How one “chudu” has driven a wedge between two villages
In the Gunib district of Daghestan there are two villages, Chokh and Sogratl. One is sitting on top of a rocky cliff, the other one is perched on the summit of an impregnable mountain. One is famous for its scholars, the other one is renowned for its PhDs. One is baking the round-shaped golden-brown “botishal”, the other one is making the sun-like “berkal”. Both thin filled pies or “chudu” are incredibly delicious and tender, and appreciated far beyond their native aouls (villages).
But there are significant distinctions between them. The filling for “botishal” is made of curds and potatoes, and the filling for “berkal” is made of potatoes and curds. When one tastes a morsel of hot chudu, fresh from the frying pan, in “botishal” the cheese fibers stretch for 1 meter, while in “berkal” only as far as you take a bite. Having tasted «botishal”, the native of Sogratl would make a wry face: “It’s good, but it’s a far cry from our “berkal”. It’s like comparing an ass with a pure Arabian stallion!”
When you are dining with a native of Chokh and indiscreetly praise “berkal” (God save you from such folly!), the latter will invariably claim that it is actually “botishal” treacherously renamed to please the natives of Sogratl.
Thus the two amicable villages are waging a gastronomic war. No matter where the traveler finds himself, in Chokh or Sogratl, the mountain folk will habitually attempt to draw over the latter to their side by specialty pies. But, oh, the horror! The guests can taste no difference whatsoever! Let’s try baking this breathtakingly delicious chudu together. And you decide how to call it.
The recipe for “berkal”/”botishal” pies
Pies are like humans: it’s not the attractive coating but the essence that shall be genuine. That’s why we’ll need home-made curds. Buying a mixture of palm oil and petroleum in a shop for highland cuisine is tantamount to judging about Daghestan from TV crime chronicles. The natives of the Caucasus treasure century-old family traditions. Remember how the Granny ripened cow milk, gingerly heated sour-milk and filtered the quark whey through gauze? Only then the chudu will be as miraculous as one’s childhood dreams. To avoid lumps, the curds are meticulously kneaded or chopped in a mincing machine.
As for potatoes, last year’s tubers are preferable. New potatoes may be somewhat roughish which makes them charming when served alone, but in a duet, maturity is what matters most, hence, the alliance with curds is strong and wholesome. Potatoes are boiled and grated. The more potatoes, the more delicious, but if you overdo, chudu will be brittle.
Ingredients: unleavened, not sour dry curds: 500 grams. 3 medium-sized boiled potatoes. Baking soda on the tip of the tea spoon. Wheat flour: 500 grams. Water for dough: 200—250 ml. Creamery butter: at least 2 tea spoons per pie. Oatmeal. Salt. Salty cheese (no more than 50 grams) and finely cut herbs (optional).
Take a little lump of mixed ingredients and heat it on a frying pan or a lighter: it must melt and stretch. If the cheese fiber is easily torn, add a pinch of soda. Some housewives add salty cheese or mountain herbs for piquancy: mint, wild cummin, and sorrel… This filling is shaped into a number of fist-sized spheres. Oftentimes, Caucasian cafes store these globes in advance in the refrigerator to be able to turn them into chudu in a matter of minutes.
Inside the mountaineer may be bubbling like boiling cheese, but outwardly he must be modest and reserved. In the dough, also, there is no intemperance: only water, flour and salt. The dough is then rolled into a noodle and cut into pieces that are two-three times smaller than the globes, and have nearly the same texture.
They are rolled in flour and stretched out into pancakes which are then pulled on the filling like a sheath, pinching the edges of the piecrust and cutting off the residue. Thereafter, the prospective pie is flattened like an ice-hockey puck. Make a few such semi-finished pieces so that the former would have rest prior to the final test. Then they are floured and rolled out pressing the edges. Then chudu will be ideally round-shaped and very thin.
Chudu is a small sun that is why it must hot and not cool down until it ends up in one’s mouth. It is fried on both sides on a hot pan without butter.
In Daghestan one can buy special flat sideless frying pans which make it easier to flip over the capricious pies without damaging the coating. Outside Daghestan, a crepes pan will also do. If the flipped chudu inflates, make an incision with a knife but beware of the steam!
The pies are stacked. The ready chudu are sprinkled with oatmeal and smeared with a large lump of melting home-made butter. The shiny “pancakes” are stacked in a high-sided plate, hence they become a large single cake.
“We make our own butter, that’s why we are plump in contrast with skinny urban women!” housewives in both villages say with pride. The stack is cut into six sectors and chudu is eaten while it is hot, winding the thin layers on the fork, scalding, washing it down with tea, and invariably conversing about the beauty and mysteriousness of the universe. But the most sophisticated Avar gourmets do otherwise: chudu is not stacked, but smeared on both sides with dense sour cream in which the spoon would stand straight. Then tear it to six pieces with two forks without a knife, the magical scent will surely elevate you to the mountain heights and to the shining sun referred to differently everywhere, like our chudu, but sufficient for everyone.
Vladimir Sevrinovsky, for etokavkaz.ru.