Monday, 25 March 2013

Georgian feast 3: Eggplant rolls with walnuts and spices

Badrijani  nigvzit: Georgian eggplant rolls with walnuts and spices
For my birthday last month, my girlfriends took me to Cafe Russia, a fabulous Georgian/Russian restaurant in Kichijoji, Tokyo. All three of us were under the weather with one thing or another that cold, blustery day, but the Georgian food we cherry-picked from the a la carte menu certainly cheered us up!

The standouts for me were the crispy-skinned chicken (Tabaka) and the eggplant rolls (Badrijani). I knew I had to have those rolls for my big birthday cook up!

Stuffed with ground walnuts, garlic, vinegar and a hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it blend of spices that includes marigold, these are delicate yet robust, even meaty, all at the same time.

Cafe Russia's appetizers
I based my version on this recipe, but preferred Cafe Russia's rolled up presentation.

Marigold is the "saffron" of Georgia, and although only a little is used, it does make a difference to the colour and flavour. Now, you might think it might be hard to get the spice marigold in Japan, but you would be wrong! I know of at least 3 sources (1) super-premium organic marigold, (2) reasonably priced marigold tea, and (3) super-cheap marigold petals from my favourite spice shop, Ohtsuya (I am sure I saw the powdered spice in their shop, as well).

Chima Jeogori and Georgian Cuisine
courtesy of M. Reza Rahbar & Hasegawa Tomoko
I found the original recipe just a bit on the bitter side for me, so sharpened and sweetened it a little with lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. I've not seen pom mol in any of the Georgian recipes I've looked at, but pomegranate seeds are in loads of dishes, so we are in the ballpark, I think.
My Persian cooking teacher and his wife joined my birthday do this year, and we talked about the similarities between Persian and Georgian cuisine: the use of walnuts and pomegranates together, to name just one! They captured the spirit of the moment, with me in traditional Korean garb (the best I could do "princess"-wise for the Japanese Girls' Day holiday) serving up Georgian (Persian, Indian, Israeli and Australian) dishes, as you do, here (in Japanese). Having done this blog anonymously, with absolutely no pictures of myself, posting this picture feels like a coming out of sorts for me (g).

In case you're wondering, my teacher brought the amazing Persian eggplant appetizer with dairy topping I wrote about here. If you can read Japanese, the recipe is in he and his wife's glorious Katei de tanoshimu Persia ryori.

Badrijani nigvzit: Georgian eggplant rolls with walnuts and spices

10 Japanese eggplants
olive oil
250 g walnuts
3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp fenugreek powder (blue fenugreek, for preference)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp marigold powder
3 tbs white wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
2 tsp pomegranate molasses (optional)
pomegranate seeds, to garnish 

1 Cut each eggplant lengthwise into 3-5 slices, depending on size. Brush each slice on both sides with olive oil and grill or fry in a dry frying pan on both sides until tender. Set aside to cool.

2 Meanwhile make the walnut paste. Grind walnuts and garlic to a fine rubble in a food processor. Add the spices and vinegar and blitz again. Add salt to taste, and the lemon juice and pomegranate molasses, if using. If the paste is thick, thin with 2-3 tbsp of water.

3 Place the eggplant slices with the pointy end toward you. Place a dollop of paste on the pointy end of each slice and roll away from yourself. Arrange rolls on a serving dish. Place 2-3 pomegranate seeds on the end of each roll and scatter more around the plate.


Thursday, 28 February 2013

Georgian feast 1: Piquant beef stew (Khalia)

Scrumptious khalia
The real Georgian feast is the stuff of legend. Long tables groaning with food, wine by the litre and witty toastmasters that lead the drinking with great gusto, pomp and ceremony. Or so I've heard.

I've not yet made it to Georgia, but reading about the cuisine set the pleasure-seeking part of my brain into overdrive. The clear connections with that other great love of mine, Persian cuisine, only added to the mystique and made me want to know more.

It's been a while since Georgian has been on the actual rather than the virtual menu, for no very good reason that I can think of, really. But when I saw beets in my local veggie shop, I knew the time had come to explore this corner of the culinary world again.

My "feast" may be a paltry three dishes, but that's about as good as it gets come dinner time on a weeknight. I hope I will be forgiven.

Khalia is a zesty stew with garlic and lots of fresh herbs, given extra body with walnut pieces. In Georgia, tkmali, a spicy sauce made from sour plums, is a key ingredient. The sauce is hard to come by, and is replaced by tamarind paste in many of the recipes you will find for khalia out there, as it is in this recipe I've adapted for the pressure cooker from Anya von Bremzen's recipe in Please to the T­able: The Russ­ian Cookbook. (If not cooking under pressure, the meat will need to simmer for around 1.5 hours.)

Khalia piquant Georgian beef stew

Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
800 g stewing beef, cut into small cubes
3 medium onions, chopped finely
2 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp tomato paste
180 ml hot beef stock
1 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp dried tarragon
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup walnut pieces, coarsely ground or finely chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
pinch of sugar, or to taste

1 Heat the oil in a large pressure cooker over a medium-high heat. Add the beef and onions and cook, stirring, for 15 minutes. The meat will release quite a lot of liquid.

2 Add the tamarind paste, tomato paste and hot stock, together with the paprika, coriander, fenugreek and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Seal and bring the pressure cooker up to pressure, lower the heat to low and cook until the meat is very tender, about 45 min, shaking the pressure cooker from time to time to ensure the stew does not catch on the bottom.

3 Stir in the garlic, walnuts and coriander and adjust the seasoning, adding sugar and more spices to taste, if desired. Simmer, covered, without pressure, for 15 minutes longer.