I admit, I am just as susceptible to stereotyping as the next person, when I started researching Georgia, I figured I’d be making some very hearty burger with cabbage, potatoes, beets – lots of earthy flavors. I hadn’t really placed Georgia in my head geographically, I was just lumping it into a large category of “former Soviet” states. Of course I was wrong, and the result is the most interesting and surprisingly yummy burger yet.
Georgia is located on the Black Sea and is bordered by Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Think about the diversity of flavors those four countries represent and you get some sense of what goes on in Georgian cuisine.
In addition to the modern day influences, people have been living in Georgia for a really long time, and lots of different people have ruled here. I think this is the basic order, first the Romans, then the Arabs, then Georgian rule, next the Mongols attacked, then back to Georgian rule, then anarchy for a little while, then Persians in the east and Ottomans in the west, then Georgian again, next Russia, then USSR then finally back to Georgian rule in 1991. You can imagine that this kind of history leads to an eclectic and interesting culture.
Before we start talking about the food, there’s one other interesting piece of info about Georgia – according to Wikipedia, the western part of Georgia was the “location of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts…” so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice. Extra credit for readers who get that last part and remember the movie reference.
But probably the most interesting thing about Georgia is the food (or at least the most interesting for me), oh yeah, and the wine. So my husband (our resident wino wine expert) tells me that there are many folks who think that Georgia is the birthplace of wine. Apparently the genetic diversity of grapes in Georgia is greater than anywhere else in the world, a strong indicator that grape growing originated there (so my geek scientist husband tells me). This provided a good excuse for us to enjoy a nice Georgian wine – lots of good choices, if you haven’t tried it out, you should.
Georgians love food. They have a tradition of feasts called supra. At supra someone is designated the toastmaster and his job is to, well, toast. They do a lot of toasts. And, just in case you are ever at a supra, apparently you aren’t supposed to sip the wine, you drink all the wine in your glass after each toast, then they are refilled. Luckily, the glasses are small. There’s also lots of food to help absorb the booze.
Lots of food is also a Georgian tradition – at supra it’s apparently pretty amazing how many different dishes are set out, but even at a regular Georgian dinner table, the tradition is to provide a wide variety of food. Now, for those of you that have been reading this blog for a while, you are familiar with the process I use to develop the recipes – for everyone else, here’s the basics. I look at traditional recipes, collect flavor ideas and see how I can combine them into a burger. Georgian flavors were the strangest combinations of flavors I have encountered so far. They use a lot of walnuts – in all sorts of unusual ways. One of the common uses of walnuts is in a walnut garlic paste that they use in many different dishes. Ok, a little odd, but not too far out there. But here’s the thing, the recipes for garlic walnut paste have an amazing variety of spices and herbs that can be used in the dish – cilantro, coriander seeds, cayenne, fenugreek, tarragon, saffron, parsley, savory…you get the idea, almost anything you can think of can be used in this dish. So I played around and found a combination I liked and moved on to the sour plum sauce.
The sour plum sauce is the Georgian equivalent of ketchup – they apparently use it on everything. This again has a bizarre combination of possible ingredients – sour plums (of course) then everything from fennel to mint, fenugreek to laurel leaf. Since every recipe is different, it’s super hard to figure out what the classic flavor is, so I through some stuff in a pot and hoped for the best. The sauce is weird tasting, really weird, I began to worry…
Next came the meat patty. Georgians eat something called gupta. Gupta is a patty made of boiled beef, raisins, boiled potatoes, walnuts, parsley, eggs and breadcrumbs. Really? Are you afraid now? I changed it up a bit and used ground beef (and didn’t boil it first). Now I was intrigued, now I was afraid…
Lastly, Georgians enjoy a homemade bread that is stuffed with cheese. Finally, something I understood and that didn’t frighten me, perhaps there is hope. Now let’s put it all together. The garlic paste is easy to make and interesting tasting – very strong garlic flavor, but you can moderate to your tastes. The sour plum sauce is weird and I frankly don’t think I like it on it’s own – must be an acquired taste. The beef patty is strange, looks strange, and has an unusual texture, but it somehow works. The cheese bread is easy to make – especially since I used store bought pizza dough rather than pulling something together from scratch – it was tasty even separate from the burger.
Oh, I almost forgot, I also had to include yogurt. After all, it was the Dannon commercials featuring Georgian octogenarians that really introduced Americans to the joys of yogurt. Even though Dannon never produced proof that the people were really that old, we all bought into it and decided yogurt would make us young. So I added yogurt to the mix, why not right?
But here’s the thing, this burger is really good. Somehow these crazy flavors work together – even that sour plum sauce. I have no good explanation, I fully expected to have to re-do this burger and find something less odd, and my family was equally dubious. But my husband has declared this the greatest victory yet – an unlikely combination of ingredients, none of which are amazing on their own, but together made for a delicious hearty burger that the whole family enjoyed. I cannot describe the flavors, I’m just not that talented – so please, try the burger and tell me what you think. This is one for the ages.
2 russet potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled until tender
¼ cup black raisins
½ cup walnuts
1 pound ground beef
¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 eggs lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons butter
4 slices of Cheese Stuffed Bread (recipe below)
Garlic Walnut Paste (recipe below)
Sour Plum Sauce (recipe below)
2% milk fat Greek yogurt
Combine potatoes, raisins and walnuts in a food processor and pulse until blended. Add 1 cup of this mixture to the ground beef along with the breadcrumbs and eggs. Form four large patties.
In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter. Cook the patties to desired doneness. Note: the burger tends to fall apart a bit, but it tastes good, so don’t worry too much. You can also make this burger with a plain patty and it’s still good, just a little less interesting
To serve slice up a big piece of Cheese Stuffed Bread for each plate. Put a cooked patty on each. Add a generous helping of Garlic Walnut Paste and a big scoop of Sour Plum Sauce then top with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Cheese Stuffed Bread
Pizza dough – from the store or from your recipe, thawed and room temperature
4 ounces shredded Monterey jack cheese
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
Spread the dough out to about 7 inches in diameter. I made the mistake of letting the dough rise at this point and I ended up with really poufy bread, I recommend just working the dough and not letting it rise, but either way the taste is good. Combine the cheese into a big ball and put it in the center of the dough. Wrap the dough up from the sides and around the cheese. Pinch the top closed. Roll the dough out again and place on a pizza pan. Cook per the package instructions until lightly browned. Let it sit for about ten minutes before cutting. Serve warm.
Garlic Walnut Paste
1 cup chopped walnuts
4 cloves of garlic
¼ of an onion chopped
1 Tablespoon cilantro chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until a paste forms
Sour Plum Sauce
2¼ pounds unripe plums (about 8 plums)
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
4 cloves garlic chopped
¼ cup cilantro chopped
¼ cup Italian parsley chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh mint chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground fenugreek
½ Tablespoon fresh dill chopped
Peel the plums and remove the pits. Place the plum halves in boiling water along with the fennel and coriander seeds. Cook until plums are soft (about 10 minutes). Drain and cool slightly. Place in a food processor with garlic, cilantro, parsley and mint. Pulse until relatively smooth. Put the mixture in a medium saucepan. Add salt, cayenne, fenugreek and dill. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using.
©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach