AUBERGINE AND WALNUTS.
Recipes from the Road. Georgia
Friends of the vineyard made this dish one Saturday afternoon and I was hooked. The combination of grilled aubergine (eggplant), umami crunchy walnuts, sweet juicy pomegranate and tangy red wine vinegar resulted in one of the most delicious morsels I had eaten in months. Top it off with fresh coriander (cilantro) and a few ( or more) glasses of home grown wine and I was in foodie heaven.
Buying the ingredients was an adventure in itself, as I set off on my bicycle to the next village, armed with '$5 of walnuts' scribbled in Georgian script on a piece of scrap paper. 5 kilometres of pedalling and 6 shops later I purchased a large bag of locally grown walnuts. On my cycle home I passed my favourite vegetable stall and picked up a bunch of coriander tied in ribbon for 10 cents.
Contrary to my usual cooking style this dish is not fast or overly cheap to make, on account of the price of walnuts. I would allow about 90 minutes prep time, though the dish can be made a day prior as it's eaten cold. It's the perfect summer appetiser, canapé, or side dish. It would go well with any Mediterranean feast, simple salad or picnic. Best eaten with good friends on a long and lazy Sunday afternoon.
Makes about 30 delicious morsels.
500 grams aubergines (or around 6)
250 grams walnuts
1 large pomegranate
Fresh coriander (to garnish)
1 teaspoon blue fenugreek powder
1 teaspoon dried marigold
1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3-5 cloves of garlic (more is always best)
You may not have access to blue fenugreek powder or dried marigold without shopping in a Georgian bazaar. That's not a problem. The coriander and cumin are the most important. In Sanavardo's kitchen I used 'foreigner spice', a quirky translation to a spice I have no clue about!
The traditional dish looks like Georgian sushi. If you have time and patience then I encourage you to try this style. An alternative is to have the aubergine cut in discs with the walnut paste on top.
Aubergines: To make the traditional way slice the aubergine lengthwise, as thin as possible. To make the easy way slice the aubergine in thin rounds. Cover with a lot of salt to draw out the bitterness. Let them sweat for 10-15 minutes. Then squeeze out any excess water. Fry in a small amount of oil until soft and golden. You can use olive oil or vegetable oil, or alternatively use a non-stick pan.
For the walnut paste: Put the walnuts, spices, red wine vinegar and garlic into a food processor. The end result should be creamy and smooth. You can add boiling water to help the process. If your food processor isn't heavy duty, or if you are using a motor and pestle, it is also fine to have the paste crunchy. Deseed the pomegranate. The simplest way is to cut it in half and hit the skin with a wooden spoon above a bowl. This should dislodge the majority of the seeds without the bitter white flesh. Mix in 2/3's of the pomegranate seeds into the walnut mix. The remaining 1/3 can be used as garnish.
Lay the fried aubergine on a cutting board and cover in walnut paste. Roll the eggplant. The paste should work as a glue, otherwise you can secure the rolled aubergine with a toothpick. For the easier round option place the walnut mix on the aubergine.
Garnish with fresh coriander and pomegranate seeds.
If you have leftover walnut paste add it to a simple leafy salad.