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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The True Story of St. Valentine's Day

Love. Lerv. Valentine's Day. You have two days to get ready for it. For most of you that means two days to cook the food, for others it is two days more to fall in love. And for those of you who have given up, Valentine's Day falls on a Monday, so probably nobody will notice it anyway.


The feast of St. Valentine: a day on which birds are supposed to pair. Celebrated in those "enlightened" parts of the world that rely on the sale of flowers, chocolates and mushy cards to boost their economic output in the month of February, it doesn't have any impact here. Not because the West has the monopoly on mush. No, here you just have to wait a few weeks more for your flowers and flowing prose: March 8th is Women's Day in Russia and there's no getting around it. Forget to give flowers to a Russian lady friend on that day and expect the wrath of hell to descend upon you.


Funny how violent people become when we talk of love.


I do not have access to all the right reference books that will tell me the real history of St. Valentine's day for this week's column, so I have been forced to improvise.


I thought I would make one up. Here goes.


Once upon a time in a country far, far away there lived a beautiful princess named Valentina. Valentina Fyodorovna, in fact, the daughter of Fyodor Fyodorovich, the rich Tartar Prince from the tribe of Teleouti.


Now Fyodor Fyodorovich was an unhappy man. His annual tributes to the tsar were due a month earier this year, his corn was not as bountiful as the season before and Valentina, his beautiful and ravishing daughter, was picky about men.


"Gospody, my Valentinichka, why do you not wish to marry?" he asked. "There are a dozen handsome young swains all along the river Tom who would worship you and your fortune if only you gave them a chance."


"But Papa," wailed his beautiful and ravishing daughter, "I'm only 14. I don't want to be married just yet. I want to travel and have great adventures and eat exotic food. I'm tired of eating just horseflesh and arrack and corn. I want more."


"More?" spluttered Fyodor Fyodorovich. "We Teleoutis have lived here at the foot of Mount Alta for ever, what could possibly be better? No. If you do not choose a husband by February 14 old calendar, I will be forced to choose one for you."


And with that he stalked off to inspect the corn, leaving poor Valentina Fyodorovna in a quandary. After all, she had just two days in which to choose a husband. How was she to do it?


And in an instant she had it. A far safer bet than drawing straws (she was a princess after all) she would hold a competition. If she couldn't have great adventures and travel to exciting places then she would just have to settle for exotic food.


So a proclamation went out all over the land (which in truth was not very far because it was muddy and slushy in February and you could not travel great distances even in a dog cart at that time of year) that the man who could cook the finest meal would win the hand of the Princess of Teleouti.


Cook-off, Sunday night, Fyodor Fyodorovich's house, kitchen. Ground floor.


And all the unmarried men in all the land climbed off the warm spaces on the stove, begged their mothers for the best recipes, and spent that weekend chopping and dicing and tinkering with soup, hoping with fervor that the extra dash of nutmeg in the shchi would make all the difference.


But alas for the fair young Tartar men of the region around the river Tom, there also lived a young Georgian man named Dzaba Zurabovich, who was a whiz in the kitchen.


Handsome as well, but that was not the point. The Princess was above such mere matters as pleasures of the flesh. Culinary dexterity was the only thing that was on her mind.


Dzaba Zurabovich knew just what it would take to win the fair maiden's hand: just the spice, in fact, to woo and win her forever.


He made his dish, dusted off his best smelly sheepskin jacket which was put aside for such an auspicious occasion, adjusted his hat and travelled verst upon verst to reach the house by Sunday night.


And on that Sunday evening all the men were assembled, jostling each other's soup tureens and shashlik sticks, trying to tempt the princess with their precious dishes.


She tasted them all, casting each and every time a disappointed frown at her father standing nearby, and admonished all her suitors for their stolid, unappetizing fare.


"Off with their heads!" she cried. "This will not do. Is there not one man in all the land who can make me a memorable meal?" She looked around the room.


There was just one suitor left. Dzaba Zurabovich and his dish. Bowing low, he addressed the princess. "Oh fair and picky maiden, tomorrow is the day in Georgia when birds are supposed to pair, and the dish I have prepared commemorates this magical occasion. I have paired the domestic fowl with a wickedly delicious walnut sauce and a secret ingredient that will knock your tapochki off. Pray taste it and see."


And she did. And all the men in all the land (those that still had heads) knew they had lost their chance to win the Princess' hand forever. Dzaba knew his spices. He added just a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper into the sauce. Valentina fell in love, they were married the very next day and lived happily ever after.


And that is why, children, every February 14 we celebrate the feast of Valentina, the patron saint of surprising spices in special dishes. Actually it should be called St. Dzaba Zurabovich's day, but there is a limit, even in love.


This sauce keeps for about a week, just make sure that when you serve it, bring it back to room temperature first. Judge your room temperature as best you can: my kitchen has arctic gusts so it is a little cooler than it should be.





Georgian Garlic and Walnut Sauce


2 cups walnuts, chopped


5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped


3/4 cup coriander, roughly chopped


1 cup warm chicken stock or water


Juice of 2 lemons


1/2 teaspoon ground coriander


1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek


1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric


Salt and freshly ground pepper





Blend together the walnuts, garlic and coriander. This works best in a food processor. Add the lemon juice, the water or stock, coriander, fenugreek, cayenne pepper, tumeric and a little salt and pepper. Give one quick burst. Transfer to a bowl and let all the flavors get acquainted overnight or for a few hours. Serve over barbecued or pan-fried chicken.