Spring and Spicy Stew

On the first day of spring, when the snow piles in St. Petersburg, Russia, are reaching up to the second floor windows, I’d like to offer a recipe for chanakhi, a spicy stew, perfect for both cold and warm weather.  Why is it that a favorite Russian dish, if you ask a Russian, almost always turns out to be a Georgian recipe?   Russians love Georgian food – unlike Russian dishes, it is spicy and bursting with flavor.

Ingredients: 1 lb of lamb cut into 1-inch cubes; 1,5 lbs of potatoes cut into pieces of any shape; 1/2 lb of tomatoes cut in half; 3/4 lb of eggplant chopped in cubes; 1/2 lb of cut string beans; 1 chopped-up onion; fresh cilantro

Preparation: Put the lamb and all other ingredients into a ceramic casserole, salt and pepper generously, pour in 2 cups of water, cover, and place into an oven for 1 1/2-2 hours.  Serve in the same ceramic dish.

I often turn this recipe into a soup, using the same ingredients but making it in a pot on top of the stove.  The lamb goes in first and cooks in 6-8 cups of water for about 45 min.  After that, you can add bay leaf, peppercorns, and all the rest.

All my friends and family (none of whom is from Georgia) have different recipes for chanakhi.  My sister, for example, never puts in tomatoes.  My friend Irina adds chickpeas.  My friend Anya adds a spoonful of adjika, or any hot sauce.

Does anyone out there have a different recipe for chanakhi, perhaps an old family recipe?   Or even better – do you have an interesting recipe you always thought would go to the grave with you?  I would love to hear stories of Russian meals that were special, funny, or meaningful to you and your family.  Please write them in the comment space after this post.  I also would love to hear from any of you who were born in Russia or went there as a visitor and might have interesting experiences you would like to share.  Thank you.  Spasibo!