Inspired by the menu at the festival of Georgian Wine at Dartington Estate this October, we are exploring the tastes and traditions of Georgian cold starters.
Georgia, at the intersection of Europe and Asia, offers a mesmerizing blend of flavours that have been perfected over centuries. With its rich culinary traditions, Georgian cuisine is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered, particularly by those who prefer plant-based options. Today, we’re diving into the delightful world of Georgian vegan cold starters, which are as healthy as they are flavourful.
BADRIJANI – Aubergine Walnut Rolls
Imagine tender slices of fried aubergine, each one a perfect canvas for a rich, nutty filling. These rolls, known as Badrijani, are a classic Georgian dish that epitomizes the country’s love for walnuts and fresh produce. The aubergine slices are lovingly wrapped around a heart of ground walnuts mixed with garlic and an array of Georgian spices that bring a warm, satisfying complexity to the dish.
ISPANAKHI – Spinach Pkhali
Pkhali is a traditional Georgian dish that can be made from various vegetables, but the Ispanakhi variety uses baby spinach as its star. This verdant creation combines the delicate leaves with a paste of ground walnuts, coriander, garlic, and a secret blend of spices. The result is a spread that’s both earthy and sublime, perfect for topping on fresh bread or enjoying as a side.
GOGRA – Pumpkin Pkhali
With the arrival of fall, pumpkins take center stage in many cuisines, and Georgian cooking is no exception. The Gogra, a pumpkin Pkhali, features roasted pumpkin at its heart. The sweetness of the pumpkin is enhanced with the richness of ground walnuts and the aromatic presence of coriander, dill, garlic, and spices. This dish brings a festive note to any table, regardless of the season.
LOBIO – Pinto Beans Pkhali
Lobio is a testament to the Georgian affinity for beans. This version takes the humble pinto bean and transforms it into a rich, smooth blend seasoned with ground walnuts and a harmonious mix of Georgian spices. This Pkhali can easily become a go-to comfort food that pairs well with crispy Georgian bread or even as a unique dip for vegetables.
CHARKHALI – Beetroot Pkhali
The Charkhali invites you to experience beetroots like never before. The earthy roots are cooked, blended, and then married with ground walnuts, coriander, garlic, and spices to create a vibrant, magenta-hued masterpiece. The beetroot Pkhali is not only a feast for the eyes but also a refreshing and tangy treat for the palate.
These starters offer a colourful introduction to Georgian vegan cuisine, each dish a testament to the country’s love for natural flavours and hearty, nutritious ingredients. Whether you’re a long-time vegan or just someone curious about the gastronomic pleasures of this Eurasian country, these Georgian delicacies are sure to tantalize your taste buds and perhaps inspire your next culinary adventure.
Georgian Orthodox Church has had a significant impact on the development of Georgian cuisine, particularly in the prevalence of dishes that are free from meat and dairy.
The Orthodox Christian calendar is dotted with numerous fasting periods throughout the year, the most notable being the Great Lent leading up to Easter, the Apostles’ Fast, the Dormition Fast, and the Nativity Fast. During these times, adherents are expected to abstain from all animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. These fasting rules have been observed for centuries, and as a result, Georgian cooks have mastered the art of preparing meals that honour these restrictions.
The influence of the Church means that Georgian cuisine has developed an impressive array of dishes that rely on the flavours of nuts, vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. Walnuts, for example, are ground into a paste and used in various ways to add creaminess and depth to dishes that would traditionally rely on dairy. Spices, herbs, and garlic are also used liberally to build layers of flavour in the absence of meat.
This has led to a cuisine that is not only accommodating to the fasting periods but also inherently rich in plant-based options, making it extraordinarily diverse and adaptable to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Georgian dishes such as Pkhali, which comes in countless vegetable variations, are a direct result of this ecclesiastical influence and represent the deep integration of religious practice and daily life, including what is put on the table.
Enjoy the taste of Georgia, where every bite tells a story of culture, tradition, and an unwavering love for good food. Georgia’s vegan cuisine is a treasure trove of flavours waiting to be explored, and these cold starters are just the beginning.