We’re turning our attention back to Georgia to take a look at how walnuts form the backbone of the nation’s cuisine. This versatile nut can be made into a sauce, bazhe, and slathered on slices of fried aubergine or poured over a cucumber and tomato salad. It’s also used liberally in the vegetable dip, pkhali, in the thicker satsivi paste and in the red bean dish, lobio.
We made some bazhe to roll up in slices of fried aubergine, a favourite from the days of visiting Georgian restaurants. These aubergine rolls, nigvziani badrijani in Georgian, are usually served at the start of the meal, especially at lengthy wine and chacha (a grape-based spirit akin to Italy’s grappa or Greece’s tsipouro) fuelled banquets, but we think they’re great to eat at anytime and they’re particularly handy for picnics or barbecues.
To remove the bitter taste of the aubergine, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 minutes. Rinse in cold water and pat dry with kitchen roll. Make sure the oil is very hot when frying the slices – this will help them not to soak up too much fat while cooking.,
Ingredients (for 16-20 aubergine rolls)
3 or 4 large aubergines
100 ml cooking oil
100 g walnuts
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon vinegar (red or white wine or apple)
1 tablespoon pomegranate sauce
1 teaspoon blue fenugreek (use cumin seeds if you can’t find this)
1 teaspoon marigold flower (use turmeric if you can’t find this)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
50 ml cold water
Salt to sprinkle over the aubergine slices
Fresh basil and coriander leaves to garnish
Make the walnut sauce first. Crush the nuts using the back of a wooden spoon on a wooden chopping board. This method gives the sauce a more crunchy texture. Mince the garlic and mix with the nuts in a bowl. Add the spices, vinegar and pomegranate sauce and combine all the ingredients into a smooth paste. Add water until the sauce has a more runny consistency but is still quite thick.
While the sauce is chilling in the fridge, fry the aubergine. Heat 50 ml of oil in a heavy based pan. Top and tail the aubergine and slice off a thin layer of skin on both sides. Cut the aubergine into 0.5 cm slices lengthways and then fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
When the slices have cooled down, spread the walnut sauce onto the slice and then roll it up. Garnish with fresh herbs such as coriander and basil, and pomegranate seeds (if you have any – we’re not expecting any until autumn) and serve cold with other Georgian starters such as pkhali and crusty bread.
This week we’re cooking up a cactus salad with the main ingredient foraged from some wild prickly pear bushes in Turkey. In an earlier post we reported on some of the similarities between Turkish and Mexican cooking – they both love hot chilli peppers in their food, there’s plenty of beans used, fresh white cheese is a key ingredient and wrapping food in flat bread is popular.
A key area of difference is the use of cacti, a staple of Mexican cuisine. In Mexico the prickly pear paddles, known as nopales or napolitoes (from the Spanish for cactus), are used in a variety of dishes. They can be found in salads, as a taco or tortilla filling, simply grilled or scrambled up with eggs. They have a crunchy taste similar to green beans.
Whilst the prickly pear cactus grows all over southern Turkey, only the fruit – the prickly pears, are usually eaten and sometimes used in cocktails! We’re about to change all that with the first of one of our irregular ventures into the world of Turk-Mex cuisine…
How to deal with a thorny problem…
We harvested a few cactus paddles from a secret location in Datça, Turkey. After harvesting, we put on our marigolds and removed the thorns with a sharp knife, sliced the pads up and then boiled them. Next we mixed then in with a spicy tomato sauce, aka acili ezme, to create this Crazy Cactus Salad.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
Four prickly pear cactus paddles (roughly hand-sized)
For the sauce:
One medium-sized onion
Three medium-sized plum tomatoes
One medium-sized green pepper
One garlic clove
One teaspoon capers
One bunch of parsley
One teaspoon dried mint
Three teaspoons red chilli flakes
Two teaspoons sumac
One teaspoon flavoured vinegar (such as apple or fig)
Three teaspoons pomegranate sauce
Remove all the thorns from the pads with a sharp knife. Slice into 1 cm strips and then cut into 2 cm pieces. Boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but still crunchy – cook them too long and they can go a bit slimy. Drain and rinse in cold water and then mix with the acili ezme salad (instructions below).
For the sauce:
Peel the tomatoes and de-seed (to peel: plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds then place in cold water – the skin should now come off easily). Chop the tomatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic and parsley as finely as you can.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl, add the herbs and spices, vinegar and pomegranate sauce and mix well. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.
Knidos Cookery Club has just arrived back at its home base on the Datça Peninsula in Turkey. We’re going to soak up some more culinary inspiration from the place where the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas meet around the ancient Greek settlement of Knidos.
To celebrate being back in Turkey, we’ve prepared a piyaz salad, one of the classic dishes of Turkish cooking, that combines small white beans with some readily available staples of the local kitchen; namely tomatoes, onions, green peppers, parsley and lemons.
Turkey’s çarliston peppers aka banana peppers
The secret of this dish is in getting the beans just right – not too mushy but not too firm either. They need a good, long overnight soak and some slow cooking to achieve the required consistency.
The dressing used varies across Turkey from the basic lemon, olive oil and apple vinegar one favoured in Istanbul to the tahini-infused one from Antalya, paying tribute to the Arabian influence from the Middle East on the city’s cuisine. We have opted for the creamy, nutty taste of the latter.
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
200 g dried haricot beans or other small white beans soaked overnight
1 medium-sized plum tomato
1 long, green pepper (e.g. çarliston pepper – see photo above)
1 small onion
Small bunch of parsley
50 ml olive oil
50 ml apple vinegar
25 ml tahini
2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
Optional: Two boiled eggs or one avocado
Cook the beans over a low heat until tender but not starting to go mushy. When cooked, drain off the cooking water, reserving 100 ml to make the dressing. Pour the vinegar and sprinkle the thyme over the beans and leave to cool.
After leaving for a few hours, add the vinegar the beans were soaking in to the reserved bean juice and then blend with the olive oil, tahini and the juice of one lemon to make a smooth sauce.
Finely dice the tomato, slice the pepper and onions into rings and chop the parsley finely. Add these to the beans.
Cover the salad and put it in the fridge for a few hours. Serve with wedges of the second lemon and sprinkle the red chilli flakes over the salad.
Just before serving, pour the dressing over the bean salad and season with black pepper and gently mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
You can garnish with quarters of boiled egg if you wish or, for a vegan twist, you can garnish the salad with slices of avocado.