Vendor at the market in Tbilisi who sells decent adjika paste. Whenever friends ask me why I fell in love with Georgia, my natural and unscripted response is, “It felt like coming home.” I am not Georgian, I don’t have any familial ties to the country and I don’t speak the language but I still find so many aspects of Georgian culture vaguely familiar to me. This love affair started the first morning of my first trip to Georgia in March 2014. I organized a visit to the Market in Tbilisi, and I was hooked. Of course I had never eaten a churchkela or pickled flowers before, but I sensed an immediate connection that’s brought me back six times in the past year. It may seem like an odd fit. I am a southern California girl who lives in the Roman countryside. I had no personal interest in Georgia beyond its wine before I visited. Most of my fellow Georgiaphiles came to Georgia in some round about way through Russia. Maybe they had an interest in the Russian empire, the Russian language or the Soviet Union. I certainly don’t speak Russian and never studied anything about the Russian Empire or the USSR except what was required in my humanities classes. I came for the wine initially, but the flavors and personalities of the Georgian table brought me to a familiar place of aromas, textures and spices.
As a San Diegan, I grew up in the Cold War 70s and 80s on a pretty typical Anglo Saxon diet of processed food made by my Australian mom. We had diversity, but it came from a seasoning packets. I don’t have a romantic food story. I grew up working class and my parents worked 14 to 16 hours a day. Fast food and packaged food were normal and convenient for my working mom. I was the typical latch key kid of the 80s. I made boxed mac & cheese for myself. Though we did have a typical American diet of processed food, it was supplemented by fresh garden vegetables (from my dad), tropical fruit (my mom’s homage to her tropical homeland), copious amounts of Mexican food at friends’ homes and midnight taco runs or casual dining in Old Town. San Diego is not a WASP enclave. It’s a border city and the food scene reflects that. For me, this meant at a young age I was already quite familiar with the difference between salsa verde and salsa fresca, I knew the taste of fresh cilantro, the texture of corn husks for tamales and the mouth feel of coarsely ground corn meal. I could identify many different types of red, green, yellow and orange hot peppers and knew their hotness scale. It was a combination of textures and ingredients that were vaguely familiar to me in Georgia. Mexican and Georgian cuisines are diverse and vary according to region and seasonality. Both rely heavily on aromatic herbs and spices, beans, corn meal, and spicy and sour sauces to compliment the meals.
When I was a kid I felt different than most of my classmates- my parents were foreigners with weird accents and I ate strange food (hello Vegemite sandwiches), so I always seemed to seek out the other odd kids. Those of us with funny parents always seemed to find each other. In first grade my best friend was Rosa, a first generation girl whose parents were from Mexico. In 5th grade my best friend was Lorelei whose mom was from Belgium. We were the ones with the funny lunches. We sat together. These relationships inevitably exposed me to a new world of flavors and textures I would have never had otherwise. Pico de Gallo is often refereed as a fresh salsa, but in some parts of Mexico it refers to a fruit salad with dried hot chilies, lime juice, aromatic herbs and salt. I first had dried pico de gallo rub at my friend Rosa’s house. I often ended up at her house after school, which meant I tasted the deliciously exotic-to-me food her mom gave us. Cold papaya with a squeeze of lime sprinkled with dry pico de gallo… an explosion of heat and flavors. First cool fruit, then the red pepper would hit the front and back of the tongue and the heart would start to race, then this was followed by sour and salty sweetness from the juicy fruit. To this day, I prefer a fruit salad with salt and chili peppers.
Apriots and Adjika
This combination of sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors with spicy aromas is the element of Georgian food I adore most. It brings me to a familiar place, to my childhood, a place only the table can evoke. It is this sense of familiarity between the Mexican and Georgian kitchen and my love of ripe fruit and pico de gallo that gave birth to this Adjika Apricot Jam. It was inspired by my friend Sarah Freeman who traveled with me to Georgia in May. She told me she was going to make a peach pie with adjika paste. A light went off in my head: Peach and Adjika Chutney? Adjika and fruit? It sounded perfect and brought me back to my love of fruit and spice, and this idea I have had for awhile: that a Georgian Mexican fusion kitchen would work perfectly. When I came home I immediately sprinkled some adjika on freshly harvest apricots from my tree. Perfect. Ideas spinning in my head finally brought me back to Mexican fruit salad and Indian chutney. Georgian food is ultimately a fusion kitchen with influences from all over Eurasia. This is why many people will refer to international kitchens when they first encounter Georgian food. I have always said the Georgian kitchen is a kitchen of ingredients you already know with different combinations of flavors making it completely unique. Which brings me to my Adjika Apricot Jam. Something new but familiar.
Apricots fresh from the tree
I have an enormous apricot tree that is sagging with ripe apricots at the moment, and I am just back from Georgia with a cupboard full of various spices and herbs including four versions of adjika. Upon research, I have come to learn that it originated in the break away region of Abkhazia, and is considered particularly good in the Georgian region of Megrelia. There are as many versions of adjika as there are grandmas. My friend Anastasia is now producing and marketing adjika salts in Sweden and England. They range in style from thick paste, sauce to dry “rub” and in color from bright green and red to a brownish green and orange toned red. The most common ingredients are hot chillies, garlic, dried marigold, barberry, summer savory, and coriander. Some call for all or some ingredients and other ingredients not listed. I love Anastasia’s adjika salt and it has become a staple in my kitchen, but I didn’t want to use a salted version, so I decided to use a dry red adjika I bought in the ancient city of Mtskheta.
My apricot adjika jam
I used one kilo of apricots from my tree and followed this apricot jam recipe. To this recipe I added :3 heaping tablespoons of adjika I cracked the kernels of 4 apricots and added them to the jars. I would use any recipe for apricot jam you like and add the adjika to taste. I really love David Lebowitz recipe, though I would not add the lemon juice. Familiar, and still Georgian using my own fruit.
COPYRIGHT: NO PART OF THIS POST; TEXT OR PHOTOS CAN BE REPRODUCED OR USED WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR.If you are interested in food tours and travel in Georgia, contact us.