Georgia after Columbus brought it back from the New World… so in the sixteenth century at the earliest.

 
 Study Abroad!
Georgian-Foodways

My friend and cookbook collaborator Tina Mzhavanadze, jokes that, Georgians being Georgians, they all believe that corn originated in Georgia. There’s also a version of food history that proposes that corn came to Georgia earlier than to the rest of Europe, via China early in the sixteenth century… I doubt its veracity, but who knows? In the sixteenth century, Georgia belonged to the Persian empire of the Safavids, and was far removed from Western European influences and trade routes. I could maybe imagine a Ming merchant wandering across Transoxiana and the Caucasus, sowing corn like Johnny Appleseed…

There’s a line somewhere through the middle of Georgia, not too far from Tbilisi, that divides the “corn belt” from the “wheat belt.” West of the line, it’s hot and rainy, especially in Imereti and Samegrelo. Corn grows everywhere there, and the everyday bread is mchadi, skillet-cooked corn muffins. East of the line, the climate turns more austere, sterner, drier: The perfect climate for wheat, and so poori, Georgian “lavash” bread made from wheat, finds its place on the plate.

Georgians will tell you that authentic, real mchadi are only made from cornmeal and water, and are fried in a large dried cast-iron skillet, or better yet, in a k’etsi, a micaceous earthenware cooking vessel. Maybe. In the homes and restaurants where I’ve had mchadi, they’ve always been “modern” mchadi, with salt, sugar, some baking soda, and fried in oil. In any case, mchadi are the classic accompaniment to lobio, bean soup: You break the mchadi into pieces and sprinkle it over the top of the lobio, quickly spoon the mix into your mouth, chew thoughtfully, and wash it down with some Georgian white wine. Yum!

DSC_0097
Dr. Denner (far right), leads students in making mchadi at Stetson University in Florida.  

With my students here at Stetson, we prepared the first recipe below, “modern mchadi.” I was introducing my students to Georgian cooking, and I wanted to make several points, including the idea that Georgian cuisine was international. Exhibit A was the New World corn, without which contemporary Georgian cooking would be unthinkable. But Georgia is also multiethnic, and shares a heritage of cooking with the other nations of the Caucasus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. About five percent of the Georgian population self-identifies as Armenian; mostly the Armenians live in Samtskhe-Javakheti, in the south of Georgia near the Armenian border. Historically, though, Armenians have represented a much larger proportion of the population of Georgia. Therefore, to accompany our mchadi, I served Armenian tan, a drink made from yogurt thinned with water and the addition of salt, very similar to ayran, the Turkish national drink. Southerners will comfortably recognize its kindredness with buttermilk.

We also drank green tea grown in Batumi, near the Turkish border.

As a southerner, I admit to liking my cornbread slightly sweet and salty. I’ve made the recipe with and without baking soda, and could not decide which I prefer. For oil, as always I recommend a mix of toasted sunflower seed oil mixed with a neutral vegetable oil, which closely approximates the unrefined sunflower oil used in Georgia. Olive oil would overwhelm the subtle flavor of these cakes.

These recipes are my translation and adaption of recipes in Лобио, сациви, хачапури, или Грузия со вкусом (Lobio, Satsivi, Khachapuri, or Georgia with Taste) by Tinatin Mzhavanadze.

Mchadi - size and consistency
Dr. Michael Denner shows the size and consistency of the mchadi dough patties that should be formed before frying.

 

Modern Mchadi

Tinatin Mzhavanadze (as translated and adapted from the Russian by Dr. Michael Denner): As a small child, I didn’t care for mchadi, Georgian cornbread… Can you imagine? My grandmother, on the other hand, always ate mchadi. She made the simplest type, just cornmeal and water, cooked on a dry skillet. She always served them with cheese, preferably the firm and ripe kind we called "factory" cheese… it was dense, slightly salty, and had a yellowish color. And she always served it with a lot of fresh green herbs.

Or she served mchadi with smoked fish.

Anyway, later in life I understood the “secret” taste of mchadi. When I moved far-far away from home, and became heartsick for the flavors of your motherland… It was the fresh, clean taste of of cornbread that I missed: It’s the perfect foil for salty and spicy flavors. The flavor of mchadi embraces them, and lends a bit of its ascetic nobility. That said, you can also make a much lighter variety of mchadi with the addition of a bit of baking soda and milk, appropriate when you want to try out a recipe for the first time.

  Mchadi - size and consistency
  The mchadi dough should break but not crumble if it is the proper consistency.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds finely-ground white cornmeal (32 ounces)
  • 1-2 cups warm (105*) fresh water, or as needed, filtered or bottled if your tap water is overly chlorinated (8-16 ounces)
  • 4 tablespoons warm milk (2 ounces)
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (for denser mchadi, leave it out, see recipe introduction)
  • 1 tablespoon room-temperature butter
  • Vegetable oil (preferably sunflower oil), for sautéing 

Serves 4-6, making 12-15 small cakes.

Preparation:

  1. In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine 1 1/2 cups of water and the milk. Warm the liquids in the microwave to around 105* Fahrenheit, or until just slightly warm to the touch.
  2. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in two medium (10”-12”) skillets with low sides, or a single large griddle, over low heat. The oil should cover the bottom of the pan or griddle completely, but just barely. Frying mchadi on cast-iron works best, though an steel electric griddle will work well, too.
  3. Sift the cornmeal through a fine sieve into a large mixing bowl and discard any bran or large particles left in the sieve. Add the the salt, sugar, and baking soda (if using) to the bowl, and mix thoroughly. Slowly add the warmed water and milk mixture, then the softened butter.
  4. Using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, mix the ingredients. Taste the dough—it should be slightly sweet, salty, and redolent of corn. Add more salt and sugar if necessary. The dough should look pebbly at this point.
  5. Now use your hands to knead the dough, which should come together quickly. Since every cornmeal brand differs, it’s hard to say how much water you may need to achieve the correct consistency. You might find your dough is too dry with only 1 1/2 cups of water. If so, add water by the tablespoonfuls. The final dough should be soft and malleable, not sticky or runny—it should “break” cleanly, as shown in the photos. If it crumbles when you try to break it, it’s too dry. If you cannot break it, it’s too wet. If you’ve made corn tortillas, the texture is similar to masa dough, or perhaps new Play-Doh. The dough shouldn’t coat your hands as you knead, as that would be too wet. Nor should it crumble as you knead it, which would indicate that the dough is too dry. You can add more cornmeal or water as needed to achieve the right consistency. In Georgia, they knead the dough for a long time.
  6. With wet hands, break off a piece of dough about the size of an egg, 3 ounces (80 g). Roll it into a sphere, and then squash the sphere to make an oval-shaped cake, as shown in the photographs.
  7. Check the skillet. When you add a crumble of the dough, it should sizzle a bit. It should not smoke. Adjust the heat, and when the oil reaches the correct temperature, slide the first cake into the oil, and, working quickly, repeat the process of making and adding cakes until you’ve used up the dough. There should be 12-15 patties frying in your skillets or griddle. You can crowd them, but don’t let them touch one another.
  8. Using a thin metal spatula, begin checking the mchadi bottoms after 5 minutes. When they are lightly browned, flip them over. (Be patient if they stick, as they’ll loosen when they have browned and are ready to flip.) After another 5 minutes frying, your mchadi should be ready. Keep the heat low and even: It’s important that the insides of the cakes cook before the outsides scorch.
  9. Remove the cooked cakes onto a paper towel and let cool a little. Or you can make them the old-fashioned way… (See the next recipe for serving suggestions.)

DSC04083
One of the many instructors Dr. Denner found in Georgia to teach him about making traditional Georgian food.

SRAS: The above translation and adaptation differs from the original not only in converting the measurements from metric to imperial units (as used by Americans), but also in codifying and more distinctly spelling out the processes that the original author more breezily lays out for an audience more familiar with the food. While giving less instruction, she does give more discussion of variations on the food, for instance. The adaptation by Dr. Denner relies on both the original text and experience traveling to meet the original author and make the recipes with her - making this particular translation and adaptation effort extraordinarily collaborative. We include the original text below for comparison.

Tinatin Mzhavanadze (original text): В глубоком детстве я не любила кукурузный хлеб, представляете? А бабушка ела только мчади, причем пекла самые простые – мука и вода, на сухой сковородке, только обязательно нужен был сыр – лучше, конечно, зрелый, который называют «заводским» - плотный, солоноватый, с желтизной. И много свежей зелени.

Или с копченой рыбой, например.

Это потом я поняла секрет вкуса мчади- когда уехала далеко-далеко от дома и соскучилась по родной еде: пресный на первый взгляд вкус кукурузных лепешек – как загрунтованный холст для ярких соленых и острых кушаний, он раскрывает их и оттеняет своим аскетическим благородством.

А пока можно сделать гораздо более «мягкий» вариант мчади, пригодный для того, чтобы распробовать непривычный вкус, - надо прежде всего взять белой кукурузной муки тонкого помола и просеять в миску.

Затем вылить в муку чашку (250 мл) чуть теплой воды, чашку подогретого молока, добавить щепотку сахара и соли, крошечку соды, столовую ложку мягкого сливочного масла.


DSC08098

Various types of cornmeal on sale at a market in Racha, Georgia.

Ингредиенты:

(на 12-15 маленьких лепешек или 1 большую):

  • мука кукурузная белая тонкого помола – 1 кг
  • теплая вода – 1 чашка (или сколько потребуется для густого теста)
  • молоко – кофейная чашка (50 мл)
  • масло сливочное – 1 ст.
  • ложка соль, сахар – по щепотке
  • сода – ½ ложки (по желанию, если нужна пышность)
  • растительное масло для жарки – 50 мл

Приготовление:

Вымесить гладкое нежное тесто – консистенции густой сметаны, мокрыми руками слепить шарики – с куриное яйцо, приплюснуть, как котлеты, и жарить на растительном масле на сковородке до румяной корочки с двух сторон, минут по десять.

Только чтоб не сгорели: огонь убавьте до минимального, пусть прожарятся внутри.

Как только корочка будет румяного рыжего цвета – можно снимать.

Готовые мчади выложите на бумагу – пусть лишнее масло впитается.

А теперь ножом разрежьте их вдоль, как книжку, и вложите внутрь куски сыра: лучше всего имеретинский, чкинти-квели, а можно и сулугуни.

Сыр растает в солнечном жаре мчади – кукурузных лепешек, и будет так вкусно!

Mchadi frying in Georgia  
Mchadi frying, as made in Georgia.   

Можно есть с чем хотите, но мой вам совет – холодная жареная рыба, камбала к примеру, и свежая зелень. И запивайте чаем. Впрочем, можно и белым вином.

Но раз уж мы рассматриваем все возможные варианты, давайте я вам расскажу про совсем простой, деревенский мчади – как его делает моя мама.

На слабый огонь ставится большая толстенная сковородка и долго-долго греется, пока от капли воды не полетят брызги.

Тем временем просеянная кукурузная мука заливается в миске теплой водой и месится.

Месится-месится, долго и тщательно, пока тесто не будет одним большим шаром. Тут важно угадать степень его влажности: если воды меньше, мчади потрескается, если больше – развалится на куски. А раз мука кукурузная, подсказать консистенцию трудновато – не знаю, с чем сравнивать. Оно не жидкое – это совершенно точно, ближе к глине, готовой для изготовления кувшина – вот!

Итак, сковорода нагрелась, тесто готово: теперь этот кругляш надо аккуратно выложить на прокалившуюся поверхность и мокрыми руками «растоптать» в толстый, сантиметров пять, ровный блин, но лучше между лепешкой и бортами сковородки оставить хоть миллиметр зазора.

Огонь пусть будет по-прежнему маленький, но не совсем сдыхающий, и пусть одна сторона печется с открытой крышкой минут двадцать, а то и полчаса. Когда верхняя поверхность подсохнет, а внизу образуется корочка, легко отстающая от сковороды, - можно переворачивать.

О, это целое искусство! Даже опытная хозяйка может споткнуться и разломать блин – что уже говорить о салатах. Мама как-то хватает этот огнедышащий краешек пальцами и – хоп! – он уже перевернут. Не переживайте: я беру длинный плоский нож, подвожу снизу, другой рукой придерживаю салфеткой горячий край и, пыхтя, провожу операцию «кувырок» вполне сносно.

Вторая сторона тоже должна пропечься до толстой корочки – теперь можно и задвинуть крышку на некоторое время, для пропарки.

Ну что, пришло время вынимать наше солнышко-мчади? На столе уже есть сыр, толстый омлет с сыром – борано и красная капуста. Можно и копченой ветчины отварить, и вино поставить. Да, еще с хамсой, тушеной в листьях, - неповторимо.

Тогда вываливаете круг кукурузной лепешки на полотенце, пусть отдышится минут пять – и можно ломать на куски.
Для особо светских – режьте ножом, так и быть.

А есть еще сванский вариант, чвиштари называется: похоже на обычные маленькие мчади, жареные на масле, но внутрь кладется брусочек сулугуни, и получаются кукурузные хачапури.

А еще можно пофантазировать: вмесить в тесто тертый сыр, мелко нарезанную мяту, немного тархуна или специй…

Mchadi - by tradition
Some of Dr. Denner's other mchadi-making instructors in Racha, Georgia.

SRAS: Although the original cookbook contains only the discussion on "modern mchadi," Dr. Denner plans to include a second section devoted to a more traditional recipe he learning from the cookbook author while in Georgia. That recipe follows.

 

Traditional Mchadi
(The Way Tina’s Mother Made Them)

Dr. Denner: So long as we’re on the subject of mchadi and their variations… I’ll share a recipe for the simple mchadi they make in rural Georgia, the kind Tina’s mother made.

Tinatin Mzhavanadze (as translated and adapted from the Russian by Dr. Michael Denner): Place a large, heavy cast-iron skillet on very low heat, and let it heat for a very long time, until a drop of water jumps and skates across it surface. Do not add oil! Sift around a pound of cornmeal into a large bowl, and in the microwave or in a small pan, heat 8 ounces water until warm, about 105*. The water should be warm to the touch.

 
 Study Abroad!
Georgian-Foodways

While the skillet is heating, mix the sieved cornmeal with warm water in a large bowl. Knead it a very long time until it becomes a smooth ball. You’ll know if you’ve added too little water if the mass is shaggy, and if there’s too much water, the ball won’t come together and will come apart in little pieces. It’s hard to specify how the dough should feel, as this is cornmeal (which varies greatly depending on the corn itself, how it’s ground, how long it’s been stored, and so on). The dough shouldn’t be wet, that’s for sure… it’s like the consistency of clay that you’ve prepared for making pottery. Like in so many things, experience is your best guide…

So, your skillet is hot and the dough is ready. Now, carefully take that ball of dough and place it on the heated surface of the skillet, and with moistened hands, pat it out into an even cake, about 2 inches thick. Ideally, the cake should cover most of the surface of the skillet, practically to the edges of the skillet if you’re using one.

Keep the flame under the skillet very low, and let the corncake bake slowly, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. You’ll know it’s done on the first side when the exposed side begins to dry out a bit and on the underneath has turned golden brown. Now, you need to flip it.

This cake flipping, it’s an art! Even an experienced cook can make a mess of it, breaking the cake in two, and when you’re a rookie… My mom just reached under the cake with her bare fingers, the hot surface notwithstanding, and… POP!… the cake was flipped. Keep your wits! Here’s how I do it: I take a long flat knife or offset spatula, slide it under the cake, and with my other hand I use a napkin to hold onto the hot cake from above, with an even and smooth motion I execute a “somersault” operation on the cake.

The second side should cook until it, too, is golden brown and crusty… Once it’s browned, put the top on the skillet and let it steam a bit, for 5 minutes.

Georgian Cheese Market
Various Georgian cheeses on sale at a market in Racha, Georgia.

Flip the mchadi into a clean kitchen towel, fold the edges of the towel over it, and let the mchadi rest and cool a bit. To serve, break the mchadi into pieces by hand. (I suppose if you want to be all city about it, you can use a knife.)

Serving time! Whether it’s modern or old-fashioned mchadi, on the table with your corncakes, you’ve got some cheese, a fat leek omelet, maybe a borano (a traditional Georgian cheese omelet), and some fermented red cabbage. Perhaps a bottle of red wine. A perfect Georgian vegetarian meal.

Come to think of it, there’s a Svann version of this dish, prepared in the Caucasus Mountains in the north of Georgia, where they’re called chvishtari. Make small mchadi using the above method, dividing the dough into pieces about the size of walnuts. Flatten the balls, and stick a very small piece of suluguni or fresh mozzarella inside. Fold the dough over the cheese and pat the mchadi flat. Fry them in butter… and you get cornmeal khachapuri! Or we could make some fantasy mchadi, perhaps kneading grated cheese and finely minced mint into the dough, perhaps a little tarragon on some Georgian spices, too… 


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