Serious Cheese: Grilled Cheese, Georgian Style
The combination of crusty dough and melted cheese has spawned some of the greatest foods in the world. Pizza and grilled cheese come first to mind for many Americans, but the United States can hardly claim ownership. Indeed, thousands of miles across the world, in a land wedged between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east, the bread-and-cheese meme has perhaps reached its apex in the form of the Georgian food khachapuri—literally, "cheese bread."
Living in Brooklyn, which is quite possibly home to the largest community of former-Soviet expats outside of Eastern Europe, I am lucky enough to know that there are actually many variations of this delicious snack. However, there are some defining characteristics. One is that the cheese filling is made with sulguni a pickled (i.e., brined) Georgian cheese with a texture like mozzarella but whose flavor is much more sour. The cheese is grated and mixed with eggs, so the resulting texture of the filling is very gooey and super rich. Add to that texture the salty piquancy of the cheese, and, well, you see where this is going.
One of the main sources of variation I've seen is with the type of dough used. I've seen khachapuri where the dough is almost like pizza dough, and the cheese is melted over the top. I've also seen a version where a pastrylike dough is formed into a pouch around the gooey cheese filling, and then flattened before it's baked on a well-greased sheet. The one I had today from Uzbeki restaurant Café Afsona on Ditmas Avenue in Brooklyn was more on the pastry side of things, but was puffy and not flattened. Sweet and sour at the same time, salty and creamy as well, this thing was truly amazing. And all that for $3!
Apparently I'm not the only one head-over-heels for these. Some guy on YouTube made an instructional video on how to make khachapuri, a video whose soundtrack can only be described as "euphoric." Last spring, Gourmet profiled the dish and included a recipe with some ideas for cheese substitutes in lieu of sulguni. Indeed, if you're like me and you enjoy melted cheese and dough (seriously, who doesn't?), you have to try this dish before you die.
416 Ditmas Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11218 (map)