If you don’t like nuts and honey, you may have a hard time finding dessert in Georgia. Both are an integral part of the country’s culinary identity, and the two come together wonderfully in gozinaki.
This confection is most often seen around New Year’s celebrations, and is about as simple as you get: nuts, honey, a little bit of sugar. The end result is a cross between a granola bar and a nut brittle. While the ingredient list may be short and the process simple, success or failure all comes down to execution.
This is a dish we’ve made before in the States (there’s actually a recipe on our website), but again, it’s always interesting to see how others make it, too: what secrets they have, what’s important to them, unimportant, etc.
Here in Sagarejo, much attention was paid to the honey. It was boiled and allowed to cool three separate times in order to get the perfect consistency.
The nuts were toasted, and little flecks of skin were blown out of the pan. We were told that it’s good to toast the nuts outside, so the wind can naturally blow the unwanted skins out of the pan.
Into the honey go the nuts. The pot is placed over a medium flame and constantly stirred. Here you have to be careful: just a few seconds means the difference between a perfectly caramelized mix and one that is too dark and bitter. With so many other dishes being made in the kitchen, attention was diverted from the gozinaki, resulting in a darker than desirable outcome.
The thickened mixture is then spread out in a thin layer on a wooden board that has been covered in water, so the mix doesn’t stick.
Once spread out, a wet rolling pin is used to roll it even thinner, to about a quarter of an inch at most.
Working quickly at this point, you cut the gozinaki into diamond shapes.
The diamonds are pulled off the board and arranged on small plates. Our gozinaki was dark enough that everyone jokingly called it chocolate gozinaki the rest of the day.
Spiced meat wrapped in a leaf is a staple of cuisines all around this part of the world. Although not uniquely Georgian, tolma is very popular here and is given a unique spin: instead of using cabbage leafs to wrap, Georgians will sometimes use pickled grape leaves.
Ground pork, chopped cilantro, kindzi, blue fenugreek and other seasonings are mixed with par-cooked rice and rolled up much like a burrito.
These little bundles are neatly stacked in a deep pot. Some tkemali (sour plums) are thrown in and everything is covered with more grape leaves. Water is added, covering the top layer of tolma.
Onto the propane burner it goes, covered, until it starts to boil.
At this point, the lid is removed and a plate is set on top of the leaves. A heavy rock (scrubbed first with water) is set on top of the plate to press it down, keeping the tolma from moving.
The end result: tasty little wraps that are meaty and, thanks to the grape leaves and sour plums, slightly tart.
Vashlis Namtskhvari (Apple Cake – ვაშლის ნამცხვარი)
When fruit is in season here, it is everywhere: on every table, in every market, in every car trunk along the road, selling goods to passersby. While eating fresh and seasonally in the US may be “trendy” or part of a lifestyle that sadly perhaps not everyone can afford, here it is quite the opposite: you eat what’s available, when it’s available.
Potatoes are in season now, as are carrots, the first batches of sour plums and apples. Apples, apples, apples! Red apples, yellow apples, white apples and green… sweet, sour and tart. So it was no surprise that we made a simple and delicious apple cake.
One layer of batter (flour, sugar, matsoni yogurt, eggs, baking soda) is poured into a huge shallow pan, and a layer of freshly chopped apples is carefully placed on top. Add some sugar, then pour the rest of the batter on top.
More apples, more sugar. Then into the oven. It was supposed to take 30-40 minutes, but it was such a huge cake that I swear it took closer to 90.
The end result: a cake that was not only rich and delicious, but also beautiful to look at.
Again, we can’t thank the women of the Sagarejo Youth Municipality enough. It was an honor and joy to spend time with you, learning about the food you love and how to make it. დიდი მადლობა!