I found Maka Bakhbava in one of the Georgian culinary groups. She has impressed me with amazing photos and delicious recipes. Maka has lived in the US for 21 years and currently works as a Senior Business Analyst at Cartus International.
Culinary is one of my hobbies. Perhaps childhood is all about it. Grandmother, mother and aunt were good cooks in the family. My grandparents (on my mother’s side) were gourmets. Each of our visits was celebrated as a feast in the family and the preparation of delicious dishes began. I loved visiting them, sweet Megrelian conversation and delicious Megrelian dishes. I also love to travel and get acquainted with the culinary traditions of different countries, to taste interesting dishes. Upon arrival back I try to prepare new dishes I tasted while traveling at home. I also post video recipes on YouTube as best I can.
I arrived in the States in 1995 through an exchange program funded by the Port of Poti and finished school here. After returning to Georgia and graduating from university, my American host family invited me back to the United States to continue my studies. I came for the second time in 2000 to study. I graduated from James Madison University with a Master of Business Administration with 100% funding as an honors student. I met my hubby at university, he was studying with me. After graduating, we engaged and moved to Connecticut. My sister was also invited by my American family to continue her studies. We brought our mother here after graduating from university.
Tell us about local traditional dishes.
I live in Connecticut. It is a coastal state in the Atlantic, about an hour’s drive from New York. It is a very beautiful state with wonderful spring and autumn. Winters are harsh and long.
Our state is known for its New Haven-style pizza, created by Italian immigrants in New Haven, the town of Yale University, a hundred years ago. Many Italian immigrants lived in this city at the turn of the century. It is considered to be the best pizza in America. Frank Pepe’s Apizza was founded in 1929 by Italian immigrant Frank Pepe on Worcester Street in New Haven. At the top of the street is Frank Pepe Pizzeria, and at the end of the street is a pizzeria opened in 1938 by his nephew Sally (Salvatore Consiglio) called Sally’s Apizza. Unlike Neapolitan pizza, the pizza is baked in a charcoal oven, the dough is very thin and crunchy. Even after baking, it retains its solid shape and does not turn doughy. America’s best pizza has no mozzarella (mutz). White clam pizza (white clam pie - mollusk, garlic, olives and marjoram) and plain tomato pizza (plain tomato pie - San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, olives and parmesan) - these two pizzas are the oldest and most famous from Frank Pepe Pizzeria. Of course they also have Mozzarella pizza and many more, but these are two old originals.
Ramps is American ramson. I heard about this plant late because you will never find it in the store. I knew that in the spring, in our state, American gourmets (foragers) used to go into the woods and collect wood garlic. I discovered from a Georgian culinary group that ramson was used in eastern Georgia and realized that American ramps and ramson are the same plant. Traditionally, in our state this plant is harvested after it takes leaves. It is known as wood garlic, wild leek. In fact, it is a wild onion (Allium Tricoccum), with remarkable taste of garlic and onion. It was used by the American Indians in their cooking. Pesto sauce is made from it, it is also used with fried potatoes and bacon, grilled steak, used in soups, marinades. It is famous not only in our state but also in other states. They have a Ramps Festival in Virginia and Tennessee.
Connecticut is also known for its best rural ice cream. There are many farms here where the best ice cream is made. No matter where you go, no matter what country, nothing compares to the local ice cream. We do not buy ice cream in the store at all, because you cannot even compare it with the rural one. The best ice cream is made only with the highest quality milk and seasonal ingredients.
Do you often cook at home?
The whole family has a very busy schedule for. Since I and my husband both work, we try to share cooking, I cook for two days, my hubby cooks for other two days (he is an extraordinary cook), we order pizza for one day, we go for a walk to a village or town on Saturday and eat their local food and on Sunday we stay at home and cook together.
We also prepare Georgian dishes. Mother and sister are here too and we are trying to gather at one table with Georgian food. My children and my husband love Georgian dishes, namely: eggplant with walnuts (more precisely, with almonds - we replaced walnuts with other nuts due to my son’s allergy. We replaced almonds or pecans in all dishes. It turns out very tasty), pkhali, mchadi, Ajarian khachapuri, achma khachapuri, ghomi, satsivi, baje, barbecue, chicken with unripen blackberry, kindzmari, ajapsandali, mashed beans, potato and mushroom pasties. They also love cutlets and tolma.
What does a typical American family dinner look like? Let’s say during a family reunion on the weekends.
On weekends we try to gather with my sister’s family or my husband’s family. We actively use the grill in warm weather. We grill different meats: lamb, beef, gilt, or we cook pork ribs barbecue. Also, corn soaked in water is placed on the grill and boiled in its steam. We have an amazing vegetable garden full of tomatoes, vegetables, spices. We make different salads with this. Everyone loves tomato salad with pesto sauce and burrata cheese.
We go fishing by boat to catch mollusks and oysters. The water level is very low when the ocean tide is low, at which time mollusks and oysters can be taken from the water with a special shovel. Freshly caught fish and mollusks are delicious. With this we host the family. Fried fish, or fish with oven-baked olives, capers, tomatoes, garlic and onions is easy to prepare and very tasty. We also make raw oysters, mollusks with tarragon, porchetta or pernil in winter. We also prepare Georgian dishes, we try to learn new things and do not limit ourselves to monotony.
The dish I chose for the Gastroguide readers was first tasted about two decades ago together with an university friend. He ordered grits with shrimp. When they brought it I could hardly believe my eyes, because the Megrelian ghomi was very similar to the American grits. I tried it, it had different cheese and a slightly thinner consistency, but it was actually ghomi. I have since learned that grits is a traditional dish of the American Indians, the Muskogee tribe, that originated in the 16th century. Grits and shrimp is a traditional dish of the South Pacific states (South Carolina, Georgia).
Cajun shrimps with grits
Grits proportion: one to four. One cup of grits, 4 cups of liquid. Polenta can also be used instead of grits.
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1 cup grits
60 grams of butter
120 grams of cheddar cheese (or Monterey Jack).
Preparation: Put water, milk, grits in a pot and cook at medium temperature. Mix with a balloon whisk so that it does become lumpy. This which is very helpful in this respect. Lower the temperature and simmer slowly for about 35-40 minutes. Add butter, grind cheddar (or Monterey Jack). Salt and black pepper to taste. Transfer to a plate.
500 grams shrimps (unshelled)
200 grams bacon or ham
1 clove garlic
Garnish with parsley
Louisiana Cajun seasoning - A ready-made spice that contains dried onions, garlic, marjoram, thyme, salt, paprika, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Everything is ground. It can be prepared at home. The proportions are more or less individual, for example, if you like more spicy, you can add more cayenne pepper, if you like more garlic, add a little more garlic and so on. The approximate proportions are as follows: 2 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp paprika, and 1 tbsp remaining seasoning one by one. Mix everything together and this spice can be stored for 6 months.
Preparation: Bake the bacon on a large frying pan. Transfer to a separate bowl. Season the shrimp with cayenne seasoning and fry in bacon fat. Add finely chopped garlic. Shrimp are fried very quickly. On the frying pan, the shrimps should not touch each other, otherwise they will be cooked instead of roasted. When the shrimp turn red, turn them over and fry them on the other side. Remove from the hot oven and add the fried bacon. Mix well. Add the prepared dish to the prepared grits. Add parsley and chopped lemon. Enjoy.