Khinkali & tender roast: samples of Georgian magic

Roast beef via Soviet cook book. Source: Lori / Legion Media

Roast beef via Soviet cook book. Source: Lori / Legion Media

Continuing her discovery of the pleasures of Georgian food, with fresh meat and vegetables, the author finds that Georgians had no trouble finding good meat, even during the Soviet era, and have fashioned their cuisine on the goodness of fresh products.

Trying to make my first Soviet breakfast when I started this project, I struggled to find a decent piece of meat to fry. Roast beef for dinner was so out of the question!!  Living in Georgia now, where I can get amazing meat and fresh produce, I can finally make roast beef that won’t be so hard it can be used as a destructive weapon!!

It is difficult to describe the pleasure of serving roast beef with a tomato and cucumber salad which tastes like the vegetables have just been picked, because they have. Especially while making a wine-and-strawberry drink that mixes red and white wines and has sugar in it. I enjoy this activity, since there is plenty of wine here and it’s very cheap. The drink turned out better than I expected, although I have to admit I left out the sugar; the drink mostly tasted of strawberries and reminded me more of strawberry kompot, and less of wine. There was enough wine over dinner to fill that gap, though.

I recently had the pleasure of making a new Georgian friend, who didn’t just drive in horrible post-flood traffic to take us out to dinner, but also offered to drive us to any region we wanted, pick our friends up from the airport at midnight and solve any of our problems – Georgian hospitality really is fabulous! – I didn’t wait 'till dessert to ask him about what he knew or remembered from the Soviet times.

He said that although meat wasn’t a priority in the agricultural sector, there was enough for Georgians. The meat, along with almost every other product, was sold at markets, where consumers had to keep an eye out to not be fooled by faulty scales. Meat was also ground to make one of Georgia’s most famous dishes – khinkali. These are big dumplings with a lot of broth inside, which you’re not supposed to spill a drop of if you want to get anywhere in life in Georgia. They were sold in khinkalnye — mini cafes that only sold khinkali shop. This is Georgia's answer to Russia's pelmennye — mini cafes that sold only Russian dumplings. In a khinkalye, you would get a metal tray piled with fresh steaming khinkali and eat them standing up.

I’ve seen khinkalnye around in Tbilisi, and there are certainly a few in Moscow, although they are restaurant-style — where you get to sit down, but also pay four times as much for the privilege.

I still can’t believe I live in the land that grows and has grown amazing things to eat — even in the Soviet times. The anecdote Georgians tell is that when God was giving out land to peoples, the Georgians arrived last (they were probably busy sucking the last drop of broth out of those khinkali) and God gave them the piece of land he’d saved for himself.

Biblical associations continued as a huge storm caused flooding in Tblisi this week. Wild animals escaped from the zoo and roamed around town. Locals got together and helped those who suffered and cleaned up the city. They take the responsibility of looking after God’s land seriously – and it rewards them with beautiful produce, meat and wine. But more about wine later!

Roast beef

Take a piece of beef tenderloin. Wash and salt. Add oil to a baking pan and heat on the stove. Put the meat into the pan as a single piece and fry lightly. Then put in the oven and roast until it is ready.

Every 10-15 minutes, baste the meat with juice from the pan. If there is not enough juice, baste with water. When the roast is ready, remove it from the pan and slice. Serve with sliced carrots and peas, potatoes and sliced horseradish.

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