Georgian Potato Salad (Kartopilis Salati)

Georgian potato salad

I grew up eating classic Midwestern potato salad, with a healthy glop of mayo and chunks of celery and hard-boiled egg mixed in. It was always on the buffet table at family picnics for summer holidays like Memorial Day and Fourth of July, and even shows up from time to time at Christmas. (When you have to bring a dish large to feed 75 people, potato salad goes a long way.)

I still love that familiar version, but at home I like something with a little more kick to it. This Georgian version is a creation of my own kitchen rather than an adaptation of a traditional Georgian dish (though it wouldn’t be out of place there).

I prefer to keep the skins on the potatoes for the flavor they add, but you can peel the potatoes after you boil them if you like. Experiment with different combinations of herbs. For the most authentically Georgian flavor, seek out the glossy purple “opal” basil, which is sharper and clovier than the green Genovese basil most commonly found in the US.

This salad can easily be made a day ahead of time and stored in the fridge overnight.

 

Georgian Potato Salad (Kartopilis Salati)
Serves 4-6

2 lbs. boiling potatoes, preferably fingerling or red, scrubbed clean
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
½ tsp. kosher salt + another teaspoon for the boiling water
Several grinds of black pepper
Dash of crushed red pepper (I use about ¼ tsp.)
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3-4 scallions, finely sliced
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (any mix of cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, dill, tarragon, and/or basil)
Sprinkle of ground sumac to garnish, if desired

1. In a pot, cover the potatoes with an inch or two of cold water and add a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender all the way through, around 10-15 minutes. Drain and rinse several times under cool water to stop the cooking. Chop the potatoes into bite-size chunks and transfer them to a mixing bowl.
2. Add the mayonnaise, ½ tsp. salt, black and red pepper, vinegar, scallions, and herbs. Mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste.
3. You can chill the salad at this point if you are making it in advance or prefer to serve it cold. Otherwise, transfer it to a serving dish and sprinkle ground sumac over the top if desired.

Chicken Soup with Egg and Lemon (Chikhirtma)

Chikhirtma

The Georgian palate gravitates toward tart flavors in all sorts of dishes, and soups are no exception. This elegant chicken soup takes its tang from lemon juice (or, alternatively, vinegar). It appears creamy due to the addition of eggs, but it contains no dairy. The hint of cinnamon adds a touch of sweet perfume, but the flavor remains delicately savory.

I like to serve this soup as a first course before a vegetarian entrée, or as a meal in itself with a thick slice of grainy bread and a mixed green salad.

Chikhirtma
Serves 4-6

1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts at room temperature
7-8 cups water or chicken stock
2 Tbsp. butter or oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, diced
1 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Juice of one lemon*
2 eggs, beaten
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Chopped fresh herbs to garnish (any mix of cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, basil, dill, mint)

*Tip: Roll the lemon around on the counter, pressing down on it hard with the palm of your hand, before slicing it in half and juicing it. This softens the membranes inside the lemon and will allow you to squeeze more juice out of it.

  1. Place the chicken breasts in a pot and pour the water or stock over them. Bring the liquid to a simmer (not a boil) and maintain it there until the chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken and strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve. Reserve the strained broth. Use your fingers to shred the chicken into bite-size pieces.
  2. In the large pot, cook the onion in butter or oil until soft, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the flour, salt, coriander, and cinnamon over the onions, stirring well to combine. Add the strained broth to the onions and bring to a simmer.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the beaten eggs and lemon juice with 1 cup of the warmed broth, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from clumping. Add the egg mixture to the soup, stirring as you pour. Add the chicken pieces back to the soup and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.
  4. To serve, ladle the soup into shallow bowls, grind a bit of black pepper over each and top with chopped herbs.

Serving suggestion: if you like a garlicky soup or are trying to ward off a cold, add 3-5 cloves of minced garlic to the soup when you add the chicken pieces back in towards the end.

Spinach spread or dip with walnuts and cilantro (Ispanakhis Pkhali)

spinach pkhali If you imagine a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles signifying dip, spread, and salad, pkhali falls somewhere in the middle. That’s a weird category for many Americans—we don’t quite know what to do with it.

Trust me, though: you’ll understand when you taste it. The garlicky, slightly salty, vinegary kick of this combo is as addictive as chips, yet you can enjoy it entirely without guilt. Georgians simply eat it with a fork or scoop it up with bread or a slice of khachapuri, but I’ve offered several other serving suggestions below as well. If you have time, make it a couple of hours ahead–it benefits from some time to chill in the fridge to let the flavors meld and the garlic mellow.

Spinach spread or dip with walnuts and cilantro (Ispanakhis Pkhali)
Serves a crowd as an appetizer

32 oz. fresh spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups walnuts, ground
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or mashed
1 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
5 Tbsp. walnut oil (or vegetable oil)
4 tsp. tarragon vinegar or white wine vinegar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for salting water
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground fenugreek
¼ tsp. ground red pepper or a pinch of cayenne pepper
Several grinds of black pepper
½ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spinach, stirring to submerge the leaves and make room for more. One all the spinach has wilted (about 3 minutes), drain the hot water and run cold water over the spinach. When the spinach is cool, squeeze out as much water as you can. (This is most effectively done by squeezing it, a chunk at a time, between your hands or in your fists.) Put the spinach in the bowl of a food processor or chop it very finely with a large knife and place in a bowl.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the pomegranate seeds to the spinach and mix well. If you are using a food processor, puree the mixture lightly. (It should still be thick enough to roll into balls.) Adjust seasonings to taste. If possible, chill the pkhali in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.

Serving suggestions:

  • Spread on crostini or baguette slices and garnish each with a few pomegranate seeds
  • Serve as a dip with pita chips, crackers, or crispy vegetables. Mix in the pomegranate seeds or leave them on top. For a creamy dip, mix pkhali with yogurt in equal parts.
  • Use as a sandwich spread with mozzarella cheese and tomato slices or roast chicken and red leaf lettuce
  • Form the mixture into small balls (about ¾ inch in diameter), garnish with a few pomegranate seeds on top of each, and serve with khachapuri or mchadi (fried corn cakes).