Of the four challenges, we could assign each to a different course, so for the starter, I chose the challenge of cooking something from an unfamiliar cuisine. Although there's plenty of cuisines I have never tried before, much less cooked, there was quite a lot to choose from, but I really wanted one which I hadn't even heard of before so I went off to google, and decided on Georgian cuisine which was particularly interesting because it had such a strong character and was so unique.
A google search of ‘Georgian Cuisine’ comes up with three main results- dumplings (Khinkali), flat bread (Khachapuri) and an eggplant dish (Badrijani Nigvzit)- three of the more common and well-known Georgian dishes, all three quite different from one another, highlighting the diversity of the cuisine. The eggplant dish was the one which really caught my attention, with the combination of fried eggplant slices sandwiching a paste of walnut, garlic and herbs- all foods that we may commonly eat, but rarely together in one dish.
The dish itself is quite simple to prepare, fry or grill eggplant slices, whizz together the remaining ingredients in a blender, spread onto the eggplant, roll them up and you’re done. And because it's served cold, you can make it ahead, which is perfect when you're trying to juggle a couple of courses at once (although admittedly, I didn't cook all four courses in one day).
What was surprising, given the name of the dish, was that the walnuts served much more of a thickening role rather than taste role, so most of the taste came from the eggplant and the garlic.I had put a little too much garlic in, which was off-putting for those who aren't too much of a fan of garlic, but otherwise, we did generally quite enjoy the combination of garlic, walnuts and eggplant, with the sweetness of the eggplant balancing the spiciness of the raw garlic.
The versatility of the recipe leaves much room for improvisation and adaptation to each person’s taste- I’d definitely cut down on the garlic and increase the herbs for next time. My mum even suggested adding avocado for extra creaminess!
Eggplant with Walnuts: Badrijani Nigvzit Recipe
1 large or 3 small (~500g) eggplants
¼ cup salt (plus ¼ tsp for paste)
1 cup (115g) chopped walnuts 2 cloves garlic, peeled
6 Tbsp. water
½ tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp of paprika
½ tsp white pepper
- Wash eggplants and cut lengthwise into ½ inch thin slices (approx. 12 slices). Sprinkle slices with salt and let stand at least 30 minutes, then rinse in a colander, pressing out juice. Pat dry.
- Place eggplant slices on a baking sheet and heat in preheated oven (180oC ) for 20 minutes, flipping it halfway. Leave to cool.
- Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor; purée until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Set sauce aside.
- Spread a generous layer of filling on one side of each eggplant strip. Roll it up and serve (approx. 2 rolls per serve)