Monday, January 11, 2010

Ispanakhis Pkhali [Spinach spread with Walnuts]

This is one of my most favorite appetizers in Georgian cuisine. The taste of spinach melts in the mouth, while the flavours of walnuts blended with spices makes an ideal complement.

(Ingredients are listed in order of appearance in the recipe.)

1 kg fresh spinach
1-2 tbsp water

Rinse spinach thoroughly and discard the stems. Wilt it on a low heat in a large pan with 1 tbsp of water for about 2 minutes, mixing the spinach couple of times and adding another tbsp pf water if needed. Drain and squeeze the spinach to remove excess water.

(Traditional cooking instructions require cooking in boiling water, but I prefer to wilt it with just one or two spoons of water to preserve vitamins and the taste of spinach. For best results, keep the pot covered for a minute).

Chop the spinach as fine as you can, or mince it in a food processor, being careful not to overpuree.

My grandma used to put the spinach through an old-fashined meat grinder, but I don't have a meat grinder here in New York. Besides cleaning the meat grinder afterward is quite an effort.

200g (a cup) of finely ground walnuts
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. fenugreek powder (ucxo suneli)
1/2 tsp. crushed coriander seeds (kidzi)
pinch of cayenne pepper (tsiteli tsitsaka)
1 tsp of ground marigold (zaprana)

(Some recipes ask for coriander only. It is up to you to decide. I prefer my version, of course :-) Now, if you, like me, leave outside of Georgia and do not have a 'russian' shop close by, you may not have fenugreek powder, or ground marigold readily available. In this case I recommend substituting fenugreek, coriander and marigold with more widely available, good quality curry powder. It does contain fenugreek leaves, coriander and turmeric: a mix that comes close to the traditional recipe requirements. And, honestly, if you won't tell others, noone will notice any difference. Use 2-3 teaspoons)

Ok, so take minced garlic, salt, marigold (=curry powder) and mix thoroughly. Add 1/3 of the ground walnuts and mix with a spoon until it looks oily (just 2-3 minutes). Add the remaining walnuts and mix again. Mixing small quantity of walnuts with spices before unfolds etherial oils and aromas in spices and blends them really well with walnuts.

2 tbsp of quality white wine vinegar
few tbsp water (preferably boiled)

Add vinegar to the mixture, mix well. You will need to add some water to dilute the mixture. It should be thick as a spread.

Mix the walnuts with spinach and stir until thoroughly blended and smooth.

3 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp finely chopped tarragon

Add finely chopped herbs and add salt if necessary. Cover, and let the pkhali rest an hour or two at room temperature, and refrigerate for at least an hour. It tastes best on the next day.

Fresh herbs add a lot of flavour to this dish, but you can also skip this part in winter, when herbs are not readily available in supermarkets.

pomegranate seeds for garnish

Your pkhali is done. But in Georgia, we like to compliment the sweet and creamy taste of it with pomegranate seeds. There is nothing more tasty than feeling mini explosions of sweet-sour pomegranate seeds with pkhali.

Serving suggestions:

Traditionally, we spread Pkhali on a small plate and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Fos standing arrangements, you may also try spreading pkhali on small pieces of baguette or rye bread.

1 comment:

Jeanette said...

I just had this dish at a Georgian restaurant and fell in love with it - it was served in little balls with indentations in the center an topped with pomegranate seeds and parsley. I would love to try your grandmother's recipe.