Last week was the Day of National Unity in Georgia. This day not only commemorates the tragedy of April 9, 1989 in Tbilisi, where 20 people were killed but also the new independence found the same day in 1991.
Georgia’s location at the crossing of Asia and Europe has its cuisine influenced by Europe, but also Western Asia and the Middle East. Vegetarian recipes, enhanced by a variety of herbs and spices are definitely featured in this country’s cuisine.
Red bean is the star ingredient of our fourth recipe called lobio (bean in Georgian), a kind of thick baked bean soup flavored with various herbs and spices to make a rather unique dish that is often eaten with bread as well as cheese.
Lobio, Georgia’s national dish can be made in dozens of ways. The version I am making today is called lobio nigozit (or lobio nigvzit). Yes, lobio by itself was way too easy to pronounce, so it was necessary for me to find a variant with a slightly more interesting name…
Among other known versions is lobio kirkazhi, which is more akin to a bean salad with whole red beans, and is popular in the Kakheti region. Also, lobio gupta is a bean salad, this time with mashed beans and scallions. Lobio tkemali is the emblematic variant with tkemali, this ubiquitous Georgian condiment made with plums. Green beans are also used in some lobio versions as in lobio satsivi with fairly similar ingredients.
But back to the classic baked bean version of lobio aka lobio nigozit. When I knew we were going to feature Georgian cuisine, I quickly looked for the local spices that would make the difference, starting with blue fenugreek, a flagship spice from the West Asian country. So off I went to find utskho suneli or უცხო სუნელი as they say in Georgia.
Very quickly, I came across an online store named Argo USA, which coincidentally is located not far from Los Angeles and is run by a very friendly Georgian individual by the name of… Giorgi, you could have guessed!
I ordered some spices from Giorgi who even directed me to recipes on his website that I recommend which showcases the cuisine of his country.
A few days later, I received my utskho suneli (blue fenugreek), but also khmeli suneli , a blend of spices including blue fenugreek, which is to Georgia what “curry” is to India. I also got adjika, which is used to make dips or slightly spicy sauces and can apparently be used in lobio as well.
Lobio is eaten often with cheese and the traditional Georgian cornbread called mchadi. As I spend ay too much time in ethnic markets in my area, I have accumulated quite a few unusual ingredients and products at home. Luckily, I found white corn flour, exactly the type of flour that should be used for mchadi. The recipe for mchadi is not difficult and I will share it soon.
The addition of walnuts and pomegranate molasses, plus spices and herbs gives a unique taste to lobio that everyone appreciated at home. The rather unusual combination of these two ingredients is reminiscent of two other Middle Eastern recipes that I published a few months ago, namely Syrian muhammara and Persian fesenjoon.
I’ll definitely make this baked beans recipe again, varying the pleasures with my new stock of Georgian spices!
- 1 lb dried red kidney beans
- 2 onions
- ½ bunch cilantro , finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground blue fenugreek
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup walnut halves , finely ground
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasse
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- A few cilantro leaves
- A few pomegranate seeds
Pour the red kidney beans in a large pot filled with a 6 cups of water.
Add the bay leaves and salt.
Cook over medium heat until the beans are tender, at least 1 hour.
Grind cilantro, blue fenugreek, garlic, black pepper and a pinch of salt in a mortar.
Chop the onions.
Fry the onions in a pan with hot oil until translucent.
Drain the cooked beans into a large bowl. Keep 1 cup of the cooking liquid for later use.
With the back of a wooden spoon, mash the beans on the side of the bowl.
Add the ingredients which were crushed in the mortar, the ground walnuts, pomegranate molasse, fried onions and cooking oil to the beans.
Mash all the ingredients until everything is completely incorporated.
Add the cup of cooking liquid to the beans.
Transfer the ingredients to the pot and cook over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve in clay pots with hot mchadi bread.
Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and pomegranate seeds.