Just like we start out Italian eating with pasta and pizza, anyone who grew up in Soviet Union, would tell you that Georgian food is Chicken Tabaka and Kharcho – a hearty meat based soup with tomato paste. Any food establishment – from government mandated greasy spoon stolovaya to fancy restaurants would serve these staples. Never mind that fragrant, fresh herbs and spices weren’t quite available freely, so everyone served whatever abridged, simplified, cheapened version of these dishes they could stir from the available ingredients. Still, they were wildly popular.
Meanwhile, Georgian food is incredibly diverse, colorful, complex in flavor. It requires patient, slow paced preparation, and if you pay attention to detail, it will reward you with amazing results, even the simplest of the dishes. To those not familiar with Georgian food, I highly recommend exploring it. It will suffice to say that one of the top ingredients is walnut. Walnuts are used to thicken the sauce, to coat the meat, to flavor soups, etc… Walnuts are everywhere, and you don’t get tired of them. Sauces are the mother of all here. They make Satzivi – a rich chicken dish with thick, yellowy, spicy walnut sauce, just to savor the sauce, hot or cold, with a fresh flat bread. The aforementioned Kharcho is a meal-in-one hearty soup, worthy of a king’s table. Chicken Tabaka is a flattened skillet fried cornish hen, rubbed with garlic and salt, and spiced with nothing but cayenne. And you haven’t lived if you didn’t try one of the many different kinds of Khachapuri – a savory cheese pie. Read up, poke around the Internet and find something that tickles your curiosity, you won’t regret it.
I shouldn’t spend any more time describing these gastronomical wonders, as I am currently fasting, and this makes me hungry.
So the other day I found myself in possession of about one and a half pounds of ground beef, and was torn between prospects of either a boring meatloaf or a grin of soviet fine cooking called in our household Pasta Navy, when I bumped into a post on one of the Russian cooking exchanges. It featured Georgian Khinkali – a large beef-n-onion filled dumpling, pinch-pleated at the top and poached slowly. I found that Khinkali is supposed to be eaten hot, by grabbing it by the “stem”, biting into the flesh carefully, sucking the beef juices out, then finishing all but the stem. Then you put the stem down on your plate, so that by the end of the feast you count all them to know your exact score. The recipe looked simple enough, and I tried it out.
You start off with a simple pasta dough, let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour before working with it. Then you roll it out to pasta thickness, cut out large circles, about 4 inches in diameter. I used a martini glass, which was perfect for this.
Then you fill them with the farce prepared from equal parts of ground beef (or lamb, or a mixture of beef and pork) and raw minced onion, a few spices such as mint, thyme, fresh parsley or Khmeli-Suneli, salt and pepper. Then you pinch. You pinch-pleat your dumpling into a fig shape, you make the stem, and then you grab it by the stem and boil it gently for about 5-6 minutes.
And then you eat. And you eat. You eat them with yoghurt mixed with garlic and parsley, or you eat them without anything at all. And I assure you, your stem count at the end of the meal will be quite high!