Georgian Eats (Part III)
Updated: May 22, 2022
In this installment of looking at Georgian dishes, we’re going to look at small plates found on the Georgian table.
This is a particularly notable cold appetizer plate. It comes from a tree native to the country known as either Colchis Bladdernut, Caucasian Bladdernut, or scientifically, Staphylea colchica. This short tree, usually about 8 to 12 feet tall, has small bulbs in the early spring that are picked, pickled, and eaten in a variety of ways.
Picking them isn’t very easy though. The tree has thorns the size of small bayonets and can be quite the deterrent to the uninitiated. I’ve only picked them on one occasion, but it was quite interesting. Driving out to the middle of a hillside pasture, we found the small wild orchard of trees near an abandoned farm. Many of the larger branches are simply cut for time sensitivity and placed in a tarp on the ground. Once enough branches are gathered, they’re trucked home and removed by the small branchlets.
The pickling process is shorter than most others, being so small. They are either eaten as is, on Georgian Lobio (a bean dish), with other pickles, or along with homemade oil and onions. Their pickled taste is quite strong compared to other pickled foods, it can be an acquired taste as such. For as well as I know, I’ve never encountered them outside Georgia.
Ok, so this isn't technically a food but rather a sauce. But since it’s almost an “anything sauce” for meats and potatoes, it’s getting covered here. This tart sauce is to Georgia what ketchup is to the United States. Often used for meats and potato dishes, it's made of local plums and alucha. The different types of Georgian cherry plums or aluch give it a red or green color, but both are delicious.
The fruit of the plums or aluchas are minced, and then mixed with some variety including garlic, cumin, coriander, dill, chili pepper and salt. However, this mixture can change from household to household. While you can buy the sauce in major supermarkets from food companies, I have found the best to be sold at the agro-bazaars. The bebias (Georgian grandmothers) often sell them in reused bottles along with their other homemade concoctions. It’s definitely a good sauce to keep around the house, and it lasts incredibly long on the shelf.
This is also a sauce, but holds a similar status in parts of Georgia as Tkemali so it too is making the list. It is a hot and spicy food lover’s favorite. Coming from the northwestern regions of Georgia, Samegrelo and Abkhazia, it has many forms throughout the country. Some in the more eastern parts of the country make a more watery sauce that is stored in reused bottles and sold in the market. However, the traditional method produces a paste-like mixture not dissimilar to that of curry paste or pesto.
Red Adjika consists of hot red peppers, garlic, and a spice mixture that, like many others, changes between households, blue fenugreek, and coriander. There is a green variation that uses green peppers, as well as a Russian version that includes tomatoes. Traditional red Adjika, coming from the Abkhaz word for salt, is the most common of course. A traditional dish often seen is elarji, Abkhazian grits or boiled cornmeal, with the salty farm cheese common in Georgia. A spoonful is mixed in, bringing together the heat, garlic, salty, and creamy grits.
So, while most of these were more sauces of Georgia rather than foods, I’ll be working on another series in the near future; cheese. The very topic of Georgian cheese is one that I could only hope to scratch the surface of this immense iceberg. In a multi-part series, like this, I’ll try to offer the best insight into the production, taste profile, and a little history about each one of the various types.