Bring on the Bazhe – Georgia’s Versatile Walnut Sauce

6 August 2020

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.

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Aubergine slices stuffed with bazhe, Georgia’s versatile walnut sauce

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.

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Bazhe – Georgia’s versatile walnut sauce

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.,

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Spread the sauce on the fried aubergine slice and then roll it up

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

Method

  • 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.

Lockdown Lunch: Tbilisi Calling

26 March 2020

For this week’s lockdown lunch we had a root around the cupboards and came up with some dried red beans, last autumn’s walnuts and a bottle of Turkish pomegranate sauce (Nar Ekşili Sos) – perfect ingredients for taking us on a culinary away day to Tbilisi for a bowl of lobio, Georgia’s signature bean dish.

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Take a trip to Georgia with KCC’s Lobio lockdown lunch

Lobio can be more like a soup, a stew, a salad or even re-fried beans depending on which region of Georgia it’s prepared in – we’ve gone for lobio nigvzit which is somewhere between a soup and a stew. Serve the lobio in a clay pot with white cheese and a hunk of fresh mchadi (corn bread – recipe link here) or any other bread for an authentic taste of Georgia.

To help pass the time during lockdown, here’s something on the etymology of lobio from @thomas_wier on twitter:

Ingredients (makes four servings)

  • 500 g cooked red beans
  • 50 g walnuts
  • One medium onion
  • Two garlic cloves
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • One teaspoon blue fenugreek (use fenugreek or cumin seeds if you can’t find this)
  • One teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • One small bunch fresh coriander
  • Three bay leaves
  • 50 ml cooking oil
  • 50 ml pomegranate sauce
  • 250 ml water the beans were cooked in or vegetable stock

Method 

  • If cooking dried beans, then soak 250 g of beans overnight. Change water and cook for one hour or so until the beans are just cooked but not yet falling apart. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the coriander seeds and blue fenugreek. Cook for a few minutes and then add the diced onions, mashed garlic and chilli flakes. Cook for ten minutes over a low heat and then add the crushed walnuts and the pomegranate sauce. Cook for another five minutes.
  • Now add the drained beans, bay leaves and reserved cooking water. Leave to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon – don’t worry if the beans start to fall apart – they taste better like this and absorb more sauce.
  • Add the chopped fresh coriander and serve hot with bread and white cheese. It tastes even better if left overnight and reheated, but only add the fresh coriander after re-heating the mix.

 

 

A Passion for Pkhali

20 April 2017

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re returning to Georgia for some culinary inspiration in the form of pkhali, a type of starter made from walnuts, herbs, spices and whatever vegetable happens to be in season, such as spinach, beetroot, aubergine, cabbage or carrot.

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Walnuts are widely used in Georgian cooking – besides pkhali, they can be turned into  satsivi, a thick paste similar to hummus, and  bazhe, a sauce made with the holy trinity of Georgian herbs – blue fenugreek, ground coriander (cilantro) and crushed marigold flowers. These combos can be mixed with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes as a salad dressing or stuffed into tongues of fried aubergine (eggplant).

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Staying on the walnut theme, on a recent visit to the former home of famous Kazakh writer Mukhtar Auezov in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the guide gave me a handful of walnuts from the gnarled old tree in the garden of the writer’s house. These nuts were used in the making  of today’s pkhali recipe.

Auezov was famous in Soviet times for writing The Path of Abai, an epic historical novel based on the life and teachings of Kazakhstan’s most famous poet and composer Abai Qunanbayuli, who had been a neighbour and friend of Auezov’s grandfather.

It was said in the Soviet era that all were equal, but some were more equal than others – and this was certainly the case for Auezov after he won the Lenin Prize in 1959 for his four-volume epic novel about Abai.

The prize came with a sackful of roubles which he invested in a two-storey house, which is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. The house was lavish by the standards of the time and was designed by the architect who designed Almaty’s Abai Opera Theatre.

Ingredients (Makes around four generous servings of each pkhali – see photo above)

For the beetroot pkhali

  • 300 g cooked beetroot
  • 100 g walnuts
  • One garlic clove
  • 5 g fresh parsley
  • 5 g fresh coriander
  • One teaspoon blue fenugreek powder
  • One teaspoon black pepper
  • 20 ml wine vinegar
  • A scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts

 

For the spinach pkhali

  • 250 g fresh spinach
  • 100 g walnuts
  • One small onion (around 75 g)
  • One garlic clove
  • 5 g fresh parsley
  • 5 g fresh coriander
  • One teaspoon blue fenugreek powder
  • One teaspoon black pepper
  • 20 ml wine vinegar
  • A scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts

 

Method

  • For the beetroot pkhali:
  • Boil the beetroot for 30 minutes or so until you can pierce it with a knife easily.
  • Leave to cool and then peel and chop into small chunks.
  • Toast the walnuts over a low heat for 5-10 minutes and then add to the garlic and herbs and spices in a bowl. Add the vinegar and use a blender to make a smooth paste. Add the beetroot chunks and keep blending until you have a gloopy mixture.
  • Leave overnight in the fridge and then serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

Method

  • For the spinach pkhali:
  • Cook the spinach in boiling water for 5 minutes until it begins to wilt. Remove and place in cold water and then drain.
  • Finely chop the onion and put it in a mixing bowl with the garlic, herbs and spices. Toast the walnuts over a low heat for 5-10 minutes and then add to the bowl. Add the vinegar and use a blender to make a smooth paste. Add the spinach and keep blending until you have a gloopy mixture.
  • Leave overnight in the fridge and then serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts.