On Ketsi or Lavangi
Those who are familiar with Georgian and Azerbaijani cuisines can easily identify the origins of this recipe.
In Georgia, kefalia, a small trout from the mountains of Adjara is stuffed with walnut paste seasoned and adorned with aromatics and herbs and roasted in a clay pot ketsi. The stuffed fish often is placed on a pillow of fresh herbs like parsley and dill with the addition of bay leaves. They prevent the fish from sticking to the bottom of the ketsi and add more flavors.
A similar way of stuffing and roasting fish (and also poultry and eggplants) is known as Lavangi — a popular festive dish of Azerbaijani cuisine. Stuffed fresh-water fish or carp of the Caspian Sea is usually prepared for Nowruz. While traditional spice mix Khmeli Suneli contributes the Georgian flavors, an ingredient specific to the Azerbaijanian version of the stuffing is a pomegranate or sour cherry syrup.
Adjusting the Recipe to Your Local Ingredients
This dish made far away from the Caucasus region loses its authenticity. Even with high-quality, imported spices and condiments, everything else is going to be different. But we can use the same cooking method and smart adjustments to whatever good is available on our local markets to enjoy a personal modification of the recipe.
Here is what I do in Central Texas. I use high-quality rainbow trout. Whole fish is available at Costco and Central Market, if I want to debone it myself. Otherwise, I get fillets. During the season (November-January), I usually replace walnuts with raw pecans, because fresh nuts are as crucial for the recipe as the fresh fish. The amount of fresh green chile pepper gives me the ability to modify the level of heat to the taste of my clients.
All Georgian spices are now available to purchase online, including on Amazon. If you don’t care for Georgian spices, just skip or replace them with Persian style spice mixes. In case you don’t tolerate fresh cilantro, replace it with parsley. No pomegranate syrup? Add some lemon juice to balance the fats. Analyze what every ingredient brings to the recipe and replace it creatively with one of your favorite and available.