11.17.2020 Dinner in Tbilisi
Supra in Tbilisi
Khinkali (Georgian Soup Dumplings)
There are few Georgian foods as iconic and beloved as the Khinkali. A staple at all Supras and a popular meal in its own right, this hearty dumpling is a delicious source of national pride. Similar in shape to the Chinese soup dumpling, Xiaolongbao, it’s likely that the dumpling first came to Georgia via Genghis Khan’s Mongol conquest in the 13th century. As with all Georgian cuisine however, Khinkali quickly became a dish distinct from its original inspiration.
There’s an art to eating Khinkali that I was not aware of on my first visit to Tbilisi. Despite being served straight from a pot of boiling water, Khinkali are a food that must be eaten by hand. The large, doughy nub at the top of the dumpling serves as the handle by which you grasp it. Tilt your head back and take a small bite, creating an opening from which you can carefully slurp the hot broth from inside. Then you eat the rest of the dumpling except for the top, which serves as a count of khinkali consumed, and depending on your perspective, a source of pride.
Lobio Tkemali (Red bean salad with plum sauce)
Beans are another staple of the Georgian diet, and the general word for them, Lobio, encompasses dozens of varieties prepared in as many different ways. Lobio Tkemali is a classic preparation of red kidney beans, stewed in Tkemali, the ubiquitous Georgian condiment made from sour plums & spices. The result is a refreshing chilled bean salad that is both tangy and savory.
Ajabsandali (Eggplant, onion and red pepper stew)
Popular throughout Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Northern Caucasus region, this eggplant stew is reminiscent of a French ratatouille. Eggplant is stewed with onions, peppers and tomatoes, after which fresh herbs are folded into the mix. This dish is traditionally served warm, but we think it makes for an excellent salad when chilled.
Charkhlis Salati (Roasted beets with walnut pesto)
While not as prominent as in Russian or some Eastern European cuisine, beets are still a common sight at the Georgian dinner table. Given the omnipresence of walnuts and fresh herbs in Georgian cooking, it’s no surprise that walnut-herb pastes form the foundation of many dishes. Here they act as a dressing, a light pesto of walnuts, coriander, parsley and garlic.
Sakonlis Khorzis Kharcho (Beef and walnut stew)
Perhaps the two hallmarks of Georgian cooking are the near universal use of walnuts as a base and copious amounts of fresh herbs. This stew, with its rich nuttiness and light herbaceousness, is emblematic of Georgian cuisine. Walnut puree forms the foundation, beef is then slowly braised with garlic, onions, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg, and it’s finished with a splash of vinegar and fresh herbs, adding brightness and counterbalancing the richness of the beef.
Akhali Kartophili (Roasted potatoes with herbs)
While bread is the most common starch accompaniment at a Supra, it’s best fresh out of the oven. This presents a logistical challenge for us as the last thing we want to deliver is stale bread. Thankfully, potatoes also make frequent appearances at Georgian Supras and are just as delicious. Especially when roasted with green onions and chilis, and tossed with fresh dill and cilantro. These potatoes pair incredibly well with stews, such as the Sakonlis Khorzis Kharcho above.
Ziteli Ajika (Red pepper & herb relish)
No Georgian feast is complete without some form of Ajika, hot relishes and chili pastes that guests use to spice food to their preference. Here we’ve combined a variety of red and green chilis with fresh herbs and bell peppers for a potent, yet flavorful, condiment. Use it as you would a hot sauce, on any dish you think needs more heat!
Pelamushi (Grape jellies)
Desserts often take a back seat at Georgian Supras. Coming last after hours of eating and drinking often means they're the afterthought rather than the main event. But that’s not to say they’re not worth eating! Pelamushi is one of the most recognizable Georgian desserts, and comes in somewhere between a pudding, a jello and a porridge. Whatever you call it, it’s made from the most important of all Georgian crops, grapes, with juices reserved after the rtveli, the autumnal grape harvest. That is, assuming any grape juice is left over after making wine!
Available at Everyday Wines in Kerrytown!
Dila-O Saperavi, Georgia
Saperavi is a wine varietal unique to Georgia and means “color / dye” - it’s so dark it’s sometimes referred to as black wine. This 100% saperavi by Teleda Winery was fermented in qvevri, large clay jars buried underground. With notes of violets, plums, and blackberries followed by black pepper and a touch of earthiness, this easy-drinking wine will turn you into the toastmaster of your Supra! - $18
“According to Georgian legend, God took a supper break while creating the world. He became so involved with his meal that he inadvertently tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus, spilling his food onto the land below. This land, blessed by heaven’s table scraps, became Georgia.”
- Darra Goldstein, The Georgian Feast
Georgia is one of the most incredible places I have ever had the privilege to visit. Geographically it is stunning, bordered on the north by the Greater Caucasus Mountains and on the south by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The entire country is effectively one big valley, opening up onto the shores of the Black Sea. This topography means that Georgia boasts an extremely diverse climate relative to its size. A climate that fosters a cuisine that revolves around fresh fruit, herbs and spices.
Georgia’s location is also unique from a geopolitical standpoint. It sits at the crossroads between East and West, on the border between Europe and Asia. For centuries it has occupied a key position on ancient trade routes, with the Mongol, Persian, Turkish and Russian empires all leaving their mark on the cuisine. This myriad influences imbues Georgian cuisine with a strange sense of Deja Vu. Flavors are familiar, but just out of reach. You’ll recognize a dish without being able to pinpoint exactly why, you’ll remember it without knowing where you had it; and you almost certainly won’t be able to pronounce it's name.
Recently, it is Russia that has most heavily influenced Georgian cuisine, but not in the way you’d expect. Decades of Soviet rule and prescribed food production fostered an even deeper sense of national pride in culinary history and strengthened the will of its people to preserve traditional recipes and techniques. Following a decade of political turmoil and poverty after declaring independence in 1991, Georgia is in the early days of a culinary renaissance, with young chefs reimagining Georgian food, while staying true to what has always made it unique.
Throughout history Georgians have been renowned for their sense of hospitality, welcoming guests with open arms, full glasses and plenty of food. Indeed, the Georgian Supra, or feast, is central to the Georgian spirit of hospitality. Supra hosts open their home and not only share their food and wine (many in Georgia still make their own) but also conversation and ideas. Central to every Supra is the Tamada, or toastmaster - an MC of sorts that is responsible for initiating toasts and facilitating the progression of the evening. The Tamada proposes many toasts, the order of which is highly localized by region, and not to be taken lightly. Some always toast Georgia first, some the parents and others the hosts. After that the Tamada proposes toasts to anything and everything, from health, kinship, peace and prosperity. For a country that declared independence less than 3 decades ago, and has been engaged in numerous conflicts since, these toasts are not simply hollow words rooted in tradition, but rather earnest wishes for a better future. In this way the Supra is much more than a feast, it is a celebration of life and all the things that make it worth living.
Perhaps Georgia’s greatest claim to fame however, is the birthplace of wine. Evidence of grape residue has been found in clay Qvevri (large egg like amphoras) dating back to 6,000 BC and it’s believed that grapes were first cultivated in what is now the Republic of Georgia. While still somewhat difficult to find in the States, Georgian wine is gaining in popularity, especially as the demand for natural wines increases. Regardless of international demand, wine always has and always will play a central role in Georgian life. No Supra is complete without it. Guests are expected to drain their glasses after every toast while hosts are expected to never allow glasses to be less than half full.
Featured Recipe: Sakonlis Khorzis Kharcho
Spiced Beef and Walnut Stew
1 kg boneless beef, cut into medium sized pieces (chuck roast works well, but pre-cut stew meat is also a great option)
Canola or vegetable oil
2 cups beef stock or broth
200 g walnuts
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
1-2 tsp vegetable oil
3 onions, finely chopped
1 bushel fresh cilantro, leaves picked, stems chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt to taste
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Pomegranate seeds for garnish
Add canola oil to a large pan and heat on high. In batches, add beef to the pan and sear all sides
Once meat is browned, add beef stock to the pan, just enough to cover meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer
Simmer on low for 2~ hours or until meat is tender
Meanwhile, add the walnuts, garlic, salt, coriander, cinnamon, cloves & nutmeg to a food processor and blitz into a fine paste (this may take 2-3 minutes, it should look like peanut butter). Set aside
Once the meat is cooked, strain the meat and reserve the liquid
Dissolve the walnut paste in the reserved stock and set aside
Heat oil in the same pan and add the onions and cilantro stems. Cook on medium heat until tender and slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes
Add the meat back to the pan along with the walnut stock and bay leaves
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 15 mins to allow the flavors to meld and the liquid to reduce
Remove from heat, stir in vinegar to taste, garnish with cilantro and pomegranate seeds, and serve
Recipes Inspired By:
The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein, truly one of the best and most personal cookbooks we’ve ever read
Georgianrecipes.net is an excellent online resource for those looking to explore Georgian cuisine