Plums, Grapes and Pomegranates


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:Grilled Pork Skewers 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.

*****

Soko

(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.

*****

Mtsvadi

(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.

NOTES:

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.”

*****

Tkemali

(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.

NOTES:

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.

28 thoughts on “Plums, Grapes and Pomegranates

    1. With pleasure, Crystal!

      Another reader mentioned she made a priority of trying at least one dish from each of the world’s countries, and by God, she did so!

      A worthy goal, and one which has inspired. So, what, about fifty countries down? 150 or so more to go. Of course, our own country will get many repeat visits along the way.

      For one thing, it is our country, after all. Definitely something to be said for home. Also, there are plenty of discoveries elsewhere on the continent. Anyone who thinks the American table offers nothing more than Big Macs and Cheezy Bread Sticks is sadly misinformed about the shape of things.

      Like

      1. Now, whatever am I gonna make for Bhutan? Luxemburg? My goose, it seems, is cooked.

        Speaking of which, if you’re still reading around Christmas 2023 or 2024, prepare yourself for a Dickens of a feast!

        Like

      2. Some places deserve more than one visit. Being largely of British descent myself, I’m determined to rescue the Isles’ cuisine from its most unfortunate reputation. Gonna take some doing, I think.

        In addition, I have the advantage of knowing just where the tour is likely to unfold over the coming years, and that “twenty” number soon will be obsolete.

        My compliments, and gratitude, for your search. Who knew these pages would produce such serious analysis? So much for the “wild-eyed claim” part of the program.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tamara!

      You know, I went with pork because that’s how Georgians do things, but I don’t think they (and certainly not, you) would be too put out if you tried boneless skinless chicken thighs instead.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You have a delightful memory, Keith. It was kind of you to even remember. 😊 Yes, I can substitute skinless chicken for pork anytime. 😋 Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re welcome, Tamara!

        How can I do anything but appreciate those who, like you, have been faithful readers and thoughtful commentators all this time?

        There’s that, of course, but there also is a certain measure of poultry fiendishness mixed in at the last minute. Gives it a much better flavor, don’t you think?

        Honestly, pork really isn’t my thing, either, but readers do deserve some variety. Plus, when chefs in the host kitchens have made X with pork, often for centuries, who am I to make a major substitution on my first attempt? That said, poultry, you’re up next!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Flattering, Rachel. Thank you!

      Many wait for ideal weather conditions to fire up the grill, but then, they’re not guys. We don’t have that gene. In fact, I’ve been known, even, to plow through January snows to get to the flame box. The grill asks if I’m serious about this relationship. Yes, Weber, I am.

      Your sister seems to have a good eye for interesting culinary twists. Must be genetic, huh? Pomegranates, along with blueberries, are nearly unique in the food world, in that they’re entirely too luscious to be superfoods. Yet they are. Looks good, tastes even better, and is off-the-charts good for you.

      Pomegranates are in season only briefly, around the new year, but thanks to modern advances in both technology and in marketing, we enjoy their benefits year-round!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol! Indeed, I recall us discussing something of your devoutness to the Art. Such is your literary eloquence, Felix, that were you to try your hand at crafting poetry in ode to your beloved Weber, I daresay you could make flames blush.

        Heh, possible. My sister also has an eye for the color purple, so all the better!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, JoAnn!

      Have to tell you, that plum condiment/sauce was a nice surprise. Though I want to give everything a chance, I wasn’t expecting much. Oh my, was I glad to have been wrong!

      See, Georgia, this is how you make up for giving the world Stalin. Oh, and in another plus, that wine was pretty good too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, JoAnn!

        Your record is better than mine, as this was my first time with plum sauce. At least the the first time, knowing what it was. No matter the provenance, it won’t be the last!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Your recollection has inspired, JoAnn!

        Now is the time, when memories of Georgia’s plum sauce are fresh in the mind, to research and reconstruct Thailand’s version. For culinary comparison, don’t you know?

        Off I go…

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, in the original recipe, the photographer/food stylist downplayed the sauce. Pretty much ignored it, actually.

        Pity, but what that neglect did accomplish, though, was to make the sauce’s discovery later quite a pleasant surprise. There’s much to be said for anticipation, but the occasional unexpected delight isn’t too bad either!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh agreed, Angela!

      People in the Near East apparently favor unripe (i.e., green) plums for this application. Alas, those aren’t available, and I chose instead plums as firm as possible. Not exactly the same, maybe, but getting close. Plus, you’d agree, the color is unrivaled.

      As for pomegranates, they, along with blueberries, are far more delicious than superfoods have the right to be!

      Liked by 1 person

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