The philosophy of the Daghestani khinkal
What shall every man in the Caucasus be able to do: to feed the guest, not to starve on the trek, and to properly choose a wife. All these problems can solved by means of the khinkal, the main dish in the Daghestani cuisine.
Murad Kalayev, and the siblings Rasul and Kamila Parkuyevs, the owners of the «Daghestani Store» at the Danilovsky Market Place in Moscow disclosed some secrets of the Daghestani cuisine, and told us how girls get married in Daghestan.
The philosophy of the Daghestani cuisine
“The Daghestani cuisine is medieval food: just cooked meat, just broth and dough,” says Murad. “There have never been any kings or wealthy people in these lands that is why the food is simple. Historically, chefs invented dishes to impress their lords, whereas around here everybody have been more or less equal. We had neither classes, nor castes. Surely, we have amazing foodstuffs like the “urbech” (a paste made of ground flax seeds and apricot kernels) which we use as a sauce. Flax and apricots are ubiquitous. But the life of the mountaineer is exacting, hence the food.
The secret of the Daghestani cuisine is in environmentally clean food. Sheep graze on pristine meadows, and feed only on grass instead of commercial mixed feeds,” assures Murad. “Most importantly, the flavor of meat and broth shall be free of chemicals. Otherwise, if the animal is fed with some odd stuff it surfaces in the flesh. In the mountains the mutton preserves the fragrance of flowers and grass the sheep used to eat.”
“Picture this: three shepherds meet up in the mountains and decide to have a meal. What shall they cook? They slaughter a sheep, and cook it. They knead dough in a vessel with water and salt. Then they tear the dough to pieces and splash it into the mutton broth,” says Murad Kalayev. “No cutlery, so they finger the cooked meat and dough, and wash them down with broth. Of course, this food is very rough, rich and fatty but mountaineers are always on the move so fat is not deposited in the body.
“Any man, any mountaineer can make khinkal,” adds Rasul Parkuyev. “Traditionally, our men spent much time on the road, in military expeditions, and they needed to cook something. Despite its simplicity, the khinkal may be quite diverse. There are as many recipes as there are ethnic groups. One family prefers the Avar khinkal, another one likes the Dargin or Lak khinkal. And every one would bet their khinkal is the most delicious one. In Daghestan, it is not customary to segregate people by ethnicity. The republic is multinational, and no one wants conflicts, let alone over khinkal,” Murad pointed out. “Some peoples came and left, others settled down for good but contributed their culture. The Laks traveled much in military expeditions and would return with some novelty. That’s why the Lak khinkal is quite similar to the Italian pasta (Conchiglioni).
Surely, khinkal is made in a variety of ways but the point is that the dough, the meat, the broth and the sauce are served separately.
The Georgian khinkali, in principle, consists of the same ingredients but it is served differently.
The dough for the Avar khinkal is kneaded with kefir, and it comes out puffy and airy, is cut into large rhombs and cooked in broth. Most importantly, the lumps must be taken out of the pot on time otherwise they would shrink, darken and get firm and inedible.
The Dargin khinkal is kneaded with yeast. The dough is pinned out thinly, buttered, sprinkled with spices, rolled up, sliced into snail-like pieces and steamed.
The Kumyk and Lezgi khinkal is pinned out thinly and reminds of “beshbarmak” (a noodle dish with meat in which noodles resemble very thin and delicate lasagna sheets). Usually, khinkal is eaten with fingers. Lumps of cooked dough are dipped into the sauce, eaten with meat and washed down with broth. Some prefer forks and knives but it is believed the genuine taste of the dish is lost because of that.
How to cook khinkal in order to get married
Although the khinkal was invented by men, it is usually cooked by women. The Daghestani woman must know how to cook khinkal even if she an inexperienced cook. There is dough, water and meat in every single household. The meat may be fresh or dried, or frozen: it is not as important. What is important is that there must be enough to feed the guest and the family at any time of the day and night. Naturally, the housewife is entitled to cook anything she likes but for the Daghestani, khinkal is the flavor of the household and the highest honor for the guest.
“Women cook differently. The smaller and neater the khinkal, the harder the housewife tried, obviously. In the case of the Lak recipe, we knead unfermented dough with flour, water and salt. The dough is extruded into strings and noodles, and cut into miniscule pieces. Every single tiny piece shall be pressed by the little finger to make a “sea shell”. If the girl manages to make the shells small enough to place 99 of them in a spoon, then according to the Lak tradition, she is an excellent bride,” says Kamila. “After the wedding, in the morning or even at night, the friends visit the house of the newlywed. There may be two dozen of them. And the young wife must treat the entire congregation to khinkal. If everybody is replete and happy, it means their friend is in good hands.”