Sign-up for a chance to be visited by the Friday Fairy.

Name *
Name
Finding a Route to the Kavkaz Mountains in the Kitchen

Finding a Route to the Kavkaz Mountains in the Kitchen

190625_JFS_June5554.jpg

Recipe Roots: Makhachkala, Dagestan > Beit Shemesh, Israel > Jerusalem, Israel
Shared by Alona Eisenberg

In her Jerusalem home, Alona Eisenberg hosts dinners, serving dishes like tara, a soup of mallow leaves and ground beef and ingar poli, a fresh pasta that verges on gnocchi made with spring onion to curious diners. These recipes are rare, not only in Jerusalem but beyond its limits. They come from the Kavkazi Jewish community, sometimes referred to as Mountain Jews, who live in the Caucasus, between the Black and Caspian Seas. 

Alona’s family lived as part of this community for generations, but in 1922, long before she was born, driven by Zionism, they planned to make Aliyah. They sold their belongings and property and traveled to Batumi, Georgia, where boats were leaving for Ottoman-ruled Palestine. But, when word reached of Ottomans drowning boats, the ship the family was on turned back. With nothing, they returned to Makhachkala, Dagestan to rebuild their lives. 

Alona was raised in Dagestan by her grandfather Matitya after her mother died when she was six. By the time she was eight-years-old, Alona was cooking for herself, her sisters, and her grandfather. Learning to cook took time. The first time she made shakshuka, she burned it so thoroughly that “even the cats from my block didn’t want to eat it,” she jokes. By the age of 15, though, she had developed a full repertoire of recipes including complex dishes like dolma, or stuffed grape leaves, her grandfather taught her to make. 

In 1996, her family again tried to make Aliyah, this time successfully. In her new home, she pursued a degree at an art institute, and found her way back to the kitchen in her late 20s. She started to blog about her life and interests. “After a couple of months, I understood it’s not just a blog, it’s become a food blog,” she says. She started to dig into the Kavkazian kitchen, looking for recipes and her identity. “It started a kind of burning in my bones,” she adds. 

Her aunts didn’t understand her quest and weren’t eager to share their recipes, so she turned to the internet, asking other Kavkazi Jews about their recipes in private Facebook groups, realizing that most only knew of 20 to 30 recipes from their community. She went deeper, searching Russian websites, on Instagram, Chechnyan culinary blogs, and connecting with Muslim women from the region who prepare some of the same dishes.  

“I collect knowledge about this cuisine from everyone who agrees to sit with me,” Alona says. She notes all of it in a spreadsheet, adding to her repertoire for her dinners and her blog. As she’s cooked her way through the Kavkazian recipes she’s uncovered, some bring her full circle. Two years ago, she found a recipe for ingar poli, the fresh, thick pasta made with spring onion that grows in the Caucasus. It took work and many rounds of testing, but she was able to recreate the version her mom made for her when she was little. 

Everytime she works on her Kavkaz project, she says: “I understand this is wide and huge and I’m only at the beginning of the process.”

190625_JFS_June5632.jpg

For a traditional Kavkazi Feast, prepare all of these dishes and serve them on an abundant table filled with pickles and salad. 

Ingar Poli

The spring onion Alona’s mother used to make this recipe only grows in the Caucuses. In Israel, Alona substitutes chives, which stand in well. 

Makes: 2 to 4 servings 
Time: 30 minutes + 30 minutes soaking time

Ingredients
For the sauces:
2 ounces (⅓ cup) walnuts
2 teaspoons water
Kosher salt, to taste
½ cup dried sulfured apricots, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes

For the dough: 
1 bunch chives, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Preparation
1. For the walnut sauce: Place the walnuts in a small food processor and pulse until finely ground. Transfer the ground nuts to a small serving bowl and mix with the 2 teaspoons of water until a thick paste forms. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

2. For the apricot sauce: Transfer the soaked apricots to a food processor and add about 3 tablespoons of the soaking liquid. Pulse until a smooth paste forms, adding more soaking liquid if needed. Transfer to a small serving bowl and set aside.

3. For the dough: Mix the chives and salt in a medium bowl and let stand for about 10 minutes to soften.

4. Add the eggs to the chives and mix until combined. Slowly whisk the flour into the egg mixture until a very soft dough forms.

5. Transfer the dough to a heavily floured work surface and generously dust the top of the dough with additional flour. Flatten the dough into an 6-inch square with your hands or a rolling pin. Gently flip the dough to keep it from sticking, flour it again, and flatten the dough into a ¼-inch-thick square. With a floured pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into long ½-inch-wide strips, and then cut the strips into ¾-inch-long rectangles on the opposite axis. Transfer the dumplings to a wax or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. 

6. Cook the ingar poli: While making the dough, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Gently slide the ingar poli into the water. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes until the dumplings float to the surface, then continue to cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon to a serving dish. 

7. Serve immediately, accompanied by the walnut and apricot sauces drizzled onto every bite.

Make ahead: The dough can be made ahead, flattened, cut, and placed on a wax or parchment paper-lined tray in the freezer until firm, then transferred to a sealed container or a resealable bag. Add the frozen ingar poli directly to the boiling water and continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes after they float to the surface. The apricot sauce can be made 1 to 2 days ahead and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Remove the sauce from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving, adding extra water to thin it if necessary.

Kurze

These plump dumplings are Alona’s favorite and an iconic dish among Kavkazi Jews. It is only in Dagestan that they are called by this name. Elsewhere, in the region, they are called Dushpere. 

Makes: 2 dozen dumplings
Time: 1½ hours

Ingredients
For the dough: 
1 pound (3⅓ cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 to 1¼ cups water

For the filling:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons water
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound ground beef 
¼ bunch cilantro, washed and finely chopped

For the sauce: 
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

Preparation
1. Make the dough: Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg and 1 cup of the water and mix by hand until an elastic dough forms, 2 to 3 minutes, adding more water if needed. Continue kneading for 1 to 2 minutes until you have a firm, smooth ball of dough. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

2. Make the filling: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, add the chopped onion, and sauté until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and 3 tablespoons of water and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper and set aside until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. 

3. Place the beef and cilantro in a large bowl. Add the onion mixture and mix well with your hands, “kneading” the meat mixture until the filling is evenly combined. Set aside.

4. Make the dumplings: After resting, the dough should be slightly softer and more pliable. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll it out as thinly as possible. Keep turning the dough while rolling so that it doesn’t stick to the surface, using as little flour as possible. Use a 2-inch wide glass or round cookie cutter to cut out as many circles as possible. Gather dough scraps and re-roll, and continue to cut out circles. Cover the dough rounds with a damp cloth.

5. Fill the dumplings: Take a circle of dough and carefully stretch it out in the palm of your hand. Place a heaping tablespoon of the meat mixture in the center of the dough round. Fold the circle in half over the filling, pinching and folding the edges in a Kavkazi braid pattern with your index finger and thumb, making an inward fold from alternating edges of the dough one after the other. Twist and tuck the tail end of the dumpling to firmly seal in the filling so the dumpling doesn’t burst during cooking. If the dough is too dry to stick, brush the edges lightly with water before sealing. Place each dumpling on a wax or parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Continue filling remaining dough rounds.

6. Cook the dumplings: While filling the dumplings, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Gently add half of the dumplings, being careful not to tear them or to overcrowd the pot. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes until the dumplings float to the surface, then continue to cook 2 minutes more. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon to a serving dish and return the water to a boil. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

7. Make the sauce: Combine the vinegar and garlic in a small dish. Serve immediately alongside the hot dumplings. Take a small bite from the end of a dumpling (remember it’s juicy!), then drizzle or spoon the sauce inside and enjoy the next bite. 

Make ahead: The kurze can be made ahead and placed on a wax or parchment paper-lined tray in the freezer until firm, then transferred to a sealed container or a Ziptop bag. Before cooking, remove the dumplings from the freezer and transfer to a wax or parchment paper-lined tray. Cover with a towel and refrigerate until thawed or ready to use. When boiling, continue to cook for 4 minutes after dumplings float to make sure that the filling is cooked through.

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Chudo

There are other versions and names for this flatbread in the region. As Alona explains: Each cook insists on her own version. Alona’s is filled with pumpkin. When it’s out of season, butternut squash works well. We’ve offered two different techniques for shaping the chudo. The first, while more traditional and elegant, is more challenging. For a simpler approach, see the alternative directions below the recipe. 

Makes: Two 12-inch stuffed flatbreads, 6 to 8 servings each
Time: 1 hour + 1½ hours for rising or overnight

Ingredients
For the dough:
1 pound (3⅓ cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons canola oil 
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1½ to 1¾ cups lukewarm water

For the filling:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or canola oil for a parve or dairy-free version)
2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 pounds peeled and coarsely grated (about 8 cups) fresh pumpkin (or butternut squash if fresh pumpkin is unavailable)
3 ounces (⅔ cups) shelled walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing (or canola oil for a parve version)

Preparation
1. Make the dough: Combine all the ingredients in a mixer bowl equipped with the hook attachment. Mix until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 4 to 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and place in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.

2. Meanwhile, make the filling: Melt the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the grated pumpkin, spread evenly in the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ground walnuts, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well. Transfer to a bowl, loosely cover and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour.

3. To make the flatbreads: Preheat the oven to its maximum temperature, 500°F to 520°F, with a pizza stone or upside-down sheet pan placed on a rack in the lower third of the oven to heat. Move the risen dough to a large, lightly floured work surface. Knead just to form into a ball,1 to 2 times. Divide the dough in half with a dough cutter. Keep one half covered while working with the other half. 

4. Divide one half of the dough into one-third and two-thirds segments. Pat the two-thirds piece of dough into a round and roll out as thinly as possible without tearing, dusting generously with more flour as needed. The dough should be especially thin at the edges, to avoid a thick seam where the two pieces of dough are joined around the filling. Carefully move the larger dough round onto a large sheet of parchment paper and set aside. Form the smaller third into a round on the floured surface and roll out as thinly as possible. 

5. Spread half of the pumpkin filling evenly over the larger circle, leaving a wide rim (about 1 to 1½ inches) around the edge. Place the smaller dough round on top of the filling (it will not cover it completely) and flatten gently with your fingers to push out air bubbles. 

6. Begin crimping the two edges of the dough rounds together in a classic Kavkazi braid pattern by bringing the inner round towards the outer with your index finger and the outer round towards the inner with your thumb, and lightly pinching them together. With your other hand, continue to  pull the outer circle of dough inwards and turn the parchment as you advance, creating a tightly sealed seam around the filling. 

7. Carefully slide the parchment with the filled flatbread onto the baking stone or sheet in the oven. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and immediately brush with the melted butter or oil. Let cool slightly before cutting into wedges.

8. Meanwhile, repeat steps 4 through 7 with the remaining half of the dough and filling. 

Alternative folding technique: Starting from step 3, roll out each half of the dough into a large, thin round. Divide the filling between the rounds, leaving a wide 2- to 3-inch rim on each. Pull the edges of the dough towards the center of each round over the filling and pinch firmly to seal. Flip the filled flatbreads over seam-side down onto pieces of parchment paper and bake as instructed.

Make ahead: The dough can be made the night before, and transferred to the refrigerator immediately to rise slowly overnight. The filling can also be made the night before and chilled in the refrigerator, then allowed to come to room temperature 30 minutes before making the flatbread. 

Chef’s Notes
The pumpkin and walnut filling is unique, and can be made dairy-free, parve and vegan when omitting the butter. 

Other fillings include:

  • Ground beef or lamb with various chopped green herbs (This version is done with no top dough round, just the bottom dough round and the meat mixture on top, like pizza or lahmajun): 1 ¾ pounds ground beef or lamb, ¼ bunch chopped cilantro, 1 grated plum tomato, kosher salt and pepper, to taste. Mix the filling ingredients and divide between each thinly rolled dough half, leaving a wide 2- to 2 ½-inch rim. Fold the edges up over the filling as you would a galette, to keep the juices in.

  • Mixed greens: 1 package fresh spinach, 1 bunch celery leaves, ¼ bunch each of parsley, cilantro, dill and mint. Chop the greens and herbs, mix, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for a parve version, or with ⅔ pound Tvoro cheese or Bulgarian feta for the dairy version. Roll and fill the dough as directed.

A Grandfather’s Kavkaz Soup Lives on in Israel

A Grandfather’s Kavkaz Soup Lives on in Israel

Fany Gerson’s Family Dessert Recipe Has Traveled 9,000 Miles

Fany Gerson’s Family Dessert Recipe Has Traveled 9,000 Miles

0