The one-two punch of garlic and salt melts into the subtle creaminess of eggplant in these addictive little morsels, which can be found on nearly every Georgian restaurant menu. They make a unique appetizer served simply on crackers or bread alongside a glass of red wine, but are rich enough to stand up to heartier fare like grilled pork ribs and cornbread.
Georgians make this dish with Chinese eggplants, which are long and narrow, with thinner skin and sweeter flesh than the elephantine “globe” variety found in most American supermarkets. Either will work for this recipe, but it’s easier to cut and fold the Asian variety, which are sometimes available at farmers’ markets in the US. Ground fenugreek imparts a slightly tart, nutty flavor and is worth seeking out. It can be found in Indian, Persian, and Middle Eastern grocery stores, purchased in small quantities from stores that sell bulk spices, or purchased online at Penzey’s. Georgian utskho suneli (“foreign spice”) also known as blue fenugreek (trigonella caerulea), is less bitter than its Asian counterpart (trigonella foenum graecum), the kind typically sold in the US. Use it in this recipe if you can find it (and let me know where you got it!)
The filling can be made up to three days ahead if stored in the refrigerator. The eggplant slices can be fried the night before combining and serving.
Fried Eggplant Rolls with Walnut-Garlic Filling (Badrijani Nigvzit)
Serves 10-12 as an appetizer
12 Chinese eggplants or 3 medium globe eggplants (about 1 lb. each)
Neutral-tasting vegetable oil (e.g. canola, sunflower or grapeseed) for frying
1 cup walnuts
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
½ tsp. white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar
1 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground fenugreek (if you have utskho suneli from Georgia, use 1/2 tsp.)
¼ tsp. ground red pepper flakes or small pinch ground cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup water
Fresh cilantro, thin-sliced onion, and/or pomegranate seeds to garnish
1. In a food processor, grind the walnuts, garlic, vinegar, spices, and water together until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. (Ideally, do this several hours or up to 3 days before you plan to serve the dish, as the flavors benefit from time to meld. Store in the refrigerator if making ahead.)
2. Wash and cut the tops off the eggplants. Do not peel. Cut lengthwise into ½ in.-thick slices.
3. Optional but recommended: Salt the eggplant slices generously and let stand for 1 hour, then press out the dark juice, rinse, and pat dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel or paper towels. This is one common technique for minimizing bitterness in eggplant. Using very fresh eggplants will also cut the risk of bitter flavor.
4. Heat 2-3 Tbsp. of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown eggplant slices on both sides, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan and adding oil as necessary. Wait until both sides have turned golden brown, then remove eggplant slices to a plate lined with paper towels. (They should be floppy, not crisp.) Continue until all slices are fried and set aside to cool.
5. Spread a layer of filling on one side of each eggplant slice and roll up to enclose the filling inside. Arrange the rolls on a platter and sprinkle with fresh herbs, thin-sliced onion, or pomegranate seeds (if desired) to serve. You could also serve the rolls on top of crackers or crostini to make them easier to eat neatly as finger food.