by Darra Goldstein

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Megrelian ajika” by Georgia About/ (via Wikimedia Commons) is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Adzhika is Georgia’s lively answer to salsa. My most memorable taste occurred way back in 1989, when my husband and I were traveling through Georgia. Our friend Zaza wanted to show us the beautiful Black Sea coast and dramatic mountains of western Georgia. But the country was caught up in political unrest. As we approached the city of Zugdidi, a ragtag unit of fifty men armed with rifles stopped our car and demanded to know who we were. Somehow Zaza managed to convince them of our innocent intentions, and after half an hour they let us move on. But the Russians wanted to quash these self-styled militias. By the time we got to Khobi, where we planned to spend the night, armored tanks were rolling in, a fearsome display of Soviet force.

We finally arrived at the house of Zaza’s friends Guram and Gulisa. There we encountered a different sort of display—lavish Georgian hospitality, the ability to celebrate even in difficult times, a skill honed over thousands of years of foreign invasion and occupation. Gulisa regaled us with dishes rich with walnuts and redolent of herbs. Guram piled up skewers of grilled beef marinated in pomegranate juice, served with a generous dollop of adzhika on the side.

Even today, when I make this relish, I’m reminded of Georgian generosity, and of the Latarias’ beautiful home, which they were forced to abandon when civil war broke out. For me, a taste of this relish comes with a taste of history.

Hot Pepper Relish (Adzhika)

8 garlic cloves, peeled

1 large celery stalk, including leaves

¼ pound fresh hot red peppers, including seeds

1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded

2 cups coarsely chopped fresh dill

1½ cups coarsely chopped cilantro

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon salt

Using the pulse control of a food processor, grind the garlic slightly. Coarsely chop the celery, hot peppers, and red bell pepper and add them to the garlic. Pulse again. Add the chopped herbs and pulse to a medium coarseness. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the vinegar and salt. Cover and let stand overnight before packing into jars. Either store in the refrigerator or process in a water bath for longer storage. This relish tastes best when allowed to sit for 3 days before serving.

Makes about 1 pint.

From The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia

Darra Goldstein is Willcox and Harriet Adsit Professor of Russian at Williams College and founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. She has consulted for the Council of Europe as part of an international group exploring ways in which food can be used to promote tolerance and diversity and is the author of a number of books, including A Taste of Russia and The Winter Vegetarian.