Pkhali is truly my favorite dish in Georgian cuisine, and it would be fair to say that I am addicted to it. The first time I tried pkhali was in 2007 when I was spending my summer break at my aunt’s in Brooklyn. It was one of those unforgettable “Wow!” moments when I had my first bite of this spicy, textured and complex spread wrapped in thinly sliced eggplants charred to perfection, which my aunt got at the neighborhood Georgian deli one day. That was the moment when my lifelong love to Georgian cuisine started. By the way, that legitimate Georgian joint called Taste of Georgia, which looks more like a hole in the wall rather than a deli, is still around. Every time I go back to New York I never miss a chance to step by and grab some of the best pkhali and khachapuri one could get outside of Georgia. If you ever find yourself in Brooklyn, I highly recommend to check it out. Beware though that getting addicted to their food is a very likely scenario, so please decide for yourself if you are willing to take this risk.
Since I am not in Brooklyn anymore, I decided to attempt to recreate the magic and make my own pkhali at home. Some of the ingredients are commonly the same (walnuts, herbs, Georgian spice mix called khmeli-suneli), but you could use merely anything as the basis of the spread: boiled beets, blanched cabbage, spinach, cauliflower, trimmings from radishes or beets, and so on. My favorite version is preparing the basic spread by itself, and instead of combining it with vegetables or greens, wrapping it in fried eggplants. It makes the best finger food for the parties, and always scores presentation points.
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: ~1.5 hours | Serves: 6
2 globe eggplants
1 cup walnuts
2 garlic gloves, peeled
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground Georgian fenugreek
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
Small pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Roast the garlic for 10 minutes.
Thinly cut eggplants lengthwise (approximately 1/8-inch thin). It is most convenient to use a Japanese mandolin for this, and this one is my favorite. However, from my personal painful experience, be very careful with this beast and better use the protective glove with it (this is the one I have).
Salt the eggplant slices and let them drain for about an hour. Squeeze the remaining juices carefully so that you do not tear the slices apart.
In a skillet, heat olive oil. Saute eggplants in batches until golden, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Add olive oil as you go so that the eggplants do not burn. Place the eggplants on the plate lined with paper towel.
In the blender, combine walnuts, onions, garlic, cilantro, vinegar, cumin and fenugreek, cayenne, salt and water. Blend until smooth and paste-like consistency (add more water if needed).
Spoon the walnut spread onto a slice of the eggplant and roll it. Serve at room temperature garnished with pomegranate seeds.
Khmeli-suneli is the traditional Georgian spice mix that originally includes 13 ingredients. It is widely used in the variety of red meat, poultry and vegetarian dishes as well as in some traditional sauces. It is incredibly well-balanced and aromatic, so it is great to have it handy whenever you feel like adding a bit of character to your dish. Khmeli-suneli is easy to find in groceries or on Amazon (here is the link to one). However, it is always a good move to make a big batch of it yourself from the freshest herbs you can source. This spice mix can be stored in a cool and dry place for up to two years.