Saturday, June 2, 2012

Georgian Food Abroad: Lobio Recipe

When (as it often happens), I grow "half-sick of shadows" and homesick for Georgia (when Oxford ceases to be interesting, for a time, and I start to long for the back streets of Sololaki or the moon over Mtatsminda), I try to channel my homesickness into Georgian cookery. Now, as a certified Non-Georgian (albeit one seeking Honorary Status), I have very little license to cook Proper Georgian Food here in Oxford, where I live in a bizarre neo-Gothic drafty Victorian Orthodox Christian boarding house with a kitchen full of fenugreek and olive oil. (I did make khinkali here one, but most of the dumplings opened up and my Georgian friends were mildly judgy...I stand by their taste, however)

However, given that my diet in Georgia consists of 9 parts lobio/lobiani to every 1 part "other food sources", I may well have, in two on-and-off years, eaten comparable amounts of lobio to the average 20-something Georgian, who may, like any normal person, eat bean-based dishes in rotation with other kinds of food. After several iterations of lobio, however, including attempts made with Caitlyn (also known as my "bellydancer/medieval-historian friend", with whom I went to Armenia) and in Paris at the home of the loveliest Couchsurfing hosts of all time, I have created the ultimate lobio recipe for those attempting to re-create the flavours of lobio abroad.

Hence, without further ado, Fleur Flaneur's Recipe for Lobio Abroad

-3 cans of red kidney beans in water
-1 enormous bunch fresh coriander
-1 package walnuts
-2 plums ("tkemali" isn't available here, but this serves as a substitute")
-1 head garlic
-1 onion
-2 leeks (other recipes give carrot and celery, but I prefer leeks)
-Spices: dried coriander, fenugreek seeds (lots!), fenugreek leaves (lots!), chilli pepper, parsley, salt, pepper to taste

1. Finely chop the onions and leeks, sautee until brown.
2. Add beans, just enough water to avoid burning. When it boils, lower flame to simmering. Add *loads* of dried spices (keep adding more every 20 minutes or so).
3.While beans are cooking, prepare the "paste." Finely chop a head of garlic, combine with diced walnuts (or, if you're me, simply place the walnuts in a plastic bag and stomp on them for a while), add LOADS of dried spices and chopped plums. Add most of the fresh coriander. Set aside.
4. When beans have been cooking for approximately 2 hours (or "when properly soft"), add combination of walnuts-raw garlic-fruit-herb-spice paste. Stir in for 2-5 minutes (don't let the coriander get soggy)
5. Stir in lots more fresh coriander, immediately remove from flame. Serve, garnished with even more coriander.

What makes the dish, for me, is ensuring a) that the garlic is raw, b) that the coriander isn't soggy (ie, add dried spices throughout, but  fresh spices only at the end), c) that there are plenty of plums in there, d) that you add ridiculously large amounts of every spice listed on this menu.

Dear Fleur,
What if I *am* in Georgia? Where can I get good lobio and lobiani in Tbilisi?
-A Human Bean

Dear Human Bean,
Google-sourced image.
While I normal decry chain restaurants with every fibre of my being, if you're looking for cheap and reliably delicious lobiani in a charming atmosphere, the Machakhela in Meidan (which is open 24/7 - hence for breakfast) has a stunning terrace overlooking the river, serves serviceable Nescafe with milk, and uniformly excellent lobiani. (Yes, I know, it's an overpriced chain, but it's the only place I can get my 7 am lobiani fix.) The upscale Literatuli chain offers another variety - thick lobio inside a flaky croissant pastry, which is reasonably priced (3 lari or thereabouts) and mindblowingly delicious.

The best lobio I've tasted was the pureed lobio at the Twins Old Cellar winery/inn in Napareuli, near Telavi, Kakheti. In Tbilisi, however, I'm partial to the lobio with dried fruit at Cafe Gabriadze (9 lari - pricey but good, with larger/harder beans). Or head to Mtskheta, thirty minutes away, famous for its lobio. Salobie - outside the city centre - is rightly famous, but I was equally impressed with a tiny restaurant right near the car park called something like Dzveli Mtskheta (right towards the city centre from the enormous lot, on your right, in a small courtayard). Lobio 3-6 lari - can't recall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree---Literaturuli's lobiani is excellent. I'll have to try your lobio recipe when I'm on vacation in the States over summer--my previous attempts haven't quite gotten there yet.