Friday, January 22, 2016

Clean Sweep Week Khmeli Suneli

No, that’s not “hello” in some obscure language. Well, the language may be obscure, but the translation is “dried spices,” and it’s traditional mix used in Georgian cuisine. Not the US one, the other one. Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia (yes, I can just see your eyes glaze over), next door to Russia, which has made the lives of the Georgians rather complicated politically. What matters here is that it lies at the crossroads of multiple cultures, and its food has reaped the rewards.

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!

Georgian Chakhokhbili

1 lb boneless chicken, chopped 

into medium-size pieces
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. 

That’s Georgian for “I hope you’ll try it.” (if I can trust Google Translate)

I'll take a week off from reminding you that A Turn for the Bad will be released on February 2nd, and tell you about something completely different: Edgar Allan Cozy, a series of short stories from New England writers inspired by Poe's own stories, but with a modern twist. It's to celebrate his birthday this week: he was born January 19th, 1809.

You can find it on Amazon.


  1. I can't wait for my trip to a vicarious Irish pub. Congratulations on your culinary adventure to Georgia.

  2. Very adventurous Sheila! I'm afraid I would have thrown that jar of spices out...although I did load up in a similar way at an Indian market in New York. those ingredients are a little more familiar...

  3. This sounds interesting but I don't think there's anyplace around here that carries Russian products. We have Asian, Spanish, and Indian markets in the area. But I usually go to them looking for a specific item for a recipe.

    1. You can find recipes for the spice mix online--but I'm pretty sure no one is going to bother to make it (unless you're entertaining Georgian guests!).

      I love markets almost anywhere, but it's always a question whether you want to buy and try something you've never even heard of.

  4. Curiously, there is a Russian market near me here in south Florida. But I have to be honest and say I'm not likely to go get this spice.
    Your recipe sounds intriguing and I'd love to taste it, but I don't need any more spices getting old in my cabinet. I have enough of my own "McGyver" moments already!

    1. It was a spur of the moment choice (and it looked a lot better than the chicken feet!). I think I'll use it up, but I may not go looking for more.

  5. That sounds delicious, Sheila! Now to find somewhere to buy khemeli suneli!

  6. Ha! Just as I suspected, you can buy it on Amazon for $6.95!

  7. Oh, what fun, Sheila! Your recipe is clearly one that could be made with nearly any spice mix, hard to decipher or not. Good choice, and I love the glimpse into Georgian cooking -- we can see the Eastern, Indian, and Mediterranean influences in that list!

  8. Fun foodie find, Sheila, an exotic addition to Clean Sweep Week. Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend.

    Stay safe and warm, everyone!

    ~ Cleo

  9. Even though I have a bad cold and not much in the way of tastebuds working, that sounds pretty good. Love your sense of adventure, Sheila! I'm a Penzey's Spice gal from even before we could order online. The latest spice blend I'm interested in is here: And it's nice to know one can order practically anything on the internet, like from Amazon. Hope that made sense!

  10. Here's a video on how to make Sheila's spice blend:

    1. And I even have a coffee grinder that I reserve for making spices! Thanks.

  11. Thanks for another intriguing post, Sheila. Never a dull moment in your cupboards and on your table.



  12. I love this recipe, Sheila! Nicely daring on so many levels. And it sounds good to boot!

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