Following the release of Olia Hercules’ cookbook Kaukasis, Olia shares a delicious Ossetian pie recipe with Baku. Learn how to make it below, or read our exclusive interview with her here
I grew up with Ossetian pies. Our friend Svetlana is married to an Ossetian and she was taught how to make them by her husband’s mother in the mountains, then brought them to Ukraine and wowed us. A pile of them, some with meat, some with cheese, were exotic and familiar at the same time. In Ossetia they are traditionally served three at a time, sometimes round, sometimes triangular, each with a different filling and meant to represent fire, water and earth – most definitely an ancient tradition, originating in paganism. Pagan pies, connecting us with the elements and the universe – I’m in.
Recipe makes 3 large pies (each pie serves 2–3 people)
Ossetian pie dough
7g (¼oz) fast-action dried yeast
1 teaspoon clear honey
150ml (¼ pint) lukewarm kefir
150ml (¼ pint) lukewarm milk
550g (1lb 4oz) organic white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
Beet tops & cheese filling
20g (¾oz) unsalted butter, plus 50g (1¾oz)
for the brown butter, to glaze
350g (12oz) beetroot stalks and leaves (or use Swiss chard)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
grated zest of ½ lemon (optional)
200g (7oz) Ogleshield cheese or raclette, coarsely grated
150g (5½oz) feta cheese, crumbled
100g (3½oz) spring onions, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped dill
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
For the dough, mix the yeast and honey into the lukewarm kefir and milk in a jug and leave for 10 minutes or so until you see bubbles appearing on the surface.
Pour the yeast mixture into a large bowl, then gradually add half the flour and mix together until you have a soft, very wet dough. The reason why we are looking for a very wet dough here is because it will make it easier to add the salt to the dough later – if you add the salt too early, the yeast will struggle to multiply.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes.
Now make the brown butter to glaze the pies later. Have a heatproof bowl at the ready. Heat the 50g (13/4oz) of butter in a saucepan over a medium-low heat until it starts foaming and then changes colour to deep golden and starts smelling nutty. Immediately tip it from the hot pan into the bowl, otherwise it can continue cooking and may burn. Set aside for later.
Thinly slice the beetroot stalks and roughly chop the leaves. Heat the remaining 20g (¾oz) butter in a pan, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes over a low heat. Then add the beetroot stalks and leaves and cook for a further 5 minutes or so – you are looking for the stalks to soften, but still retain texture. Add the lemon zest at the very end, if using, then give it all a good stir and leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F), Gas Mark 7. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment.
Once the beet mixture is cool, mix it with the cheeses, season well with salt and pepper and add the spring onions and dill. Mix thoroughly and shape into 3 balls.
Flour your hands, then knead the salt and some of the remaining flour into the risen dough until it stops sticking to your hands. It should still be very soft and pillowy, though. Divide the dough into 3 even pieces. Flatten each piece with your hand and roll out on a lightly floured work surface into rounds about 2cm (¾ inch) thick. Place a cheese ball in the centre of each dough round. Bring the edges of the dough up over the filling, pleating as you go, and pinch the ends together really well at the top to secure like a money bag. Sprinkle a little flour over the top and flip the pouch over, then flatten the pouch gently with your hand, spreading the filling inside all the way to the edges. You can also use your rolling pin gently to flatten it a little further.
Pop the pies on to the lined baking sheets. Make a slit in the middle of each pie to let the steam out and bake for 15 minutes. The dough should be golden and the pies’ bottoms should be dry. Brush the pies with the brown butter as soon as they are out of the oven and eat immediately.
Images courtesy of Olia Hercules