Eggplant-Pomegranate Dip (Badrijnis Khizilala)

eggplant pomegranate dip

You can find this dip throughout the Caucasus and the rest of the former Soviet Union, where it’s often called “eggplant caviar.” Creative branding, to be sure, since it tastes nothing like fish eggs and costs a fraction of the price. Maybe the eggplant seeds reminded someone of sturgeon roe, or eating it made the plebes feel like kings.

I first encountered this dip in Russia, where college students buy it in jars from the grocery store and eat it on slices of dense, tangy black bread with caraway seeds–a sort of Slavic equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich. It even comes in a creamy variety (like this recipe) and a chunky one (more of a salad). Later, I made a variation of it with my friend Inna for her son’s birthday party. Her husband Gena lit up the grill in the backyard, skewered whole eggplants on sharp iron rods, and let them roast over the open flame until they glistened and oozed drippings into the grill box. Inna and her mother-in-law let them cool in a bowl of salted water, then beat the smoky pulp to a smooth paste and added tomatoes, oil, herbs, and spices to make a dipping sauce for the shishkebabs Gena was still grilling out back.

This version is my own. You can mix up the herbs you use, add a squeeze of lemon juice or a drizzle oil over the top of the bowl if you like, or throw in a handful of pomegranate seeds if you really want to play up the caviar analogy.

Eggplant-Pomegranate Dip (Badrijnis Khizilala)
Makes about 1 ½ cups

1 large globe eggplant or 3 of the smaller, narrower kind (Asian or Italian)
¼ cup pomegranate juice
2 Tbsp. olive or walnut oil
¼ cup fresh mixed cilantro and dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ tsp. kosher salt
Dash crushed red pepper flakes

  1. Prepare the grill or preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prick the eggplant in several places with a fork and place it on the grill grate or on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Grill or bake the eggplant until its skin wrinkles and it collapses into itself. In the oven, this takes about 45 minutes. The flesh should be totally soft by this point. Allow to cool, then scrape out the flesh into the bowl of a food processor.* Discard skin and stem.
  2. Add the other ingredients into the food processor and pulse until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with bread, pita chips, crackers, or vegetables.

*Note: You could also use an immersion blender to puree the dip.

Fried Eggplant Rolls with Walnut-Garlic Filling (Badrijani Nigvzit)

badrijani nigvzit

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.

Lamb Stew with Eggplant and Potatoes (Chanakhi)

Chanakhi (Lamb stew with eggplant and potatoes)

(Note: This post originally appeared on my personal blog, Eat with Pleasure, in 2013.)

This hearty stew is traditionally baked and served in individual clay pots called chanakhi, which is where the dish gets its name. It’s also the custom to make slits in each eggplant and stuff them with herbs and chunks of lamb fat before layering them into the stew to braise. Most Georgian home cooks today make a simpler version like the one I present here.

My notes from the time Shushana (my host mother in Batumi) and I cooked it together make me laugh now. Apparently the gas ran out midway, so Shushana had to call the utility company to bring out a fresh propane tank. My host father Misha wandered in to find out what the holdup was, then spread a layer of sour cream on some bread to tide himself over while I drank a glass of homemade Cornelian cherry juice and Shushana tackled the dishes. My host sister Diana came home with a scarlet red dress she’d found for her engagement party. Half an hour later, the guy from the gas company showed up to screw in the new tank on the balcony. We were back in business, the stew again bubbling away on the stove. (Shushana preferred the stovetop to the oven, which is where she stored her pots and pans.) “Now I remember why I never make chanakhi,” Shushana chuckled as we sat down to eat around 11 pm.

This is certainly not a recipe to whip out in a time crunch. Luckily it’s the kind of dish that actually tastes better the second and third time you reheat it, once the flavors have had a chance to meld. I’d advise making it a day ahead of time.

Lamb Stew with Eggplant and Potatoes (Chanakhi)

2 lbs. lamb stew meat (like boneless lamb shoulder), cut into bite-size (1 in.) chunks
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more for salting the eggplant
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil or butter, divided
2 medium onions, cut in half and sliced into ½-inch wide strips
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 ½ Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered and cut into ½-in.-thick wedges. (No need to peel.)
1 medium globe eggplant or 4 narrow Japanese eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds), stemmed, quartered lengthwise (or cut into eighths if your eggplant is large), and sliced into ½-in.-thick wedges
2 medium bell peppers, any color, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1-in. pieces
1 ½ cups each fresh basil, cilantro, and flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped. (At my grocery store, this is one full bunch of each herb. If some stems get in there, it’s no big deal.)
3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the oven rack so it is in the bottom third of the oven and there is enough room above it to slide in the pot you’ll be using with its lid on.
  2. Toss the eggplant slices with a good handful of kosher salt, mixing to coat. Set aside for half an hour, then use your hands to knead down the eggplant slices, squeezing out their dark juice as you go. Rinse well and pat the slices dry on a dishcloth or paper towels.
  3. Mix the lamb with ½ tsp. of the kosher salt, the black pepper, and the cayenne pepper, stirring well to coat. (Your hands are the best tool for this. Just wash and dry them well afterwards.)
  4. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the oil or butter in a large Dutch oven or deep enameled cast iron pot with a tight-fitting, oven-safe lid. Brown the lamb over high heat, 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove lamb to another dish and set aside.
  5. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil or butter to the pot and heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add half the minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so, stirring, until you can really smell the garlic. Turn off the heat or remove the pot from the burner (if using electric stove).
  6. Add the lamb back into the pot and stir to mix with the onion and garlic. Add the contents of the can of tomatoes (with juice), the red wine vinegar, and the remaining 1 tsp. of salt. Then layer half the potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and herbs on top, each in its own layer. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, eggplant, and peppers, continuing to layer. Add the fresh diced tomato on top. (Your vegetables will likely be nearing the top of the pot at this point.) Pour 4 cups of water over the vegetables. Do not stir.
  7. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Move the pot to the oven and bake for 1 ½ hours. Remove the pot from the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees F. Add half the remaining herbs and the rest of the minced garlic to the pot. Put the to back in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until the broth has thickened slightly.
  8. Serve hot with crusty bread. Sprinkle the remaining herbs over each serving at the table.