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feel good food that's good for you

spinach pkhaliLike you, I think I am pretty well up on world cuisines. This is despite being more of an armchair traveller these days – at least to on the pulse, exotic or slightly dangerous places.  My favourite holiday destination is Cornwall. Not quite cutting edge. Or dangerous. Unless you count being bitten by a crab while dangling a pole over the harbour wall at Padstow. Ouch!

I am lucky that, over the years, my adopted city of Edinburgh has transformed from a culinary backwater of scampi in a basket (if you were lucky), overdone salmon (again, if you were lucky), and truly awful Chinese takeaways, to a capital city hosting not only a clutch of Michelin-starred restaurants, but also many affordable eateries, showcasing stunning Scottish produce (write to me if you want some names). spinach pkhaliWe also have representatives of most cuisines you can think of – Malaysian, Korean, Polish, Brazilian, Nepalese and Kurdish, to name but a few. Last year, Trip Advisor placed Edinburgh in the number 10 spot for best food cities in Europe. Granted the cover image was of fish and chips. Lol! Basically we do alright for food. And if you count our community allotments and expanding producers’ markets that crowd the calendar, we are doing very well for a smallish city. But I have yet to see a Georgian restaurant. And having looked at a number of Georgian recipes, I really wish there was one. It is not often that I am jealous of London, but as they seem to have Georgian restaurants and cafes popping up like  Starbucks, I am green-eyed and hungry.

Although it seems quite a meaty cuisine – with poached and herb-stewed chicken dishes to the fore, Georgians also use loads of vegetables, herbs and spices that intrigue and call me: tarragon, a neglected herb in the UK at least, is front and centre in numerous aromatic and often spicy dishes.  Although Russia is its northern neighbour (and former master), the mild Mediterranean climate means that the growing season is long and prolific: aubergines, walnuts (a mainstay crop), walnutssour plums, courgettes, spinach, pomegranates, grapes (the wines are highly rated) ; but also hardier root crops like beetroot, and brassicas like cabbages. They even use flowers as spice; not just how I would, as mere decoration and to hide burnt bits.

But the recipe that will probably seal the deal on a ticket to Tbilisi is khachapuri (this link is a Westernised take), which is an amazingly calorific-sounding leavened bread, stuffed with salted curd cheese and served with a split open poached egg and melted butter. For breakfast. Some liken it to a pizza, but it seems to me like the most over-the-top, vainglorious toasted cheese sandwich imaginable. And doesn’t it sound heavenly? It certainly sounds like it could cure a hangover from too much Georgian wine. But it’s not all so rich and, well, angina-inducing. They are also famous for yogurt 😀

Today’s peek at Georgian food is really just a toehold in the Caucasus, just  a little dip (pun intended) in this Black Sea cuisine. A whole world of clashing and colourful flavours lies just beyond the Spinach Pkhali, but this should whet your appetite for more. It did me. And it could not be simpler.

If you want to know more about Georgian food, read this beautifully written travel article in the Independent. I  defy you not to want to book the next flight there. I am entering this unusual recipe into Laura at How To Cook Good Food’s One Ingredient Challenge, which this month features Pomegranates. And also to Ren’s Simple and In Season link up on her blog, Fabulicious Food.

What is your favourite ‘unusual’ cuisine and why?

spinach pkhaliSpinach Pkhali

Last Year: Kale-Berry Smoothie (love this!)
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Orovela, performed by the Georgian soloist Kelaptari – very beautiful polyphonic music
Here is an unusual starter, or even healthy snack, from the West-Asian/Eastern Europe country of Georgia. Because of its geographical situation – bordering Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan – Georgia has a very diverse cuisine. Although it was ruled by Russia/USSR in the 19th and 20th centuries, the food is more akin to that of its more southerly neighbours, using many of the same ingredients from the shared Mediterranean climate. But to dramatically different effect. They seem to go in for contrasts of spicy/aromatic and hot, with vegetables often featuring separately and complementary to a meaty– often chicken – main course. This famous dip, which I have tweaked to my more Western palate, is an easy and very healthy introduction to a truly fascinating and otherworldly cuisine. Just don’t ask me to pronounce anything!
The main tweak to this traditional recipe is that I have used pomegranate molasses to echo the garnish. I think its sweet-sour taste goes extremely well here (and my nutrition groups seem to like it), but just the vinegar is typical, and doesn’t cause the dip to go ever so slightly pink :D. I have also swapped onion for the milder spring onion, and toned down the raw garlic for you, but feel free to up it to three or four cloves if you would like it more fiery. This really is a recipe to play around with and adjust to your preferences. Serve with rustic bread, or even homemade pitta chips.
500g spinach, rinsed but not dried, and thick stems removed (larger spinach has more flavour)
150g walnuts
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled 
2 heaped tablespoons each coriander/cilantro and tarragon + extra whole herbs for garnish
¼ tsp ground coriander
1/8 – 1/4  tsp ground fenugreek (start with 1/8 and add more if you want more of this unique taste)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar OR 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses + ¼ tsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp ground paprika – hot or sweet Hungarian
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Seeds from one pomegranate
Firstly, completely wilt the spinach in a large covered pan, stirring once or twice to get the upper leaves closer to the steamy water. Drain well in a colander, pressing to remove as much water as possible. Now pop the spinach onto a clean tea towel and squeeze it well. Chop it as finely as possible. You want the spinach to have some texture so please don’t blast it in a food processor.  Georgians recommend that you use a meat grinder. As you wish. Pop the chopped spinach into a mixing bowl and set aside.
Now is the time for your food processor or blender. Put the remaining ingredients – bar the extra garnish herbs, onion, salt and pomegranate seeds – in the bowl of the processor/blender and blitz with a tablespoon of water until it is the consistency of mayonnaise. Stir this pale sauce into the spinach, adding the spring onions and enough salt to taste – because it is vegan taste rather than guess. Maybe add some white pepper if you didn’t use the hot paprika. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least six hours. 
When ready to serve, invert the spinach pkhali onto a serving plate and shape into a mound, scoring with a diamond pattern for an authentic looking dish. Top with herbs and pomegranate seeds. Or, do as I have done:  either just as a thick cake of dip garnished with herbs and seeds, or for something a little more party-minded, shape into little balls and then roll into chopped coriander and tarragon, and top with pomegranate seeds. Serve with country-style or dark bread, or melba toasts made from these. This is lovely with a plate of coriander seed and balsamic vinegar-marinated beets.   Serves 4-6 as an appetiser or starter course.spinach pkhalispinach pkhali

51 thoughts on “Spinach and Walnut Dip with Pomegranate (Spinach Pkhali)

  1. Emma Coltart says:

    I love you kellie! And the fact that good or not so good day I have a lovely message from you with a ray of sunshine message xxxx

    1. Me, a ray of sunshine?! Never been called that before ;D Ah, it was the message, not me, per se. So glad you liked the post m’dear. I really would love to go to Georgia, or at least to London to eat some Georgian food x

  2. That is stunning and I just learned a lot! Thanks 🙂

    1. Great stuff Alyssa. I learned a lot reading up on it. Fascinating country and history too.

  3. Linda says:

    Hi Kellie
    Sounds absolutely yummy – will be trying this at the weekend!

    1. I think you will love it Linda. Good power food too for all your running!

  4. laura_howtocook says:

    What an incredible sounding dip. I love reading your posts because I always learn something new. Georgian food I know nothing about but have been aware of there being several restaurants popping up in the very trendy parts of London catering to Georgian cuisine. If it uses fresh herbs,spices and vegetables with hot a spicy flavourings then that has sold it to me!
    Thanks for entering such a delicious recipe into One Ingredient this month :))xx
    ps. Would you mind linking up to Nazima at Franglais Kitchen for One Ingredient too, thanks Kellie x

    1. Thanks for the gorgeous comment. The dip is really different and although it seems very rich because of the walnuts, it’s super healthy and such an unusual taste. I just thought it would make a good change from hummus! And, I did want to link the recipe up to Nazima but she doesn’t seem to have the November page up, just the one for October. Ach well. PS Please let me know if you try one of the London Georgian restaurants so I can vicariously dine through you!

      1. laura_howtocook says:

        Ah, thanks Kellie. xx

  5. This is so unique, and gorgeous! It’s like Christmas on a plate, in a dip… haha, I love it!

    1. Emilia said the same thing, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. Great idea!

  6. This looks like a really great holiday appetizer with the red, green, and white. It looks yummy too. I might have to take it to my Mom’s yearly oyster stew Christmas Eve party.

    1. Thank you Emilia. I hadn’t thought of it as Christmassy, but I guess it is! And I have never heard of an oyster stew party. That’s a first on me!

  7. vinicooksveg says:

    Wow that sounds like a very interesting recipe. Looks very delicious and beautiful. Lovely!

  8. wonderful. I love the colours of this dish!

    1. Cheerful, isn’t it. I liked rolling it in little balls as you would for goats’ cheese rolled in herbs, but this is dairy-free of course

  9. I don’t know anything about Georgian food, but clearly I need to learn. This looks fantastic!

    1. Thanks so much. And it is so easy to put together

  10. Well you totally got me there….I was gaily reading through the blog thinking about Edinburgh and then Georgian food thinking oh, ok, this week she is doing historical food from the Georgian period! I guess that just show how far off my radar food from Georgia is so thanks for the illumination! It has to be said I ALWAYS learn from your blog. Stunning images too.

    1. LOL! I hadn’t thought on those lines when writing the preamble, but I can see why *you* would! Or anyone from Edinburgh. Google georgian food and you will fall in love. Such unusual combinations, all delicious sounding. Their use of herbs is really inspiring

  11. Kavi says:

    Just stumbled upon your blog. Love your writing style and photography!

    1. Thanks so much! Ooh, I’m blushing now 😀 Glad you stopped by, and left a comment too.

  12. Wow, this looks fantastic! Lots of my favourite flavours in ball form! I love Middle Eastern cuisine along with many other global foods.. Japanese, Moroccan, Indian, Ethiopian, etc. 🙂

  13. soulofspice says:

    What a lovely dip you’ve made! I live cheese dips with spinach & walnut & fruit but I think I could very easily love your pretty vegan version!

  14. eastofedencook says:

    What a lovely dip! We are on the slippery slope of holiday overindulgence and your healthy and tasty recipe landed in my in box at a perfect time! Thank you!

    1. You are welcome Deb. It is quite filling too, which is a bonus when calorific, hardly-touches-the-side foods (I’m talking to you chips and bread sticks) are on offer

  15. Sally says:

    Beautiful. I too long to visit Georgia – for the food and the wine made in clay pots.

  16. Delicious recipe and so pretty too! Can’t wait to try this~guess I’d better get my hands on some pomegranate molasses. I’ve been to Cornwall once~lovely spot! It is my husband’s grandfathers favorite spot too~where he and his wife honeymooned, and where my kids got to visit with their great-grandfather several years ago 🙂

    1. What a privilege for your children to have had that experience with their great-grandfather. We just love the low key vibe in Cornwall – so scenic, so eco-aware, and of course scrummy seafood restaurants.

  17. A delicious and stunning looking recipe and such am interesting post Kellie. I do love pomegranates and also I have just discovered Georgian food too….it is similar to Turkish and yet with more refinement! Lovely post, hope you are well! Karen

  18. I’ve yet to find my way to Edinburgh, and always pictured it more as a place to get chip butties, haggis and porridge than as being in the number 10 spot for best food cities in Europe. Now that I know better, I have one more reason to visit.

    And Georgian food has also been completely off my radar.

    I think my world just got a little bigger thanks to this post.

    This dish looks fantastic. I can just barely imagine the combination of cilantro, tarragon, fenugreek and ground coriander, and it’s enough to make my mouth water. Add to that the richness of the walnuts, and the slight sweet, acidic, hot tones, and I can’t imagine that this is anything but divine. Unfortunately, I’ll be working away at my Thanksgiving leftovers for the rest of this trip home, so will have to give this a try next time – perfect timing given its Christmas colours.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing.

    1. You’ve given a perfect description of this pkhali despite not knowing about it. How can you do that?? It is pretty funny that we here in Edinburgh (Britain) are known for stodgy food but really it is not at all, or not any more than any other Western city. If you ever get anywhere near Edinburgh I would love to show you and Bonnie Lee the real edinburgh, and Edinburgh food. Chip butties purely optional (although Mr A would probably love that. He loves his carbs!)

      1. We had a few people over last night for an Epiphany Eve party, and served Spinach Pkhali ( It was as good as I’d imagined, and a big hit. Thanks again.

      2. Great photo!! Looks like you used the pomegranate molasses (the telltale pink!). What did you serve it with? I want the whole menu!

      3. Ask and you shall receive.

        We started with a Jamaican-style ginger beer (homemade, with a much stronger ginger punch than the commercial varieties) and rum cocktail, and four dips and four cheeses served with crackers and crudités: Spinach Pkhali (have yet to find pomegranate molasses – think the pink is a reflection), roasted mushroom & feta, roasted carrot with miso and maple, pistachio & feta, raw cheddar, goat cheese, gorgonzola and camembert. Then we moved to a fenugreek, red onion, grapefruit and pomelo salad with a tangerine, tarragon dressing. After that came some okara falafel with tahini and roasted cauliflower tossed with homemade curry and other spices, followed by a vegan tagine with couscous. Then, for the carnivores: roast port with a jerk rub and mango salsa. We topped it all of with a very rich stir fried rice pudding with flambéed shredded pineapple and raisins, shredded coconut, nutmeg and orange zest – an old standby that I’ll probably write up sometime, because there is nothing more decadent you can do with leftover rice.

        It was a really great mix of people, comprised of one old friend from Montreal and very random group of folks who only shared the trait of having been kind to us in our time here. We got out of the habit of dinner parties in Japan (rarely done there), and it was good fun doing this again after so many years.

      4. Jean-Francois, that menu sounds seriously delicious, and highly inventive. I am intrigued by everything you mention, and the decadence of the stir fried rice pudding… wow (Here in the UK it would be fried Christmas pudding topped with brandy butter. Rich to the max). My humble pkhali seems small potatoes in comparison. If I had a hat I would doff it to you. I bet you all had a fabulous time and that you and Bonnie were terrific hosts. I wish I was there!

      5. Thanks … and your pkhali fit right in, as would you have, I suspect. Bonnie toyed with making figgy pudding, but decided to pass given everything else going on in the kitchen – definitely more decadent than rice pudding. Oh, and by fenugreek, I obviously meant fennel.

  19. We may well take you up on that – it’s been way too long since we were on your side of the planet.

    1. Please let me know if you are ever over. I am serious about a meet up. I would love to meet you and Bonnie Lee in the radiant flesh.

  20. Reblogged this on Verde Holistico and commented:
    These are great food colors for this season!

    1. Thank you for the reblog and the comment!

      1. Your Welcome! I really like your blog!

  21. I love Georgian food, what a lovely post. The Edinburgh food scene sounds amazing, must visit! Thanks for entering it into Simple and in Season xx

  22. appaspa says:

    Reblogged this on appalachianspamagazine and commented:
    Appetizers, Dips and spreads, Gluten-free, Heart-healthy, NIbbles & light bites, Snacks, soft food diet, Vegan and tagged Appetizer, easy, food, Georgian recipe, healthy recipe, spinach dip, vegan

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