The Georgian Feast

Rich lost his kitchen privileges. The ban was imposed after I came home to a flooded kitchen last Thursday. At first, I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but soon enough it became clear that the leak was coming from a broken garbage disposal. I can only assume the culprit was the once-lost pestle (as in mortar and), discovered by Rich when it was chewed up by the garbage disposal the previous week. Good news: I now have a new garbage disposal; thanks, Chief Parr! Bad news: I still have a mortar minus a pestle.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when I attended a Georgian Feast. No, it was not an evening of peaches and pecans, but a dinner and lecture about the Republic of Georgia, which I learned is really a crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It was one of several seminars in food, wine and the arts my school is offering this semester, and for which I used my student discount to its full advantage. The lecturer was Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian at Williams College and author of The Vegetarian Hearth, from which the terrific lentils and leeks recipe comes. But most importantly, Dr. Goldstein is the founder and editor-in-chief of the phenomenal scholarly food magazine Gastronomica, which was recently awarded Best Food Magazine of 2010 at the Gourmand Awards.

According to one Georgian legend, God took a supper break while creating the world. He became so involved with his meal that he inadvertently tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus, spilling his food onto the land below. The land blessed by Heaven’s table scraps was Georgia.

This feast was the second of a two-night event. The previous night was a lecture about sustainable caviar, which, according to one of the women at my table, also involved six separate shots of vodka. Our outstanding dinner, which was prepared by the students in the culinary arts program, also involved alcohol. Keith Johnsen of Daqopa Brands flew in from Washington State to serve us six wines, three white and three red. Actually, I may have enjoyed more than my six. When the slender, young African American man wearing a dark suit and gold bow tie sat down at my table, I leaned over and asked “is it safe to assume you won’t be drinking your wine this evening?” He smiled and confirmed my guess. “I know all about food restrictions, I grew up kosher. I completely understand. I also wrote a 20 page paper last semester analyzing the show Man vs. Food and the perpetuation of food waste in American culture. Religiously speaking, it would be an affront to God to have that wine poured down the drain.” He laughed and passed me his wine.

And the feast itself? We started with khachapuri, a buttery bread full of salty cheese, which we enjoyed while Goldstein demonstrated the preparation of in the front of the room. Tabaka, flattened chicken traditionally eaten with one’s hands to get every bit of meat, was served with niortskali, a garlic sauce, drizzled on top. On the side were mtsvane lobios borani, spiced green beans with a garlicky yogurt dressing, and charkhlis, a beet puree full of coriander and walnuts. For dessert, we had purple pelamushi, grape juice and cornmeal squares, and fresh fruit. All the recipes can be found in Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast, winner of the 1994 Julia Child Book of the Year Award, which all attendees received.

We drank a 2001 Brut Vintage Reserve Bagrationi, a 2007 Mildiani Katstieli, a 2008 Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, a 2007 Saperavi Kondoli Vineyards, a 2006 Mukazani Teliani Valley and a 2009 Khvanchkara Racha. Were I more sophisticated (and had I been more sober) I would be able to tell you which we had with each course. My favorite was the Pheasant’s Tears, which was very sweet and honey-colored.

The green beans were so splendid that I actually opened the book to page 153 so I could read the recipe at the table. I happened to have both yogurt and green beans in the house this week, so I got very excited. And then I came to the line where I was supposed to use my mortar and pestle to pound my clove of garlic with salt to a paste. “Argh!,” I shrieked, possibly a little too loud for the room. (I blame it on the Pheasant’s Tears. I’m a sympathetic crier.)

I did make these green beans tonight, and tried to create the same effect by mincing my garlic with salt into a paste on a cutting board. It took quite a few minutes to do, and would have been a breeze with a mortar and pestle. This dish was so delicious, I think Rich will be replacing mine sometime this weekend.

Green Beans with Yogurt (Mtsvane Lobios Borani)

From The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein

Goldstein writes, “Borani refers to a dish of boiled vegetables to which yogurt is added; an elaborate version calls for the addition of fried chicken as well. Georgian borani is similar to the Persian borani-e or Indian boorani, all legacies of Mongol influence.”

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

1 pound green beans, trimmed

1 onion, peeled and minced

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup ice water

1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, dill, summer savory) — I actually only used tarragon tonight, and it was fantastic. Georgian food is full of cilantro, so if you want to be the most authentic, that’s the way to go.

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)

In a large pot of boiling water, parboil the beans for 4 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, saute the onion in 4 tablespoons of butter until soft.

Drain the beans and chop coarsely (each bean should be in 2 to 3 pieces). Add the beans to the onion along with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Cook, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the beans are very soft.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with salt to a paste. Whip the yogurt with the ice water and add it to the pounded garlic.

Stir the fresh herbs into the beans and cook for 1 minute more, then turn out onto a plate. Pour the yogurt over the beans and garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

I ended up drizzling the yogurt sauce on everything on my dinner plate tonight, the cabbage and cous cous. I think you’ll be wanting to do the same.

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20 thoughts on “The Georgian Feast

  1. Thanks for stopping by my site. I’ll be visiting yours a lot I think, as my teen daughter is trying out vegetariansim. ;) It all started when we got the chickens for eggs. Mindfulness is good. Really enjoying your posts so far. The Georgian feast sounds like fun! And I think the green beans will show up on our table soon.

  2. Excellent work on my motherland!!! Fun fact (or maybe morose depending on your level of sarcasm), that dictator guy Stalin was a Georgian…and his name was not originally symbolic of steel. I’m trying to remember if my mom has ever made this dish, and then I remeber I didn’t like veggies as a kid. It looks delicious and I’m hitting my head for reading this eloquent post during the stomach-kvetching hour of lunch.

  3. Hi there! Thanks for the comment on my blog. :) These green beans look delish. I have a bag of green beans in my fridge just waiting to be used…I have a feeling their fate is a Georgian one! ;)

  4. This looks wonderful. What a great dinner, thanks so much for sharing. I am going to look for that book ASAP. My husband and I travelled to Moscow several years ago and having heard of Georgian food made a special point to go to a Georgian restaurant. I loved chachapuri and this reminds me that I need to try to make it. Cheese + bread? What could be better. Now, do you have to be a student to get to go to one of these seminars, or is there some way the rest of us can have a chance at this?

    • Sara,
      It’s really a wonderfully written book, well worth having on the bookshelf. The dinner seminars are open to everyone from what I gather, but instead of being $70, they cost me $30 as a student of the program. There are still some really amazing ones being held this semester, but this one in particular tickled my fancy. It was fabulous! There’s a wonderful Splendid Table podcast floating around with an interview with Professor Goldstein about the Georgian Feast. Really terrific stuff. Hope you like cilantro!
      Molly

  5. I love your stories :) The chicken and garlic sauce sounds amazing, I really love the flavours of garlic. We do alot of cooking just vegetables in Chinese cooking, so I’m going to try this way of cooking green beans for a change :)

    • Thank you so much for the visit. I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying my stories. Sometimes I think I write just to make myself laugh. Happy to know someone else is smiling out there.

  6. What an interesting feast! It sounds like a blast, the yogurt and green beans look delicious, too. My dad is from Greece, so I’m addicted to yogurt mixed with vegetable dishes. SO good!!

  7. The beans look wonderful and it sounds as though you really enjoyed the Georgian feast. You asked about lettuce. I use the Vidalia dressing on bitter greens such as arugula or watercress. It is also good on the really crisp lettuces. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

    • Hi Shannon,
      Thanks for stopping by. Yup, I added salt to the garlic to make the paste. If you like green beans, definitely try this recipe. It was so good, and like nothing I’ve ever had before.
      Molly

  8. I just made this tonight. I like other commenters don’t always like green beans, but this is a great way to eat them. (Plus the use of cloves was an a-ha moment- for me-I have often noticed that flavor before in food from that region but didn’t recognize cloves outside of baked goods!) And you’re right, the sauce is incredible. I just whipped it up in my immersion blender/mixer rather than a mortar and pestle; but I think I’ll be making this often!

    • Sara,

      You’ve made me so happy. There really are people out there using the recipes!

      I have a Georgian co-worker who sometimes brings me her mother’s khachapuri. You’re right, I really need to make it for myself. Goldstein mentioned that it is sometimes hard to find the cheese — she teaches in Williamstown, Mass., where there are no international stores like in Boston — and uses a combination of cheeses. I’m an idiot and didn’t write down the combination, but it may have been a fontina and something else, perhaps a Muenster, but please don’t trust me.

      Isn’t that a great book?

      Thanks again for reading,
      Molly

      • This just reminded me I have Nigella Lawson’s Feast, and she has a Georgian menu I’ve always wanted to make. So, two thinngs: (1) she has you mix feta, mozz, and ricotta to “fake” the cheese for chachpuri, and (2) all this time, this bean and yogurt recipe has been there, in this cookbook, that I’ve owned for 5 or so years! Per my prior comment I probably ignored it because it was green beans, but it’s so delicious, and so thanks again for your post! (I love how many recipes I discover via other bloggers that I have sitting in cookbooks I already own. Ah well).

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