Why am I talking about this? Well, this is MLK's Clean Sweep Week (I dubbed it McGyver Recipe Week), and this spice was lurking in there. There was a reason, really: until a few years ago, my daughter worked at the New England Mobile Book Fair, and down the street from that is a Russian market—and I mean seriously Russian. You can’t read the labels on most of the packages, because they’re in Russian. One day recently I decided, what the heck, let’s drop in and see what it’s about.
It was a strange experience. They have some rather exotic products, like packages of chicken feet (I passed on those). But the spices looked intriguing, so I bought a couple. Which I haven’t used, until now.
I tried to read the label, really. I thought it might be smart to know what was in the stuff before I fed it to anyone, but I would have been lost without Google Translate and a lot of guessing. Actually, the stuff is kind of what anybody decides it is. The most common ingredients for the spice blend seem to be coriander, dill, basil, bay leaf, marjoram, blue fenugreek, parsley, saffron, black pepper, celery, thyme, hyssop, mint and hot pepper, in whatever combination you choose. I think mine has mint, coriander, dill, basil, bay leaf, marjoram, fenugreek, parsley, saffron, and hyssop (I have never cooked with hyssop). Consider it the Georgian version of curry powder, which is equally variable.
Next I needed a recipe. I don’t have a Russian or Georgian cookbook, so I looked online, and the recipe that appears most often is Chakhokhibili. Stop laughing: it’s easier to make than to pronounce. Of course, predictably, no two recipes I found were the same, but they all seemed to agree that the dish involved chicken (parts or chunks), onions, lots of garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and of course, the khmeli suneli. Beyond that, you can add pepper flakes, a dash of vinegar (red or white) or lemon juice, and fresh herbs.
Sounds like every Georgian family’s favorite dish. I decided to go for it!
1 lb boneless chicken, chopped
2 medium onions, diced coarsely
4-5 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 Tblsp khmeli-suneli spice mix
salt and pepper
1 can diced tomatoes
Dash of sugar
Mixed fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, tarragon, basil, dill)
Red pepper flakes
Hot peppers (red or green)
Sautee the chicken pieces in oil over high heat.
When the chicken is browned, add the onion and garlic. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are soft.
Add black pepper and the spice mix and stir together.
Add the tomatoes and a dash of sugar. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed.
Any or all of the optional ingredients can be added now--just be sure to simmer for a short while to combine the flavors.
This is most often served with bread (to sop up the sauce) but you could also use rice.
This is a dish I would make again. The flavor is a little spicy, a little sweet, and not quite like anything else I’ve tasted. The whole thing is easy to make, and is a good hearty meal for a cold night.