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.