Georgian Chicken Salad (as Seen on TV)

I demonstrated this recipe on Georgian TV earlier today, on Rustavi 2’s “Day Show.” It’s quick, colorful, healthy, and simple to make. (Simple enough to make on live TV without worrying that something will come out wrong!) You can watch the clip below in Georgian and English.

Chicken salad is as popular in Georgia as it is in the US, though Georgians don’t typically put it on sandwiches, as I did on the show. This recipe uses Georgian flavors like pomegranate, cilantro, and walnuts to dress up what might otherwise be a fairly bland dish. I love the clean taste of yogurt here instead of the more traditional mayo, but either will work. You can also play with the herbs: parsley, basil, mint, or tarragon would all fit in well here.

Serve the salad as is, stuff it into a baguette, pita pocket, or wrap, or pile it into hollowed-out tomato halves.

Georgian Chicken Salad (Katmis Salati)
Serves 6

1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 stalks celery, finely sliced (or 1 bunch celery leaves, finely chopped)
3 green onions, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. crushed red pe­­­pper flakes
¼ tsp. black pepper
Juice of half a lemon
1 ½ Tbsp. wine vinegar
½ cup plain yogurt (thin, not the thick Greek-style yogurt) or mayonnaise
½ cup walnuts, ground
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped fresh dill
½ cup pomegranate seeds
Lettuce, arugula, or spinach

To make a sandwich:
Baguette, pita pocket bread, or wrap

  1. Put the chicken in a pot with enough water to cover the pieces by one inch. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate and let cool. Reserve the broth for another use.
  2. Shred the chicken into thin pieces. In a large bowl, mix the chicken with all the other ingredients except the lettuce or other greens. Adjust seasonings to taste. If you have time, cover the bowl and chill the salad in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
  3. Serve the salad on a bed of lettuce, arugula, or other greens. For a sandwich, layer the chicken salad and greens on a baguette, stuff inside a pita or roll into a wrap. Alternatively, hollow out halves of tomato and stuff the cups with chicken salad.

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.

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).

Honey Nut Brittle (Gozinaki)

Gozinaki

(Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on my personal blog, Eat with Pleasure, in 2013.)

Walnuts candied in honey are traditionally enjoyed on New Year’s Eve and throughout the holiday season in Georgia. (Most Georgians who celebrate Christmas do so on January 7, when it falls according to the Orthodox Church (Julian) calendar.) The crisp brittle keeps well and doesn’t require too much space in stomachs already stretched from days of feasting. When I make gozinaki, I like to mix the walnuts with hazelnuts, pecans, or almonds and use single-flower honey to lend each batch a distinctive character. As the honey caramelizes, it fills the house with its warm, sweet perfume, somewhere between orange blossoms and gingerbread. By the time I’ve turned the brittle onto my cutting board to cool, everyone is already waiting by the kitchen door, clambering for a piece.

Snack on a square of this to get you through the mid-afternoon slump at work, pair it with a shot of espresso for a sweet treat you won’t feel guilty about eating, or bring a bag of it along on your next hiking trip to keep you energized.

Honey Nut Brittle (Gozinaki)
Makes about 25 2-in. pieces

1 ½ cups walnut halves
1 ½ cups hazelnuts
1 cup good-quality honey
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt, divided

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil and bake for 8-10 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Allow to cool slightly, then coarsely chop the nuts. (It is best to roast nuts whole and chop them later, because pre-chopped pieces burn easily. Warm nuts are also easier to chop without shards flying everywhere.)
  2. Heat the honey and sugar in a heavy-bottomed skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. (It will look like soap suds.) Let it boil for 1 minute, stirring frequently. (The sugar is there to help the brittle set.)
  3. Add the chopped nuts and ¼ tsp. of sea salt to the boiling honey. Let the mixture come back up to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts become very sticky and the honey thickens and turns a tawny brown color. Depending on the thickness of your pan and the heat of your stove, this should take about 7-10 minutes. Be careful not to let the nuts burn as they cook, nor the honey smoke.
  4. Turn the honey-nut mixture out onto a moistened cutting board. Spread the nuts into a ½ inch thick layer with a rubber spatula or the back of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ tsp. of sea salt on top. Allow to cool ten minutes, then chop into pieces of whatever size you desire. (Diamonds are traditional.) Transfer them to a plate or another hard surface, sticky sides up, and allow to cool completely—the brittle will harden as it cools. Store in an airtight container or in the freezer.