I once made friends with three Russian butchers in my neighborhood supermarket. For some reason, they took me into their collective hearts. It amused them, I think, to share their wisdom with this American-accented lady who was always asking things. Saturnine Serge gave me a great lesson in sharpening knives one day. Tanned, quick Reuven showed me how to cut a pocket into a half-breast of turkey for stuffing. And jolly, bear-like Avi gave me the recipe for a luscious, cheese-filled bread from his native Georgia (the former Soviet Union).
I’ve since moved out of that neighborhood, but still think of my three friends with affection. Especially when I bake khachapuri, the cheese breads Avi taught me. He went over the recipe twice, expounding on each detail. He even drew me a picture of what the breads should look like: a bundle that you tie up at the top. But for some reason I put off baking it. And every time Avi saw me in the supermarket, he’d call out in his deep voice, “Nu, Miri, have you made the khachapuri yet?”
Mostly to get him to stop pestering, I baked the khachapuri one evening. The Little One’s eyes sparkled over the savory-smelling rolls with the cheese squishing out of them. So did Husband’s. I piled four rolls up on a plate for my home folks, then wrapped two in tin foil. It was getting late and the supermarket was going to close soon. I jogged over and found Avi alone at his station, putting things away. Catching my breath, I unwrapped the hot rolls. His face lit up, and without a word, he bounded over to the cheese section, pulling out a knife. With a deft hand he sliced each roll into six and crammed one piece into his mouth. Turning back to me, he smiled, a big, moustachey smile, and said, “That’s good. Very good.”
By then, the deli workers were crowding around, claiming pieces of khachapuri. Avi doled them out, and I basked in their approval. If I’d known how popular I was going to get, I’d have made khachapuri long before.
Since then, I’ve made khachapuri many times. Quartered or sliced into sixths, the breads make a nice snack or appetizer, with beer. Or, being savory and filling, they make almost a whole dinner by themselves. Round it off with a big salad or a bowl of soup.
How to make the cheese bread known as khachapuriPrint
- 2 lbs mozzarella cheese, grated
- 1 cup feta cheese, grated
- 2 lbs flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup butter-flavored margarine or butter at room temperature
- 2 cups buttermilk or yogurt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 beaten egg for glazing the rolls
- For the cheese filling, mix the two cheeses.
- Mix the flour and margarine (or butter) until the mixture has a coarse, sandy texture. A food processor makes quick work of this.
- Whip the buttermilk until very light. Add soda; continue whipping.
- Add vinegar. The mixture will be foamy.
- Add buttermilk mixture to flour/margarine mixture, stirring and kneading until a smooth dough is obtained.
- Cover the dough with plastic and put it to rest in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
- Separate the dough into 6 pieces. Pat each with the heel of your hand, or roll out, into a circle about the size of a dinner plate, 1 inch in thickness.
- Fill each circle with the mixed cheeses. Bring the sides of the circle up to make a rough package and twist the top to close it.
- Brush beaten egg over each roll.
- Bake at 420° F (220° C) for 15 minutes or until rolls are golden-brown.
- Some cheese will escape during baking, and that’s part of the charm of khachapuri.