You’re invited to the Georgian Embassy on Wednesday, March 2 for an evening of Georgian food, wine (poured by yours truly), and conversation hosted by JDC Entwine, the young professionals arm of the prominent Jewish humanitarian organization. The guided part of the evening will focus on Jewish life in the Caucasus today, and I’ll talk about traditional Georgian winemaking and teach you a few phrases that may come in handy if you decide to go on the trip to Georgia that JDC Entwine is offering this summer (or just want to keep in your back pocket for future reference).
When: Wednesday, March 2, 7- 9 pm
Where: Embassy of Georgia, 1824 R St. NW, Washington, DC
Get your tickets here!
Iakhni is a specialty of the Ajara region—people from other parts of Georgia may not have heard of it. Its deep orange color comes from dried marigold, which was historically passed off as the much more expensive saffron and has since become one of the defining features of Georgian cuisine. A dish of the same name appears in various forms across South Asia and the Middle East. It’s likely this dish was brought to Georgia by the Ottomans.
In Ajara this dish is typically made with fatty brisket that is boiled until tender, but short ribs are easier to find in the US and come out beautifully when braised (cooked long and gently in nearly enough liquid to cover them).
4 lbs. beef short ribs
Refined sunflower oil (or canola or grapeseed oil) for searing
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. ground marigold (“Georgian saffron”)
1/2 Tbsp. hmeli suneli spice blend
2 tsp. ground Georgian blue fenugreek (utskho suneli), or 1 tsp. ground fenugreek
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup walnuts, ground in a food processor
Approximately 4 cups beef or other meat stock (or water) for braising
- In a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, sear short ribs in oil until well-browned on two sides.
- Add onions, salt, pepper, and other spices. Mix well and cook another 5 minutes until onions are tender.
- Add garlic, ground walnuts, and enough stock or water to nearly cover the meat. Bring nearly to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer over very low heat for 2-3 hours, turning the meat occasionally, until the meat is very tender and easily falls off the bone. (If your pan is oven-safe, you can also let the meat braise in a 300 F oven for a few hours. A Dutch oven is ideal for this.)
- Remove the meat from the bones completely before serving with a ladleful of sauce alongside khachapuri, bread, or corn cakes.
Grape vines criss-cross Georgia like telephone wires. Cooks in other parts of the country often stuff them with a mixture of beef and pork, but an all-beef filling is more popular in the Ajara region bordering Turkey, where Ottoman influences run deep and many people consider themselves Muslims.
Georgian Stuffed Grape Leaves (Tolma)
Makes about 35 stuffed leaves
1 jar (16 oz.) grape leaves, preserved in brine, stems removed
1 ½ lb. ground beef (85% lean is best)
½ cup long-grain white rice, uncooked
1 cup minced yellow onion
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/3 cup refined sunflower oil (or any mild-tasting vegetable oil)
1 cup minced fresh herbs (any combination of cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, dill, purple basil)
2 tsp. ground coriander
Salt and black pepper to taste
Garlic yogurt sauce:
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek style, the tartest you can find)
2 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
Pomegranate molasses (optional)
- Drop the grape leaves into boiling water for 1 minute to soften them. Shock them under cold water and drain them well.
- Mix the filling ingredients together. It’s helpful to cook a spoonful of it so you can taste it and adjust the seasoning as necessary before stuffing the leaves with it.
- Line the bottom of a pan with grape leaves to keep the rolls you’re about to cook from sticking.
- Stuff the rest of the grape leaves: lay a leaf on a flat surface, dull side up. Drop a teaspoon or so of the filling near the stem end, fold the sides of the leaf in to cover it, then roll up and press the tip into the roll as if you were sealing an envelope.
- Layer the stuffed grape leaves in the pan, seam side down, in concentric circles. Weigh them down with a plate.
- Pour in enough salted water to cover the stuffed grape leaves up to the level of the plate. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until meat is cooked and rice is tender.
- While the rolls are cooking, puree the yogurt, garlic, and salt together to make a sauce.
- When the rolls are cooked, remove them from the water carefully using a slotted spoon or spatula. Serve warm with a little sauce drizzled over them. I like to drizzle them with a touch of pomegranate molasses as well, which is not traditional but tastes wonderful.
This simple yet satisfying soup promotes good digestion and is a popular way to start off a rich meal. Georgian yogurt (matsoni) tends to be tarter than the yogurt we find in American grocery stores, so I suggest adding a bit of sour cream to approximate that flavor. If you make your own yogurt, you can achieve that flavor without sour cream—just leave the yogurt to ferment a bit longer. This soup does not reheat well, so make only as much as you plan to eat right away. Serves 4.
1 yellow onion, diced
Sunflower oil for frying
4 cups plain whole milk yogurt (NOT Greek style)
¼ cup full-fat sour cream
2 cups water (or more, as desired)
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Minced scallions and fresh cilantro leaves (and/or dill or tarragon) for garnish
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook until totally soft, 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, puree the yogurt, water, egg, salt, and garlic together in a blender or food processor.
- When the onions are soft (taste a few to make sure you’ve cooked the crunch out entirely), add the yogurt mixture to the pot and bring to a steaming simmer, stirring continuously to prevent the milk solids from burning. Simmer about five minutes, until the taste of the flour has been cooked out. If the soup seems too thick, add water to suit your preference. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.
- Garnish with minced herbs and scallions and serve hot.