This hearty stew is traditionally baked and served in individual clay pots called chanakhi, which is where the dish gets its name. It’s also the custom to make slits in each eggplant and stuff them with herbs and chunks of lamb fat before layering them into the stew to braise. Most Georgian home cooks today make a simpler version like the one I present here.
My notes from the time Shushana (my host mother in Batumi) and I cooked it together make me laugh now. Apparently the gas ran out midway, so Shushana had to call the utility company to bring out a fresh propane tank. My host father Misha wandered in to find out what the holdup was, then spread a layer of sour cream on some bread to tide himself over while I drank a glass of homemade Cornelian cherry juice and Shushana tackled the dishes. My host sister Diana came home with a scarlet red dress she’d found for her engagement party. Half an hour later, the guy from the gas company showed up to screw in the new tank on the balcony. We were back in business, the stew again bubbling away on the stove. (Shushana preferred the stovetop to the oven, which is where she stored her pots and pans.) “Now I remember why I never make chanakhi,” Shushana chuckled as we sat down to eat around 11 pm.
This is certainly not a recipe to whip out in a time crunch. Luckily it’s the kind of dish that actually tastes better the second and third time you reheat it, once the flavors have had a chance to meld. I’d advise making it a day ahead of time.
Chanakhi (Georgian Lamb Stew with Eggplant and Potatoes)
2 lbs. lamb stew meat (like boneless lamb shoulder), cut into bite-size (1 in.) chunks
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more for salting the eggplant
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil or butter, divided
2 medium onions, cut in half and sliced into ½-inch wide strips
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 ½ Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered and cut into ½-in.-thick wedges. (No need to peel.)
1 medium globe eggplant or 4 narrow Japanese eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds), stemmed, quartered lengthwise (or cut into eighths if your eggplant is large), and sliced into ½-in.-thick wedges
2 medium bell peppers, any color, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1-in. pieces
1 ½ cups each fresh basil, cilantro, and flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped. (At my grocery store, this is one full bunch of each herb. If some stems get in there, it’s no big deal.)
3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the oven rack so it is in the bottom third of the oven and there is enough room above it to slide in the pot you’ll be using with its lid on.
- Toss the eggplant slices with a good handful of kosher salt, mixing to coat. Set aside for half an hour, then use your hands to knead down the eggplant slices, squeezing out their dark juice as you go. Rinse well and pat the slices dry on a dishcloth or paper towels.
- Mix the lamb with ½ tsp. of the kosher salt, the black pepper, and the cayenne pepper, stirring well to coat. (Your hands are the best tool for this. Just wash and dry them well afterwards.)
- Heat 2 Tbsp. of the oil or butter in a large Dutch oven or deep enameled cast iron pot with a tight-fitting, oven-safe lid. Brown the lamb over high heat, 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove lamb to another dish and set aside.
- Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil or butter to the pot and heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add half the minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so, stirring, until you can really smell the garlic. Turn off the heat or remove the pot from the burner (if using electric stove).
- Add the lamb back into the pot and stir to mix with the onion and garlic. Add the contents of the can of tomatoes (with juice), the red wine vinegar, and the remaining 1 tsp. of salt. Then layer half the potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and herbs on top, each in its own layer. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, eggplant, and peppers, continuing to layer. Add the fresh diced tomato on top. (Your vegetables will likely be nearing the top of the pot at this point.) Pour 4 cups of water over the vegetables. Do not stir.
- Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Move the pot to the oven and bake for 1 ½ hours. Remove the pot from the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees F. Add half the remaining herbs and the rest of the minced garlic to the pot. Put the to back in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until the broth has thickened slightly.
- Serve hot with crusty bread. Sprinkle the remaining herbs over each serving at the table.