From Georgia with love

We can learn so much about Georgian culture from their cuisine.

Meat dumplings served with a mayonnaise-based sauce (photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
Meat dumplings served with a mayonnaise-based sauce
(photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
If you’re interested in learning about a new culture, the best way to undertake that task is to get busy in the kitchen. The aromas, sounds and flavors of the unique foods eaten by a specific community teach you a lot about their traditions. We can learn so much, for example, about Georgian culture from their cuisine.
Many Georgian dishes incorporate herbs, wheat, cheese, potatoes, apples, onion and garlic. Walnuts receive a special seat of honor, and can be found in many sweet and savory Georgian dishes. Lemon is almost never used, but pomegranate juice, plums and alcohol are commonly found in Georgian food. And sometimes pepper even finds its way into Georgian desserts.
This week, I would like to give you a taste of the world of Georgian pastries.
I hosted chefs Lili Ben Shalom and her brother Yisrael Shvilli, who run an incredible kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv called Racha. They named the restaurant after the mountainous rural area in Georgia located just east of the Black Sea, which was once home to a large Jewish community. Their menu is based on recipes that have been in their family for generations.
I’ve included here three pastry recipes that are typical of Georgian cuisine that Ben Shalom and I picked together: stuffed dumplings filled with ground beef that are cooked in salty water and served with a side of wheat salad and herbal sauce; fried meat-filled dumplings that can be served as an appetizer or a main course; and finally, crispy pancakes filled with meat that are dipped in plum sauce.
Khinkali (meat dumplings)
Makes 10-12 servings
■ 1 kg. flour, sifted
■ 2 eggs
■ ½ cup oil
■ 1 Tbsp. salt
■ 2 cups water
■ 200 gr. beef, ground
■ 50 gr. beef fat, ground
■ ½ bunch coriander, chopped finely
■1 tsp. dried coriander, ground
■ ¼ to ½ tsp. hot cayenne pepper
■ Salt and pepper, to taste
Sauce: Instead of serving dumplings with yogurt sauce, the tradition in Racha is to use a mayonnaise-based sauce.
■ ¼ tsp. ginger, grated
■ ¼ tsp. spicy green pepper
■ 1 clove garlic, crushed
■ 4 stalks parsley, chopped
■ 4 stalks coriander, chopped
■ 4 stalks dill, chopped
■ 1 cup mayonnaise
■ ½ cup water
Preparation: For the pastry dough: Add all the ingredients to a bowl and knead until smooth. Store in the fridge for four hours.
Cut the dough into 10 or 12 pieces. Roll out each piece so that it forms a circle with a diameter of 9 cm. and a thickness of 4 mm. Place on a tray with space between each circle. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for another two hours.
For the filling: In a separate bowl, mix all the ingredients. Take a small amount of the meat mixture and place it on the pastry circle. Close the pastry around the meat and press together (see picture).
Next, fill a wide pot with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the dumplings to the boiling water and cook for 12 minutes. Remove and drain.
For the sauce: Add all the ingredients to a blender and mix until well blended.
Serve with dumplings.
Chebureki (fried springroll with beef)
The filling provides a moist inside, which goes well with the crispy outside. The sauce should be prepared ahead of time, since chebureki are best eaten straight from the frying pan.
Makes 6-7 servings FRIED SPRINGROLLS filled with beef.
Khmeli (green plum) sauce:
■ 1 kg. green plums
■ ½ bunch dill
■ ½ bunch coriander
■ ½ bunch parsley
■ ¼ bunch nana (mint)
■ ½ head of garlic, peeled
■ 1½ cups water
■ 2 cayenne peppers
■ ½ tsp salt
■ 1 kg. flour, sifted
■ 3 Tbsp. canola oil
■ 300 ml. water + Tbsp. salt, mixed together
■800 gr. ground beef
■3 large onions, chopped
■ Salt and pepper, to taste
For frying: Oil (for shallow frying, 2 cm. deep)
For the sauce: Place the plums in a wide pot, cover with water and boil for 90 minutes until completely softened. Let cool.
Pour off liquid using a strainer (so that the pits and skin remain in strainer). Put the rest of the ingredients in a blender and mix while gradually adding liquid and cooked plum pieces.
Mix until well blended. Taste and adjust seasoning according to taste.
For the pastry: Put all the ingredients into a mixer and mix while gradually adding water until dough is elastic and mixed well. If dough is not elastic enough, add more water gradually while mixing on high speed (each type of flour requires a different amount of water depending on texture and amount of gluten). Cover bowl and let dough rest for one hour.
Flour a work surface and roll out dough so that it’s 4 mm. thick. Cut out circles with a 15 cm. diameter.
On each circle, place 2-3 tablespoons of the filling and then close pastry so that it forms a half-moon shape. Press sides to seal well. Use a fork to make indentations along edge for decoration.
Heat a pot of oil (the oil should rise up about halfway of the side of the chebureki). Fry the chebureki for about two minutes. Fry on all sides until golden brown. Serve immediately with sauce.
Bellini (pancake stuffed with meat and onion)
Makes 35-40 pieces
■ ¼ cup oil
■ 2 large onions, chopped finely
■ 1½ kg. ground beef
■ Salt and pepper, to taste
■ ½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
For pastry:
■ 5 large eggs
■ 2½ cups water
■ 1 cup oil
■ ½ kg. flour, sifted
■ 1 tbsp salt
For the filling: Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped onion until golden brown. Add the ground beef and spices. Stir fry until the meat turns gray. Let cool for a few minutes.
For the pancakes: In a wide bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add the water and oil and continue beating while gradually adding flour and salt. Beat until mixed well and there are no clumps left. Heat a little bit of oil in a 22-24 cm. diameter Teflon frying pan.
Using a ladle, pour a bit of the pancake batter onto the center of the pan. Shake the pan a little so that the batter covers the entire pan in a thin layer. Cook over flame for 2 minutes until the pancake firms up and sides lift up a little. Only one side needs to be cooked.
Arrange the pancakes next to each other on a platter or a work surface with the fried side facing up. Place one or two tablespoons of filling on each pancake and then roll up like a cigar (so that the non-friend side faces outwards). Continue to prepare all the pancakes in this fashion.
In a small frying pan, heat oil and fry the rolled-up pancakes on each side until golden brown. Remove and serve with khmeli green sauce.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.