Ossetian Pies

I love Ossetian pies. Russia is a great country for pies, and Stolle has long been my favorite Russian restaurant. The wide counter has pies from one end to the other, and I always had a hard time deciding what to eat that day.

It was years later that I met Ossetian pies. My then-colleague Elena brought some to work one day, made by her mother, who is Ossetian. It was flat and round like a pancake, perhaps half an inch thick, and sandwiched a strangely delicious filling between thin layers of dough. The filling was slightly tangy and a bit meaty - it was hard to describe, but if I had to guess, I might have said it included bits of meat.

The pie in question (still my absolute favorite) was, in fact, vegetarian. The filling was made with cabbage and onions sauteed in butter, then cheese and chopped walnuts were folded in. I kept on nagging my colleague to bring more pies. Occasionally she did, some including cheese and potato, and the newspaper staff would keep an eye on her to make sure we didn't get left behind when she and the pies went for lunch.

When I left Russia, Elena's mother, Lyudmilla, gave me several pies to take on the road. I stuffed my bag full of them and arrived at JFK in a food coma.

Fast forward a year, I finally got my hands on the recipe, and forced Elena to show me how to make them. For me, everything about it was exotic and surprising - I bake a lot and make pizzas, quiche, chicken pot pies, pastries and bread, but it wasn't like anything in my repertoire. For one, the dough was exceedingly soft, sticky and wet. For another, there was no rolling out of dough.

I've tried making them on my own - the one with meat (фыдджин - fyddzhin) didn't turn out very well (I didn't know what to do with the filling) but I did make a pretty decent cabbage one. Called кабускаджин (kabuskadzhin) it is my all time favorite. I also tried цахараджин (tsakharadzhin) which is with the stems of beets and cheese. It's leaner than the cabbage one because the stems are not cooked in butter (they go in the pie raw) and there are no nuts. My pie turned out pretty pink. Elena and I made картофджин (kartofdzhin) together; it's with mashed potatoes with cheese. There are other kinds, with mushrooms, with beans, with pumpkin... most of them seem to be savory.

my first one with cabbage - kabuskadzhin
Now, I have a favor to ask - if you are reading this, and are Ossetian, or know how to make Ossetian pies, or have found good recipes on the internet, please leave a comment with links or recipes in the comment section below. I will try making Ossetian pies over the next few months, and if I succeed, I will upload recipes and photos. I want to be master of Ossetian pies and make them for parties and friends, because I think they are one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten!

my first tsakharadzhin - with beet stems
These pies are just amazing, and while I must say that they are not entirely healthy (they usually contain lots of cheese and some fillings are full of butter) but they are absolutely delicious. In Ossetia, they are made on festive occasions such as birthdays. Recipes are handed from mother to daughter, and an ideal pie is flat and thin, with no holes (see mine full of holes?) and the dough should be evenly thin, moist and soft.

Thank you again, Lyudmilla, for all the pies you gave me, and inspired me with. And much thanks to my lovely friend Elena, who patiently spent hours showing me how it is done!

And for those of you who have never seen such pies before and don't know exactly where Ossetia is on the map: (correct me if I am wrong)

Ossetia is a region in the Kavkaz (Caucasus) mountains, and while Ossetians don't have their own (internationally recognized) country, they do have their own language, Ossetic, which is part of the eastern Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages family. The southern part, South Ossetia, is within Georgian territory, but there have been tiffs there and it is still a region very much disputed over. The northern part is called the republic of North Osetia-Alania and is a republic within the Russian Federation. One of the most famous Ossetian people is Valery Gergiev, renowned conductor, who was born in Moscow but raised in Vladikavkaz. I've never been there (I actually have traveled very little in Russia or the ex Soviet states) but it looks like a place I would like - mountainous and green.

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©2009Figs in the Sun | by TNB