adjarian khachapouri + las vegas

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on a rainy afternoon back at the beginning of the summer, I met up for happy hour bites with a friend down in d.c. at a restaurant called supra. we sat watching people running, caught unawares by the flash thunderstorm, and chatting about upcoming summer plans. now it’s nearly the end of the summer, and it’s interesting to remember back on which plans materialized while others will have to wait for some other summer.

the highlight of our meal was the ajaruli khachapouri: a boat of bread filled with melted, hot cheese, butter, and a raw egg mixed in. so, so decadent, and so, so good. it’s been on my mind ever since. I saw a recipe for it the other day and thought, no better way to spend the long hot days of summer than to try my hand at a new bready project. (also I realize I’ve used at least three different names/spellings for the same dish – it seems everyone in the sources I looked at has their own slightly different spelling.)

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one of the other things I really wanted to do this summer was visit one of my closest friends out at her new place in vegas. honestly, I have no love for las vegas. I find casinos incredibly depressing: I’ve heard the conversations of people as they walk out of those places commiserating about how much money they lost, and some of the numbers are alarming. the glamour of each casino feels like a veneer of pyrite painted onto some slithering, shadowy underbelly, and they all have that same smell of cheap perfume, stale alcohol, cleaning supplies, and indolent sadness.

but I do love my friend – we’ve been friends now for almost fifteen years (over half of my life!). so I popped out to vegas for a short weekend visit and it exceeded my expectations. it turns out the mountainous desert landscape around las vegas is desolately stunning, and there is a fairly vibrant local scene outside of the garish unceasing party of the strip. and best of all, my friend is much, much happier now than she was back in texas. we spent most of the weekend just talking for hours and hours, and basking in her settled, calm happiness was easily the best part of my time out there.

places I loved
taco y taco | all the delicious sloppiness of street tacos, located in a pretty cute restaurant in a strip mall. the four-line ordering system is a bit confusing, but it makes so much sense once you get the hang of it. my friends got me hooked on lengua (tongue!) mulas, which is basically a mini quesadilla but with more lengua than cheese.
block 16 urban food hall | what’s a person to do on the strip if they don’t like clubbing or gambling? well, I ate my heart out in cosmopolitan’s bougie food hall. we gave up on the ridiculous eggslut line, but hattie b’s hot chicken and compost cookie soft serve from milk bar were two excellent alternatives – and we got to enjoy our ice cream under the crazed gaze of a larger-than-life plastic caterpillar smoking a bong.
velveteen rabbit | I could have spent the whole night here. located on a fairy light-strung, quiet street in las vegas, velveteen rabbit is a small, shabby-chic bar featuring plush, antiquated love seats, mason jar lighting, and really, really well-mixed drinks made by friendly bartenders. people were there to chat and hang out with friends, and later in the night, there was some bumping live music.
the golden tiki | there was a bit of a line to get in, but once inside, golden tiki was bustling but not crushingly busy, service was friendly and surprisingly fast, and we got a table! golden tiki really committed to the tropical pirate ship decor, and drinks were fruity but very, very strong, which made the kind of sad alt rock cover band seem like the most fun ever.
valley of fire state park | you could literally just drive down rte 15 and never get out of the car, and the scenery would be absolutely worth the $10 admission fee + complimentary/complementary bad attitude from the park staff. hikes in the park are fairly short, but the desert gets scorchingly hot, so pack lots and lots of water. the valley of fire felt like an alien landscape and a sweeping old west epic rolled all into one compact yet insanely stunning area.

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makes 6 khachapouris

dough
7g (1/4 oz) fast-action dried yeast
24g (2 tbsp) granulated sugar
200mL (7 fl oz) lukewarm water
450g (1 lb) bread flour + extra for dusting
10g (1/4 oz) fine sea salt
filling
100g (3 1/2 oz) full-fat ricotta cheese
250g (9 oz) raclette
250g (9 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
10g (1/4 oz) unsalted butter, sliced into 6 pieces
6 small eggs + 1 egg yolk
2 whole eggs + 2 tsp water

olia hercules. kaukasis: a culinary journey through georgia, azerbaijan & beyond. london: octopus publishing group ltd. 2017.
maia acquaviva. adjaruli khachapuri. food & wine. may 2016. accessed 17 august 2019.

dough|1 in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix yeast with sugar, water, flour, and salt. start on low speed until dry ingredients are completely hydrated (2-3 minutes) then increase to low-medium speed and mix until a smooth wet dough comes together (3-4 minutes).
2 transfer dough to oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. let rise in a warm place until dough is almost double in size (~60 minutes).
filling|1 mix cheeses with single egg yolk and use fork to mash together well.
assembly|1 preheat oven to its highest setting and heat up a few upside-down baking sheets (or pizza stone).
2 flour work surface well. cover hands in flour and scrape dough onto work surface. knead in extra flour if dough is too sticky.
3 divide dough into 6 pieces – each piece should be just a bit heavier than 100g (3 1/2 oz). roll out each piece of dough on lightly floured work surface into 7-in round. stretch both sides of each round to elongate then pile 100g (3 1/2 oz) filling in center, leaving a 1/4-in border around the edge. bring two sides of dough up to meet in middle and pinch seam together to seal. press down with flat of hand to flatten it, then flip over so seam is face down. repeat.
4 beat together 2 eggs and water to create egg wash. brush dough ovals all over.
5 with sharp knife, make slash along middle of a dough oval and push sides open to expose filling. repeat with rest of dough and filling to make 6 khachapouris.
6 slide khachapouris onto hot baking trays and bake until sides turn golden, ~10 minutes. crack egg into center of each, then bake for another 2-3 minutes. to serve, use fork to mix egg yolk into hot cheese and top with a pat of butter.

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