WHAT IT TASTES LIKE: First and foremost, peppers. The more precise classification of hot peppers is not a common occurrence in the ex-Soviet space, so it’s simply advised to use red chilies. For this one, I got some Korean chilies at the market, because our grocer grows Korean vegetables. Pretty much any red pepper with SHU around 1500 will work here. Feel free to go above or beyond depending on preference. I wouldn’t use red jalapenos, because they have fatter flesh and hold more water. As you eat adjika, the fresh heat of peppers brushes over your palate first and then comes the zesty saltiness. And as you start chewing, the rest of the ingredients come through: the garlic envelops with its pungency, and the punchy coriander seeds like to take the spotlight, while the less pronounced dill seeds, basil seeds, and summer savory perform as a choir in the back. Walnuts are optional, but if used, they make the mixture more silky by releasing their oils and add heartiness. The arrangement of flavors might also change depending on how finely you grind the paste: I prefer mine chunky.
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: Adjika is uncooked and is perfect eaten raw, but you can also incorporate it in cooking. The most common use is to rub chicken, meat, fish, or vegetables with adjika before roasting: make sure you cover the pan, so it doesn’t burn before the flesh is cooked through. You can also use it in soups, in pasta, and even stir-fries: heat some with oil and garlic before you put the rest of the ingredients in, kind of how you would do with curry or chili pastes. And you can top any dish with raw adjika: add it to anything grilled, mix with fresh veggies in a salad, perk up baked goods, or even popcorn. A traditional Abkhazian meal always features fresh cheese slices wedged into a steaming bowl of mamalyga, Abkhazian grits, and adding adjika to this mix of hot and cold, salty, and mild, adds a layer of delicious complexity. It’s not easy to get the right cheese if you don’t live anywhere near Abkhazia and Georgia, but you can try regular or smoked mozzarella, or even scamorza, with grits. The easiest way to incorporate adjika into your daily food, however, is to add it to sandwiches: an open-faced sandwich with some deli slices, vegan or non-vegan, with a generous smear of adjika, needs nothing else. And if you put adjika into a bowl of your favorite plain yogurt, you can have either a healthy snack or, if mixed, a tangy dip.
WHY YOU SHOULD MAKE IT: Let’s face it: if you’re not eating spices, you’re not eating. Every good home chef should have a stack of condiments that bring their dishes to life, and I’m not talking about mustard or ketchup. Curry pastes, achiote, tahini, harissa, gochujang, jerk, rendang, sambal oelek, you name it. But some are easier to purchase than others, depending on where you live. And it’s not very sustainable to get something imported from halfway across the world. Because adjika is so damn delicious but also not easy to buy, I’ve been making it myself while living in London, Paris, and New York, and it has always been super easy. You need some Asian specialty grocer to get your peppers, and a good spice store for basil seeds and summer savory. Or get whatever you can’t find delivered from somewhere nearby. The traditional adjika was made using a special grinding stone. Obviously, no one has those anymore, so I use a pestle and mortar, or sometimes a food processor. There is a subtle difference, but I won’t begrudge you the shortcut on the way to deliciousness.