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.

Ajaran Khachapuri (Hot Breadbowl with Cheese and Egg)

Ajaran khachapuri

(Note: A version of this post appeared on my personal blog, Eat with Pleasure, in January 2014).

I first tried Georgian khachapuri (bread stuffed with salty melted cheese) in Moscow, where I found it at a street stand on a frigid, grimy morning in March. Fresh from the oven, it warmed my hands through my gloves and the molten cheese and buttery dough seemed to start insulating me from the cold almost as soon as I swallowed the first bite. From then on, I became a regular, at least until I stopped being able to fit comfortably into my jeans and had to take a temporary hiatus.

Khachapuri is arguably Georgia’s most celebrated national dish and one of its most recognizable cultural exports, at least among the countries of the former Soviet Union. The sort I’d tried in Moscow is known as penovani, the most popular street snack variety from Ukraine to Tajikistan. It substitutes puff pastry for the more traditional bread dough and comes apportioned for one. There are also several regional varieties: the classic imeruli (a flat, round pie stuffed with cheese, from the central region of Imereti), megruli (pretty much the same as imeruli, but topped with an extra layer of cheese, from the western Megruli region), and the decadent ajaruli khachapuri, which hails from the Ajara region on the Black Sea coast.

Ajaran khachapuri is essentially a breadbowl encompassing a molten lake of oozy, salty cheese and a poached egg. It is typically shaped like a boat or an eye, the egg’s yolk a sort of sunny pupil. I first tried it on a sweltering August afternoon after a sticky four-hour bus ride from another city—not the ideal conditions for this dish. (There were no other choices at the time.)

January, however, is another story. There’s nothing like biting cold (or a nasty hangover) to make you crave stick-to-your-bones food like this. Make it for a weekend brunch or your next snow day. It’s so filling you won’t need much on the side: just coffee and some grapefruit or orange juice to cut the richness.

Note the amount of eggs called for in various steps here: you will use a full dozen eggs to make khachapuri for six people.)

Ajaran Khachapuri (Hot Breadbowl with Cheese and Egg)
Serves 6 as a main course
Time: about 2 and a half hours, largely unattended

Dough:
1 ½ cups warmed milk (105-115 degrees F)
2 (0.25 oz.) pkgs. active dry yeast (4 ½ tsp.)
2 tsp. sugar
1 ½ sticks melted butter, cooled to room temperature
2 eggs, beaten, plus 1 more for the egg wash
5 ½ cups flour, plus ¼ cup more for kneading and rolling
1 Tbsp. kosher salt

Filling:
1 ½ cup grated mozzarella
1 ½ cup crumbled feta
3/4 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
6 eggs, whole
Butter, if desired

  1. In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and warmed milk. Let stand for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture becomes foamy.
  1. Add the melted butter, egg, flour, and salt and mix well to form a soft dough. (You’ll probably need to use your hands at the end to get everything thoroughly mixed.) The dough will still be fairly sticky but should pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  1. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2-3 minutes, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking.
  1. Roll the dough into a ball and put it in a large buttered bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with a towel and set it in a warm place to rise until roughly doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours.
  1. Thirty minutes before you plan to bake the khachapuri, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two heavy-duty baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
  1. Punch the dough down and divide it into six balls. Working one ball at a time on a lightly floured surface, roll each one into a circle about 10 inches in diameter. (You can also hold the dough in the air, turning it constantly and letting it stretch itself out: watch the video below to see my Georgian host mother’s technique.)
  1. Roll the edges inward loosely to create an “eye” shape roughly 7-8 inches long and 4-5 inches wide in the middle. The rolled dough around the edges should be about 1 inch high. Twist the edges together at the ends (the corners of the eye) and press the twist down with your thumb to “seal” them. Transfer each khachapuri to the lined baking sheets and let them rest about 10 minutes.
  1. Meanwhile, mix the cheeses, yogurt, beaten eggs and salt together in a small bowl with a fork. Once the dough has rested, spoon some of the filling into each one (enough to fill them but not so high that it might overflow in the oven).
  1. Beat 1 whole egg with 1 tsp. water to make an egg wash. Use a small brush to coat the sides of each khachapuri generously with it.
  1. Bake for 12-17 minutes, until the crusts begin to turn golden. Remove the khachapuri from the oven. Use a spoon to make a 3-in. diameter well in the center of each khachapuri—you’ll need to crack the surface of the cheese to do this.Crack a whole egg into each well. Return the khachapuri to the oven and continue baking until crusts turn deep golden brown, another 6-8 minutes. The egg whites should be fairly opaque but still wobbly, the yolks glistening. (The eggs will continue to cook in the hot cheese after they emerge from the oven.) Serve each khachapuri on an individual plate.
  1. To eat: Use your fork to mix the egg thoroughly into the cheese. Cut pieces of crust from the inside rim first, swirling them through the filling like fondue. Then move to the outer rim and the bottom.

Serving note: If you like, sprinkle the khachapuri with black or red pepper, smoked paprika, or chopped greens (cilantro, parsley, basil, mint, dill). If you prefer a spicier version, mix some ajika into the cheese while it’s hot. A light salad of cucumber, tomatoes, and red or green onions on the side would complement the rich khachapuri nicely.