A Balkar Culinary Adventure



Other Cuisines

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marga@lacabe.com

The Balkar people are a Turkic ethnolinguistic group native to mountains and canyons in the Northern Caucuses. They trace their origin to the 11th century, when Turkic nomadic people invaded their lands and mixed with the native population. They adopted Islam during the 18th century and where conquered by Russia in the 19th. In 1944, practically the entire Balkar population was forcibly transferred by Soviet forces to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Siberia, as part of Stalin's forced settlements project. Only after the death of Stalin were they able to return to their native lands. They now live in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, located north of Georgia, and periodically strive for independence.

Historically, Balkars raised animals, including sheep, mountain goats, cattle, horses and donkeys, and cultivated small plots of land. Their cuisine thus mostly relied on meats and diary products, including cheeses and kefir.

For my quick sojourn into Balkar cuisine, this is the recipe I made:

Khychin

Stuffed Flat Bread

Potato & Cheese Khychin


This is a vegetarian optional recipe.

Khychins, thin pan-cooked breads stuffed with cheese, potatoes or meats, are considered the national dish of the Balkar people. Traditionally, they were served at every special occasion meal, from weddings to funerals, and it was a sign of honor and hospitality to be invited to share one. Balkar women were judged on their skills at making khychins.

Khychins are usually served in stacks. They are cut in a cross shape into fourths, the word khych actually means cross in Caucasian languages. Balkar khychins are characterized by how thinly they are rolled, about 3mm, as opposed to the thick khychins made by other Caucasian people. They are cooked on dry pans and then covered with butter.

Khychins can be made with a variety of fillings, though most of the recipes I found were for the cheese and potato ones. Sulguni, a brined Georgian cheese, is traditionally used, but as it's very hard to find in the US, you can substitute it with a 2-1 mixture of mozzarella and feta cheeses. A variety of ground beefs can be used, but lamb is the most prized.

Making both the dough and the filling is very simple, in particular if you are using an electric mixer to knead the dough. The skill - which, being my first time making them, I lacked - comes in rolling them to be that thin without breaking the dough. This particularly difficult for the lamb khychins. Still, I fixed them with some extra dough from other balls and they cooked quite well.

Both khychins were very tasty. The lamb ones tasted very much like Indian keema naan.

The recipe below produces enough dough for about 12 8" khychins, with the recipes for the filling each being enough for about 6 khychins. If you only want to make one kind, you can halve the ingredients for the dough. You can make the khychin larger than that if you have a larger cast iron skillet, just remember to keep the dough to filling proportion about 1:1.5.

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Khychin

Ingredients

    For the dough

  • 5 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 2/3 cups kefir
  • 1/3 cup mineral water
  • 1 tsp salt

  • For the potato cheese filling
  • 1 lb Sulguni cheese or 12 oz mozzarella cheese plus 4 oz feta cheese
  • 1 lb potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • salt to taste
  • 1/3 cup chopped mix herbs (dill, parsley, cilantro, etc.) (optional)

  • For the ground meat filling
  • 1 lb ground lamb or veal
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbsp chopped mint
  • salt to taste

  • For the khychins
  • flour
  • butter, softened or melted

Directions

To make the dough

Combine the flour, kefir, mineral water and salt. Knead the mixture until you have a soft, elastic dough, about 20 minutes by hand or 5 minutes at the second speed of an electric mixer outfitted with a hook attachment. Let rest for 10 minutes. Form into balls.

To make the potato & cheese filling

Finely grate or crumble the cheese, if necessary. Place in a large bowl.

Boil the potatoes until soft. Mash them until smooth. Add the butter, salt to taste and herbs, if using. Mix well. Add the mashed potatoes to the bowl of cheese and mix well. Form into balls about 50% larger than the dough bowls you made earlier.

To make the ground lamb filling

Combine all the ingredients. Form into balls about 50% larger than the dough bowls you made earlier.

To prepare the Khychins

Place a ball of filling on top of a ball of dough. Carefully spread the dough over the filling until it's fully covered. Carefully flatten using your hands.

Flour a working surface and rolling pin. Roll each patty until they are 3 mm (.11") thick.

Heat an ungreased iron skillet over medium heat. Add a khychin and cook until lightly browned. Turn and repeat. Repeat with the rest of the khychins. Spread butter all over them. Cut into fourths and serve.

Lamb Khychin


Adapted from several recipes.

Other Caucasian cuisines: Adjarian, Armenian, Azeri, Chechen, Georgian