Category Archives: Georgia (the country)

Beets with cherry sauce (Charkhlis Chogi)

Now I know how many of you were probably turned off already by that first word – beets. But I also know that if the only beets you ever tried are out of a can or sliced real thick and boiled for a couple of hours – you haven’t had REAL beets!  Please — give beets a chance :)

We have an old family photo of my brother as a toddler, his face covered with red beet juice, a testament to how much we loved this vegetable as children. Yet I absolutely hated those imposters they served at the school cafeteria. The trick is in the cooking method. Slicing them up and boiling them for a long time just pulls out all the natural sugars that make this vegetable so delicious. There’s also some kind of weird flavor that develops during that method and the canning process, it’s not good. But I love beets cooked the way my mother would make them for us as children.

Get some fresh beets, peel them and coarsely grate them (as large of a grater setting as you have). Add a bit of water and steam them gently for just a few minutes. With a little butter and salt, you’ll think you’re eating a whole different vegetable! And all those amazing nutrients are still in there too. While you’re at it, make sure you choose a bunch of beets that is fresh enough to have usable beet greens. These are great just sliced up into ribbons and sauteed with onion and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

The other way to cook beets and retain their flavor is by roasting them. Last spring, I posted a great recipe that involved cutting beets into cubes, roasting them in a single layer and then topping with feta cheese. This week, I made one more Georgian vegetable dish, Charkhlis Chogi – beets roasted whole, then peeled and sliced, and topped with a sauce made from tart dried cherries. I decided to use yellow beets because of the color contrast, but also because Whole Foods had some seriously large yellow beets with nice looking greens. Beets are usually sold by the bunch, so I usually go for the large ones – you might think they’d be tough or woody at a larger size, but I haven’t found that to be true, other than perhaps a slightly thicker skin to peel off.

Beets w/Cherry Sauce (Charkhlis Chogi)
1 lb. beets, unpeeled but scrubbed clean (3 or 4 good-sized beets)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/3 c. tart dried cherries
2/3 c. water
1/4 c. minced fresh herbs (dill, cilantro, parsley)
Sea salt, to taste

First, heat the oven to 375F and roast the cleaned beets on a rimmed baking tray. I cut mine in half from root to stem just because they were so large and I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t take forever (placed cut-side down on the tray). Roast for about 1 hour until fork tender.

Meanwhile, saute the onion in butter for a few minutes until soft and starting to brown. Add water and cherries and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and blend/puree this together to make the cherry sauce, putting back on the stove for a few minutes to simmer and reduce if it seems too liquid.

When the beets are tender, you may want to let them cool just a little before handling. Peel and slice the beets thinly, then top with cherry sauce and fresh herbs. Grate some fresh sea salt on top, to taste. Or, mix it all together and serve as a salad. This dish seems to have the best flavor at room temperature or even slightly chilled.

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Khinkali (Georgian Meat Dumplings)

Khinkali are a type of dumpling common in the country of Georgia. They are eaten by hand, held by a little knob of dough that is formed as the dumplings are shaped.

Khinkali
Dough:
4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. warm water

Combine the dough ingredients together to make a firm dough, and knead it together for 5 minutes until smooth. Cover and let the dough sit for about 30 minutes.

Filling:
1 lb. mixed ground pork and beef
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
pinch of cayenne
2 onions, finely chopped or grated

Mix together filling ingredients, than add about 1/2 c. warm water, mixing with your hands until water is completely mixed in. This is the filling.

Divide the dough into 25 pieces and roll each out into about a 6-inch round. Place 2 Tbsp. filling in the middle, then gather the dough together on the top, making multiple folds. The technique is demonstrated in this video. Mine didn’t look quite that nice, and I should have rolled the dough out a bit thinner, but for a first time it wasn’t too bad :) One of the sources that I read said that a good khinkali maker puts at least 20 folds in each dumpling!

Once all the dumplings are shaped, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and boil the dumplings for about 15 minutes. Serve them hot with a bit of black pepper. I added a bit of crushed dried mint leaves as well, and ate with a dollop of yogurt, delicious though not typical – I stole that from a prior Afghani ravioli recipe. Georgians eat khinkali without garnishes, just a bit of black pepper. During the cooking, the raw meat and onion release some liquid as they cook which makes a nice little broth inside the dumpling. So when you’re eating them hot, the main thing is to make sure you kind of slurp out that broth with your first bite so you don’t get it all over yourself or dribbling down your chin! Mmmmm…….

Adapted from : The Georgian Feast, by Darra Goldstein

Kidney bean soup

I don’t typically cook with kidney beans, other than to include a can in my crockpot chili recipe. I think maybe they were too common in some of my childhood meals, and I haven’t had much of a taste for them as an adult. Thankfully though, in continuing to cook some Georgian dishes this week, one of the things I decided to try was a kidney bean soup.

This soup started with dried kidney beans, a very cheap protein! Unless you grow your own herbs (parsley is all I have growing right now), the herbs for this dish may be the most expensive ingredient. But the combination of herbs and leeks, plus that little bit of vinegar at the end, is what gives this soup a fresh spring flavor that is just delicious. I’ve had a lot of trouble with other dried beans, being able to cook them and get them completely soft – but that was not a problem with this recipe. Especially with reheating, the beans start to break up and dissolve a bit into the soup, thickening it. Soup lovers – it’s highly recommended that you give this one a try!

Kidney Bean Soup (Lobios Chorba)
1 1/2 c. dried kidney beans
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, (white and light green parts) thinly sliced
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper, or 1/2 jalapeno
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. celery leaf, minced
fresh parsley, cilantro, dill (about 6 sprigs each)
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Place the beans, water, salt and bay leaf in a stockppot. Bring to a boil for a few minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid slightly ajar for about 1.5 hours, checking and stirring occasionally to make sure the water doesn’t run out as the beans absorb it.

Saute the onions, carrot, and leek in the butter in a nonstick skillet until soft, 15 to 20 minutes over medium-low heat. When the beans are softened, add the vegetables to the soup, plus the garlic, hot pepper and black pepper to taste. Stir well and continue to simmer another 15 minutes. Just before serving, check the levels of salt and pepper, adjusting as needed. Then stir in the celery leaf, herbs and vinegar, and serve.

Adapted from : The Georgian Feast, by Darra Goldstein

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.