Pkhali or fkhali (Georgian: ფხალი) is a traditional dish of Georgian cuisine consisting of chopped vegetables, that may include a choice of cabbage, eggplant, beans, beets or spinach, mixed with ground walnuts, vinegar, onions, garlic and coriander. My choice went to the spinach version: ispanakhis pkhali.
Over the centuries, the country has absorbed the culinary influences of all its neighbors, but has retained its identity. Georgian cuisine is fresh, robust and very much vegetable-based. Nuts are a pillar, bread and cheese are on each table and dishes can be hot or spiced. Ajika, a mixture of red peppers and garlic is on all tables, just like fresh herbs such as cilantro and parsley.
If by chance, you bump into Georgian cuisine one day, khinkali and khachapuri will be the two words you will hear first. These are the two most popular dishes of the country. The first dish consists in large raviolis stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, crab. The second is galette made with unleavened dough, stuffed with various cheeses.
Culinary art is one of the most important elements of Georgian culture. Every meal is a ceremony. Georgian cuisine is very varied with meat, fish, vegetables and spices and is always accompanied by good wine. Every region of Georgia like Khaketi, Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Acharia has its own specialties.
One of the most important qualities of Georgian cuisine is that it was born for sharing. In a country where a guest is considered a gift, it is not surprising that the dishes reflect this hospitality.
The buffets are very rich. Generosity is an integral part of Georgian culture. If we were to summarize the art of the Georgian table, it would be by the words of Chota Rustaveli, 12th century Georgian writer:
What you give is yours, what you keep is forever lost
And this extraordinary generosity, you can find it in the traditional supra. Supra is a Georgian banquet very much anchored in the culture of the country. Its origin dates back to Greek antiquity, notably from Plato and the “symposion”, the festive meal among the Greeks.
There are 2 types of supra. A festive supra, called keipi for weddings, births, birthdays, other holidays, special occasions … and a supra for funerals, called kelekhi.
The keipi is a friendly opportunity to see old friends, loved ones, welcome guests and share rituals, smells, tastes, and emotions.
Whatever the number of guests a supra is always led by a tamada, a master of ceremonies with great oratory skills, and able to ingest a large amount of alcohol without showing signs of drunkenness.
In Georgia, banquet tables are always filled with a multitude of authentic products.
During the supra, we talk, we exchange, we care about others, we eat and… we drink a lot .. We drink a lot of wine and chacha (brandy).
Some tamadas use poetry, or lean more toward the arts or singing. Some are brilliant, others a little less, but every tamada has his particular way of playing his important role. The tamada is chosen by the head of the family, or the oldest person. For special occasions, like a wedding banquet, the tamada is appointed, unanimously, in advance.
A good tamada must be sensitive, poetic, intelligent, smiling, well educated. He must speak several languages and especially be able to decide when to propose a toast or call everyone to dance. Finally, the tamada must be able to ingest large quantities of wine without wavering.
In Georgia, a group of archaeologists recently discovered the oldest cave in the world, dating back 6000 years ago. According to the archaeobotany, the domestication of the vines would make the former inhabitants of Georgia the oldest winemakers in history.
Already, ancient writers cite the vineyards and wines of the Caucasus. As an example in Homer’s Odyssey, one evokes “the perfumed and sparkling wines of Colchis”, today western Georgia.
In very ancient times, the inhabitants of the South Caucasus had discovered the “mysterious transformation” of grapes into wine, leaving the grapes fermented in terracotta vases called kvevrj (amphoras), very large pots buried in the ground.
In Georgian cuisine, you can say that walnut dishes are very typical and that they are a real national characteristic of the country’s cuisine. You will not find any country in the world that uses as much walnuts in its dishes as Georgia. Walnuts are used for both cold and hot dishes. Walnut sauce and walnut oil are associated with all vegetables and salads. Walnuts are usually accompanied by pomegranate seeds and the most used spice is coriander.
Walnuts, pomegranates, coriander and spinach are the main ingredients of today’s ispanakhis pkhaili. Ispanakhis pkhaili can be served as a starter or as a side dish with meat or fish, or as an hors d’oeuvre, in a dish or in small balls.
I prepared this ispanakhis pkhaili a few weeks ago for my sons and, after the spanakópita from Greece, the dovgha from Azerbaijan, the palak pakoras from India, or the succulent pkaila from Tunisia, especially when it is cooked by Mike, here is another excellent spinach recipe to make and remake!
- 1½ lb fresh spinach
- 8 oz. walnuts
- 1 bunch cilantro , chopped
- 4 cloves garlic , finely chopped
- 1 scallion , chopped
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons walnut oil
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- Pomegranate seeds
- Blanch the spinach in a large volume of boiling salted water for 5 minutes to soften.
- Drain and immerse immediately in a large volume of ice water to stop cooking and keep them green. Drain and squeeze to extract maximum moisture.
- Chop the spinach coarsely.
- Grind the walnuts to obtain a coarse powder.
- Mix the ground walnuts together with all the other ingredients to obtain a homogeneous mixture. Refrigerate for 6 hours before eating.
- The ispanakhis pkhali can either be shaped in individual balls or served in a platter for the whole table.
- Garnish the ispanakhis pkhali with pomegranate seeds, cilantro leaves and/or whole nuts.