Georgia on my Mind

During a quick browse through the library’s cookbook section a couple of days ago, I ran across a book called The Georgian Feast, by Darra Goldstein. Immediately intrigued at how Georgian food might be distinguished from other (formerly) Russian cuisines (which overall I know embarassingly little about…) I started skimming the recipes. I’ve recently been thinking about getting back into Persian cuisine, and these recipes use similar ingredients and spices – and even similar names for some of the dishes, while also drawing heavily from Turkish influence. So I decided to give it a try!

Here’s a description of my first Georgian meal of yogurt soup, broiled salmon with a pickled onion relish, and sauteed cauliflower with egg.

The salmon dish (Uraguli Dzmarshi) was fairly simple – salmon was rubbed with black pepper and crushed bay leaves and left to sit and ‘marinate’ for a few minutes. It was supposed to be grilled, but since it was already dark outside and I haven’t fired up the grill yet this spring, I decided to cook it under a low broiler. Meanwhile, raw chopped onion was simmered for 15 minutes in a mixture of vinegar, water and salt. The fish was cooked briefly in the vinegar after it had reduced and then served with the sour onion relish.

The yogurt soup (Matsvnis Shechamandi) was an easy, vegetarian dish – with very little fat when prepared as I did with nonfat plain yogurt.

Yogurt Soup
2 c. plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. flour
pinch of salt
1 c. water
2 Tbsp. butter or canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
1 Tbsp. mint, minced
1/3 c. cooked rice

Stir together the yogurt, flour and salt until mostly blended. Add the water and whisk briefly to remove any lumps and fully incorporate water.  Saute the onion in butter or oil over medium heat until translucent but not browned. Add the yogurt mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Carefully whisk some of the hot yogurt mixture into the eggs, and then whisk the egg mixture into the soup. Simmer just a few more minutes, as you can see in the photo this thickens the soup. Immediately before serving, stir in the rice and herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To round out the meal – and this was my favorite dish of the three – I prepared a cauliflower Chirbuli. Chirbuli is described as often involving a variety of vegetables mixed together, with beaten eggs stirred in at the last minute. Goldstein states a preference for focusing on one vegetable at a time, so I decided to try the cauliflower first. It was delicious, especially with the slow caramelization of the onion and cauliflower. I think this technique would be easy to do with any leftover steamed vegetables that don’t already have much flavor added. The original recipe called for a whole stick of butter, but I substituted canola oil for half to keep it just a bit more healthy. The butter taste still shone through nicely.

Cauliflower with Egg
1 lb. cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 onions, chopped
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
1/4 c. Italian parsley, minced
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Steam the cauliflower until starting to get tender, but still crunchy (I did this in the microwave about 5 minutes). Meanwhile, slowly saute onions over medium heat in half the canola oil and butter (2 Tbsp. each), until they are starting to brown nicely. Stir in the steamed cauliflower and remaining butter and oil. Continue slowly cooking and stirring regularly, until cauliflower is just tender, about 10 minutes. Just at the end of cooking, stir in eggs and herbs and continually toss the cauliflower while the eggs cook and coat the vegetables. Don’t overcook or the eggs will get tough. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

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