Vegan Georgian Cuisine
Georgian cuisine is one of the most flavourful in the world, with a plethora of aromatic herbs and spices and regional diversity; this small country really outdoes itself in an abundance of dishes. If you have only seen Georgian cuisine on Instagram, it may seem that it is all calorie-laden cheese bread and meat, but Georgia is honestly one of the easiest countries in the world to eat a plant-based diet. Georgia is a vegan’s dream due to Orthodox fasting dates and the diversity in fruit and vegetables that can be found throughout the country. During fasting days, observant Christians abstain from meat and animal products during fasting periods that last for 40 days each and amount to 200 days a year. Fish is allowed, but meat, dairy, and eggs are prohibited. While in Georgia, vegan dishes will often be labeled for fasting. Unless it is fish, it will be safe for a vegan to eat. Our list of vegan Georgian dishes is by no means exhaustive, but it is a great start.
Lobiani is the vegan answer to cheese pie khachapuri, which is often topped with a raw egg and a huge pat of butter. Lobiani is a bean pie filled with cooked kidney beans that are usually baked in a wood-fired oven on the side of a tone (round earthenware oven); this dish is typically served with pickled peppers.
Phkali is a vegetable patè that is served in a bowl, like a dip or as balls. It’s a mixture of seasonal vegetables and walnuts with aromatic herbs and dried Georgian spices. The most common are spinach and beetroot. One favorite is made with roasted pumpkin—the subtle sweetness of the pumpkin balances out the savory and spicy elements, while the addition of walnuts adds some bite.
Georgian Salad is obviously vegan but deserves mention because it is so delicious in its simplicity. It’s a salad of tomato, onion, cucumbers seasoned with fresh chopped herbs, crushed walnuts, sunflower oil, and salt. With a piece of puri (bread), it is a perfect light meal.
Lobio is stewed beans, and there are a few variations, including stewed beans with herbs served in a clay pot, cold bean salad, and bean stew served with pasta.
Badrijani Nigvzit is a Georgian staple. Eggplant rolls with walnut paste are delicious and easy to make. Long strips of fried eggplant have been smeared with a delicious garlic and walnut sauce and then rolled up into bite-size morsels.
These famous Georgian soup dumplings are made with flour and water-based dough. Like the pleated dumplings of East and Central Asia, khinkali are a remnant of much earlier Mongol invasions, and legend has it that the ideal khinkali has 19 pleats. Luckily there are vegetable fillings available. While the potato is delicious, it is the mushroom khinkali with mountain spices that is closest to the original soup dumpling. Eat them with your hands, and leave the kudi on your plate to keep track of how many you eat.
Pickles Georgians ferment or pickle pretty much every vegetable possible. You can taste pickled flowers (jonjoli), the fermented green tomatoes with chili and garlic, and the heads of white cabbage fermented with beats that dye the cabbage pink.
Ajapsandali is the Georgian version of ratatouille, a vegetable dish made with eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, and cilantro.
Apyrpylchapa is red pepper stuffed with walnut paste and spicy adjika. This is the perfect appetizer for anyone looking for a bit of heat and spice.
Churchkhela is a traditional sausage-shaped candy made from grape must (the pressed grapes that include the juice, skins, and seeds), nuts, and flour. No food photo says “Georgia’’ more than churchkhela. It is made in autumn at harvest and can be preserved for months. Traditionally, churchkhelas were carried by warriors and knights on long journeys to provide sustenance, churchkhelas are easy to transport and are full of nutrition for long travels. You’ll often hear them called “Georgian Snickers,” but maybe energy bar is more apt.
Check out next month’s issue for a list of gluten-free Georgian dishes!
By Sarah May Grunwald