Ajika — also spelled as “adjika” — is a spicy chili pepper paste from the Caucasus region between Russia and Turkey. It comes in many forms and regional varieties that are all quite splendid.
The ajika paste originated in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of the Republic of Georgia. “Ajika” is itself an Abkhaz word for “salt.” But Georgians also claim it as their own. Mingrelians, an ethnic subgroup in Georgia, have their own version too. And so do Russians.
Ajika is now having its moment in America. New Georgian restaurants seem to pop up every few months in New York and other major U.S. cities, where patrons are introduced to ajika as a condiment to lather khachapuris — those delightfully cheesy Georgian bread boats.
And since Trader Joe’s began carrying a dry ajika spice blend over a year ago, ajika has been making inroads into America’s suburbs as well.
What is Ajika?
Ajika is a spicy pepper condiment traditionally made as a paste. But it’s also available as a dry spice mix. And it can be used to make a sauce, known as satsebeli.
What the different varieties of ajika have in common, and what makes ajika so special, is its fusion of the heat of chili with the quintessential Georgian flavors of blue fenugreek, coriander, and marigold. You’ll find these ingredients, minus the chilis, in Georgia’s foundational spice blend khmeli suneli.
This trio, when combined with smoked red chili peppers and garlic, offers a wondrous mix of the hot, the savory, and the floral. Ajika, like the region it’s from, is a crossroads of flavors.
Traditional ajika uses the blue fenugreek native to Georgia, known locally as utskho suneli. It’s milder than the regular fenugreek commonly found in South Asian cuisines. Blue fenugreek is used in many other Georgian recipes. Marigold — also known locally as kviteli kvavili or Imeretian saffron — is another unique Georgian ingredient. It’s aromatic and adds a rich, yellow hue to ajika.
There’s also a green version of ajika, which comes from Georgia’s Mingrelia region. It’s powered by green peppers and fresh cilantro, making it similar to green coriander (dhania) chutney or Yemeni zhoug. Some choose to blend it with bazha, the Georgian walnut sauce.
If you’re looking for something closer to ketchup or salsa, satsebeli, a liquidy red sauce, can be made by mixing red ajika with tomatoes and cilantro.
Whether red or green, or as a paste or dry spice blend, ajika is versatile. It goes well with poultry, fish, and red meat. And it’s perfect to season french fries, potatoes, and other vegetables.
The dry ajika spice mix can be used to marinate grilled chicken, spice up your morning omelet, or add some oomph to your pizza. For the health conscious, dry ajika gives hearty grains like bulgur and couscous a much more robust flavor without adding a lot of calories.
Where to Buy Ajika
Ajika, as a canned paste or dry spice blend imported from Georgia, is available at ethnic Georgian and Russian markets across the United States.
If you’re in the New York area, consider yourself lucky. Georgian stores in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach area sell many varieties of ajika. And Kalustyan’s in midtown Manhattan sells its own dry ajika spice blend.
For those in or outside of New York, you can’t go wrong with Trader Joe’s Ajika Georgian Seasoning Blend. The quality of Trader Joe’s is always top-notch. Unlucky folks without a Trader Joe’s nearby can purchase bottles from third-party sellers on Amazon. It’s pricier than in-store, but still a good value compared to other options on a per-ounce basis.
For those looking for pre-packaged ajika paste, Mariko Foods, a U.S. company, sells hot and mild versions of ajika on Amazon, along with a host of other Georgian food products.
If you haven’t had Georgian food before, ajika is a fabulous gateway into Georgia’s rich cuisine. Enjoy the journey!