08/26/13 12:30pm

Intrepid Vegetarian: Cheese-filled Khinkali and a Georgian Condiment Worthy of Obsession

Khinkali topped with ajika from Brick Oven Bread. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Like many cuisines nurtured in mountainous places, Georgian food is notably meat-intensive. So I wasn’t surprised when the counterman at Brick Oven Bread, a Georgian bakery, laughed at my request for meatless khinkali.

Georgia’s famous boiled dumplings, which bear an uncanny resemblance to Shanghai xiao long bao (aka, soup dumplings) or Himalayan momo, are almost always filled with ground beef, pork, or lamb—especially in New York City, where affordable meat is easily procured. (In Georgia, khinkali filled with mushroom, potato, and cheese are not uncommon.)

But then the woman behind the counter spoke up: “I make them stuffed with cheese for myself. Would like to try some?”

Khinkali stuffed with Greek feta from Brick Oven Bread. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

And that’s how I came into possession of a rare supply of vegetarian khinkali (8 for $6) filled with soft, tangy, and mildly salty-funky Greek feta cheese. Their crescent-shaped dough shells are soft—but firm—and just thick enough to hold the oozing whipped cheese, even after a thorough boiling.

Oozing feta within Brick Oven Bread's khinkali. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Brick Oven’s proprietor instructed me in the proper khinkali boiling technique (stir frequently to prevent sticking) and recommended that I eat them with sour cream. (They are also eaten plain or with ground black pepper sprinkled on top.)

But these mild, carb- and dairy-rich dumplings are the perfect vehicle for the ajika (pronounced uh-JEE-kuh) that also came home with me from Brick Oven. This complex condiment, another Georgian specialty, blends red bell pepper with more than a dozen seasonings and spices, including the constituents of Georgia’s famous khmeli-suneli ground spice blend.

A closer look at Brick Oven Bread's ajika. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Brick Oven’s ajika is heavy on the sweet red bell pepper—which is stewed with tomato, shredded carrot, and ample garlic and then spiked with mildly tangy apple vinegar, saffron, and khmeli-suneli (imported from Georgia) loaded with zingy-savory fenugreek leaves and seeds, as well as fragrant ground coriander seeds. If Balkan ajvar raided a North Indian kitchen, it might taste like this condiment, which is shaping up to be my newest food obsession.

Brick Oven Bread regularly makes fresh batches of ajika at their bakery/shop on Kings Highway in South Brooklyn. If anything can lure me from Queens to Brooklyn, this is it.

Brick Oven Bread, 230 Kings Highway, Gravesend, 718-759-6250

Check out Anne Noyes Saini’s ongoing food + audio projects on SoundCloud.

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6 Comment

  • Have you heard of/checked out Georgian at Oda House? Kinkhali and khachapuri and beef bread (not sure of name) are all incredible. Their ajika doesn’t sound quite as complex as yours (definitely devoid of tartness or garlic) but was a welcome condiment between pieces of the khachapuri and beef bread.

    Check out this video of the khachapuri on my instagram, it makes me happy everytime I view it:

  • I literally returned yesterday from Georgia, and had Khinkali close to every day (and late night) of a two week trip, including tastes of cheese and crab variety. Those, Sir, are not Khinkali, and in fact bear an odd resemblance to freezer pierogi.

  • I have also spent time in Georgia and I agree with a previous poster who said these do not look like the khinkali of Georgia. There were times in restaurants where only meat khinkali were offered but then they would also have cheese dumplings that looked more like the photos here.

    One of the nice aspects of the cheese khinkali was the savory flavor of the cheese. I’m told that traditionally two cheeses are used: Sulguni, the predominant cheese, is a somewhat like a mozzerella, while Chanakh is a brined cheese more like a feta. I have seen Sulguni in Queens but have never found Chanakh. However, you can make a reasonably Georgia-like cheese khinkali using Halloumi from Cypress, which seems to be available even in main stream supermarkets these days, combined with a good quality Bulgarian Feta.

    • Tony, perhaps the term khinkali is being used somewhat loosely by the good folks at Brick Oven. Whatever these were, they were tasty — and much appreciated by this vegetarian. Thanks also for the tip re: approximating sulguni + chanakh with Bulgarian feta + Cypriot halloumi. Indeed, both cheeses are especially easy to find in grocery stories in Astoria, Queens (e.g., at Mediterranean Foods, Parrot, and Titan).

  • I concur with the other posters. These are NOT khinkali and it is an offence to the mothers of Georgia who for centuries have made something part of the national Georgian identity and the family kitchen. Please do not offend people due to your lack of knowledge and information. You need to research more before claiming that what someone else is telling you is true. These are flat, meat (or other filling) stuffed, DUMPLINGS. They take many names in different countries – Austria = G’hackknoedel China = Zong-zi

    Again, these are NOT khinkali. Khinkali have the distinctive and unique pleated (13 times) nubbin at the top.