Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club, which this month focused on Olia Hercules’ Kaukasis
Those who have been to one of our Cookbook Club events up in The Cookhouse will know the usual format is that one by one we plate-up and talk about each of the dishes the members have cooked and brought along. We hear about how cooking it went, what the member thought of the recipe and the book. It is always rather exciting doing the ‘reveal’ on each dish. There are lots of oohs and ahhs, the occasional round of applause, people straining to take pics, and at our most recent event for Olia Hercules’ Kaukasis there was from me a sigh of absolute pleasure at the warm, soft, bundle of herbed raclette and feta in a slightly sweet kafir dough that had been made for us all to share.
It was as gloriously comforting to eat as to hold, and really summed up much of our collective experience with Olia’s book. On the one hand this is simple, hearty, rustic food of the people. On the other, it is a book of culinary discovery for those of us not yet familiar with the food of Georgia, Azerbaijan and beyond. As another member commented, Olia’s work is exciting partly because it feels new. For anyone who wants to push at trying something different, the food of this part of the world is enticing and Olia’s writing welcomes us into it with a warm heart. Many of the members said how much they’d enjoyed reading the book as much as cooking from it. Always a good sign of a book with integrity and, hopefully, longevity.
Kaukasis is a book to cook from whatever your mood. I love that there’s a chapter called ‘Pain, be gone’, full of dish after dish to feed body and soul.
At the Cookbook Club we had a fair few pies (good for making ahead and travelling to the Market with), yet even then it was interesting how different each was. From those meltingly delicious free-form Ossetian beet top and cheese pies, to chicken and herb pie with barberries that had a ‘pastry’ of thin lavash flatbreads. On the sweet pie front we had a lemon tart that was an in-your-face lemon-tastic experience of robust flavour—which is meant as a very good thing indeed.
Other stand-out dishes included chicken chigyrtma, which is essentially chicken baked in a sort of custard—and if that sounds like it shouldn’t work then please know it was declared ‘superlative’ upon tasting. Poussin tabaka in blackberry sauce was fabulously intense. Chakhapuli of slowly-stewed lamb fell off the bone with meaty tenderness. Beetroots and radicchio gained jammy sweetness by being roasted alongside plums.
We didn’t get to try any of the lovely dumpling or broth recipes, sadly, but I am looking forward to keeping this book close to hand and doing some of those at home soon. And I feel equally certain that many Cookbook Club members left the Market that afternoon also planning what their next recipe discovery from Kaukasis would be.
Tuesday 20th March: Curry Easy Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey
Tuesday 17th April: A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis