Every cook in Georgia makes their own ajika, an intense paste of vegetables, spices, and herbs that is usually red or green and hot. Small amounts of ajika are used to flavor other dishes such as marinades, grilled meats, beans, or vegetables. Some are so fierce from the chiles that just a tiny spoonful is enough to add character to a recipe; others are cooler and can be used as a condiment at the table. It depends on how hot you want yours to be: Start with one or two fresh chiles of medium heat. You can always add more. This brilliant red ajika, which Tasting Georgia cookbook author Carla Capalbo shared with Food & Wine, is unusual because it’s made from cooked carrots, beets, and bell peppers. It’s sweet and not too fiery and is delicious spooned onto khachapuri or mtsvadi. Make a batch and keep it in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or more. Bring out a bowlful at mealtimes, as you would any other condiment or dip.
In this simple Georgian side dish, oyster mushrooms are sautéed with fresh and dried chiles, fresh mint, sage, and tarragon. Tasting Georgia cookbook author Carla Capalbo, who shared the recipe with F&W, recommends serving it with the spicy Georgian condiment ajika for even more heat.
A bright, zesty, sour sauce made from fresh plums, tkemali underpins many dishes in Georgia. The classic version is made from the small green unripe plums that are prevalent in Georgia. Other plums can be used, as long as they’re not overripe—their skins contain enough acidity to give the sauce its characteristic tang. Mint may not be as traditional in this sauce as cilantro and dill, but Tasting Georgia cookbook author Carla Capalbo includes it for added verve. This sauce will keep in the fridge for a few days. It’s not intended for long preservation, but it can also be frozen. It’s absolutely delicious with roast or grilled chicken and alongside mtsvadi, Georgian pork skewers.
Khinkali are Georgian dumplings. They’re one of the country’s most popular foods and a favorite item at long dinner parties known as supras. “No supra is complete without a platter of steaming khinkali being served toward the end of the meal,” says Carla Capalbo, author of Tasting Georgia, who shared this recipe with F&W. “The dumplings make a warming complement to the feast’s complex flavours.” Khinkali may be stuffed with vegetable fillings, such as potato or mushroom, but these meat versions—with a brothy spiced-meat filling, like soup dumplings—are the most common. They’re designed to be eaten by hand: Hold each dumpling aloft by its stem (like an open umbrella), sprinkle it with black pepper, and take a small bite from the side of the cushiony top, sucking out the hot broth before chewing your way into the filling. Discard the doughy stem. (You’ll have more room for dumplings that way.)
At a supra, a traditional Georgian dinner party, pkhali, cold vegetable pâtés, are often served as a first course. This version, from Tasting Georgia author Carla Capalbo, uses finely chopped leafy greens, which are mixed with a garlicky walnut-and-herb paste. Dried marigold, a common ingredient in Georgia, adds a mild, tea-like flavor to the dish. (You can order dried marigold from herbaffair.com.)
This classic recipe of eggplant rolls with walnut filling, called nigvziani badrijani, is found throughout Georgia. The rolls are served as a starters for the epic dinner parties known as supras, but they’re great with drinks before dinner, too. To make them, small eggplants are sliced lengthwise, salted, rinsed, and fried before being spread with a garlicky walnut paste and rolled or folded. If you don’t have any walnut paste ready, make it while the eggplants are being salted, says Tasting Georgia cookbook author Carla Capalbo.
Nigvzis sakmazi, a garlicky walnut paste with fresh herbs, is a building block of many Georgian dishes. It’s wrapped with fried eggplant to make Georgian eggplant rolls and combined with chopped, cooked leafy greens to make a pkhali, a vegetable pâté. Similar to pesto, it can be stirred into yogurt or sour cream to make a dip, thinned with water or olive oil for a salad dressing, or tossed with hot noodles. Traditionally, it is made using a mortar and pestle, but this quick version, from Tasting Georgia author Carla Capalbo, uses a food processor.