The table set before you makes use of all three, taking advantage of the agricultural bounty one finds in Georgia – the country, not the US state. Though home to some of the Caucasus’s towering peaks, the fertile valleys in between and the Black Sea coastline grant Georgia an abundance reflected in the country’s cuisine.
That’s why Food & Wine‘s October 2018 article about the region’s cooking produced not one recipe, but all three featured today. Not only that, but it inspired a successful quest for a good Georgian wine to accompany these creations.
First up is Soko, Herbed Forest Mushrooms, pictured on the left side of the plate above. These are sautéed with garlic, scallions and collection of fresh herbs, including dill and mint. Dusted with crushed red pepper before serving, soko is a bit spicy and is surprisingly fresh-tasting, no doubt due to all the fresh greens, and the mint in particular.
Alongside is grilled pork, marinated overnight in red wine vinegar and pureed onions, then grilled and infused with pomegranate juice. This treatment mellows the pork, and allows it to take advantage of the smoky char the flames impart. The pomegranate juice gives the meat a pinkish hue, not at all present as the meat is grilled as pictured below: Finally is a condiment of sorts, the Plum Sauce, or Tkemali, pictured in the dish at the top of the plate. This has the appearance and the taste of cranberry sauce, due to the unripe (i.e., sour) plums that are the main ingredient. It’s used as a dip for the pork, acting as a barbecue dressing almost, its slight sweetness contrasting nicely with the vinegar.
These dishes share something with nearby cooking, including Persia’s and Turkey’s, though the pork and wine testify to Georgia’s Christian heritage, of course. Incorporating the fruit abounding in the southern Caucasus, Georgia’s cuisine makes a distinct contribution worthy of exploration.
(Herbed Forest Mushrooms)
- 1 pound fresh oyster mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 scallions, cut into 4-inch pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (1-inch) piece of serrano chili, seeded
- 4 fresh sage leaves, torn in half crosswise
- 4 fresh mint leaves
- 2 tarragon sprigs
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
- crushed red pepper, for dusting
Cut mushrooms, including the stems, into large chunks. Set them aside.
In a large skillet over a high flame, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until gently browned, about four minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften, about five more minutes.
Stir in the garlic, chile, sage, mint and tarragon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for three minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushroom and the scallions to a serving platter. Dust with crushed red pepper and serve.
(Grilled Pork Skewers with Pomegranate and Onions)
- 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-and-1/2-inch pieces
- 2 medium onions (*1)
- 2 and 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
Put pork in a large bowl and grate one of the onions over it. Stir in the red wine vinegar until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper and cover. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or, preferably, overnight.
Thread pork onto metal skewers and discard the marinade. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Place the pork on a grill with a medium-high flame. Cook, turning occasionally, until pork is lightly charred on all sides, about 12 minutes.
Remove the pork from the skewers and place it in a large bowl. Slice the remaining onion thinly and add it to the pork. Juice the pomegranates (*2) over the pork and toss to combine. Serve alongside dipping sauce if desired.
1 – Instead, I used two large shallots.
2 – I juiced the pomegranate through a fine mesh strainer, which prevented the seeds from littering the meat below. As the seeds are a bit hard, this kept the dish from being too “rustic.”
(Sour Plum Sauce)
- 5 red plums, unripe
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 cup fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 cup fresh herbs (such as mint, cilantro and dill), finely chopped
Put the plums in a large saucepan and pour in the water. Cover and cook over a medium flame for about 20 minutes, until the plums are soft. Let cool for 15 minutes, then remove and discard the pits. (*3) Put the plum in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer the plums to a medium bowl.
In a mortar and pestle, pulverize the coriander seeds and the fennel seeds, along with a pinch of salt. Add the garlic and another pinch of salt and crush these into the mixture.
Add the garlic mixture and the herbs to the plum puree and stir to combine.
3 – This is easy to accomplish after the plums have softened. Using a paring knife, cut a slit lengthwise across the top half of each plum. Pull open the seam and you’ll see the pit, which should be easy to extract.