As I mentioned in my previous post my mother side of the family comes from Chechnya, a tiny nation in the North Caucasus Mountains. The geographical nature of the area as well as two hundred years of on and off wars and independence attempts from Russia left their mark on the Chechen cuisine. The food in Chechnya is very simple and basic. The available vegetables are no more than potatoes, garlic, onion, cabbage and few wild greens as the Caucasus with its sharp slopes and cold weather didn't offer a suitable environment for farming. During war time especially winter months people had to survive on very little but flour, dairy and preserved meats. Chechen in the diaspora although left Chechnya over a century ago managed to preserve some of their cuisine till this day.
My grandparents house wasn't strictly Chechen since my Grandmother is Kurdish. The language spoken in the house was Arabic and the vast majority of the food was Syrian. Nevertheless, few Chechen dishes were always on the menu. One of the most unusual dishes my granddad (and occasionally my mum) enjoyed for breakfast was Churychay. This was a bowl of hot tea and milk but instead of sugar salt and pepper and a piece of butter is added. You then dip your bread to soak the tea. When you are full you simply drink what is left! You can imagine my horror when I first tasted this stuff at eight years of age. This dish is the ultimate evidence that food is an acquired taste.
Kurzanesh was a crowd-pleaser in my grandparents house. It is minced lamb filled dumplings steamed or boiled depending how many hungry mouths my grandma had to feed. These then eaten alone or with garlic and yogurt sauce.
My favorite Chechen dish (this might be my favourite dish ever, or very close up there) is Chechenya's national dish Galnesh (Galvash, Djir-Galnish and Zhizhig-Galvash are other names of this dish). A simple pasta like dough cooked in meat broth and eaten with very strong Garlic sauce. This simple, filling and hearty dish reflects more than any other the historical isolation and resilience of the Chechen nation.
Here is my recipe:
Plain Flour 2 cups
Lamb cubes 500g (or even better, lamb shanks)
Garlic 5-6 cloves
Water 1 cup
Meat in Chechen cooking is always boiled (All Chechen food is cooked by boiling on open stove . There is hardly any fried or roasted dishes). Start with adding a liter or so of water to cover your meat. Bring to the boil making sure you regularly skim the surface to get a clear tasty stock. Season with salt and pepper. Once boiled reduce the heat and simmer for 60 - 90 minutes till the meat is nice and tender. Once cooked remove the meat aside. Keep a bowl of the meat stock for the garlic sauce. The rest of the stock will be used to cook the Galnesh.
Once the meat is simmering, start making your dough. Mix the flour, egg, one tea spoon of salt and 3/4 cup of water and start mixing. Add more water if the dough is too hard, the final dough need to be Pasta-like hard dough. Work the dough for few minutes, cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 30 minutes.
When the dough is rested, cut into pieces and flatten with your hand to 5 mm thick. Cut into small squares. On a well floured wooden cutting board, using your fingers, press and roll the dough squares to form the Galnesh fingers. Arrange on a tray till the meat is cooked and you are ready to cook them. The video below will show you the way.
In a large pot add boiling water to the rest of the meat stock and bring to the boil. Drop the Galnesh fingers and cook for 20 - 25 minutes. This is similar to cooking pasta. The Galnesh need to be slightly al dente.
Crush the garlic cloves with salt in a pestle and mortar. Add the garlic to the meat stock preserved to make your dipping sauce. This need to be salty and very very garlicky.
Arrange your Galnesh around the sauce bowl and the meat pieces on top. With your fork take some meat and a piece of Galnesh, dip in the garlic sauce and enjoy.