Friday, February 6, 2009

Recipe: Khinkali (or how I learned to love the Caucasus)

During my last trip abroad I spent a significant amount of time immersed in the culture of "the heavy." Heavy is hard to define by simply using words and is best described by example. Briefly, it is a phenomenon that is most purely displayed outside of the boundaries of Western culture. The realm of the heavy is one that encompasses taxi drivers, drunkenly consuming offal at odd hours of the night, tacky, anachronistic pop music, creative swears, Ladas, street food, mustaches, hairy chests, gold chains, and poor english. Eastern Europe, The Balkans, and Turkey are decidedly heavy. North Africa is heavy. The Caucasus, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan are all very very heavy. I suppose that the closest that America can offer is the stereotypic uneducated southerner or rural dwellers of remote Appalachia but heaviness in the context mentioned above goes far beyond trailer parks, relying instead on the weight of thousands of years of historical narrative.

Definitely heavy.

I realized my vacation would be heavy as soon as I arrived at our apartment in Thessaloniki, Greece. As the front door swung open, six foot tall "Tzenni" from Tibilisi embraced me and kissed me brusquely on both cheeks, welcoming me into her home. Already feeling a degree of culture shock, I felt further alienated as I was baptized into Georgian cuisine and culture by way of Tzenni's home-made vodka, which would later be consumed on a daily basis. I quickly warmed up to the heavy stories of the bright days of Georgia under Communist rule and even sang the Soviet song Katyusha together over shots of vodka. But in most cultures alcohol can never be served alone or without company...

While I was lucky enough to eat a number of Georgian delicacies, I was treated twice to one of the favorite Georgian specialities, Khinkali. Khinkali are rather similar to Beijing soup dumplings but differ in that they are boiled and that there is less soup content than in their Chinese counterparts. A few times I commented on the relationship between soup dumplings and khinkali but my musings were immediately put down as impossibilities - this was GEORGIAN food. However, with Georgia's position between Europe and Asia it would not be inconceivable that the dish was introduced by travelers plying their wares and importing spices between the two continents. As an aside it would be fascinating to explore dumplings around the world and to look at their similarities and differences.

In any case, this brings us to the actual production of khinkali (you didn't think that I would eat these things and not learn how to make them??).

I will write the recipe using the proportions that were used by Tzenni. WARNING: these quantities need to be cut down. I have converted to non-metric units but Tzenni does not know how to cook for less than 10 people. The yield should be somewhere around 50 or 60 of these things in the quantity I list. A hungry individual without being pressed by a large, imposing Georgian woman will eat maybe 10. Of course, the last time I wolfed these down I'm convinced that I ate 20 but now that doesn't seem quite possible. I think it was the Chacha talking and the raucous lunch that I had in my apartment. A normal person would be happy with around 6.

1 pound ground beef/ground pork mixture (you can use lamb or any ground meat of your liking, really)
1 large bunch of parsley
2 medium sized onions (red onions are good)
1 fresh hot pepper (addition is optional and type of pepper added should be based on your tolerance of spice)

In a food processor chop the onions, parsley, and hot pepper finely. There should be plenty of liquid from the parsley and onion which should be kept. Add to the meat in a large mixing bowl. Add about 2 tbsp of salt and mix by hand. Since the dumplings should be juicy and soupy inside there needs to be enough water in the filling. Add approx. half a cup of water to the meat to ensure juicy-ness. Let filling stand for 2 hours in orders to marinate fully.

Meat Slurry: better than it looks!

[note: the quantity of dough used below is more than enough than for the quantity of filling above. you'd probably want to cut the amount used in half]
4 pounds white flour
1 whole egg
4 tbsp salt
cold water

I don't have a fancy kitchen-aid mixer so I am not sure how you make things like pasta dough in one of those contraptions but if you have one you probably can figure out how to make the above dough...
Mix in the cold water slowly (by hand) with the flour, egg, and salt. This will take a lot of muscle but keep adding the water just until the point that the dough is not sticky. You can add a little extra flour if you over-do it. Knead the dough for about 20 minutes until it's stiff.

This still needed about 5 more minutes work but it was STIFF!

Roll out the dough to a thickness of approx. 1/2 - 1 inch and cut approximately 2 inch diameter "holes" out of the dough (see photo below).

You can use an average size glass to punch the "rounds" (or your fists if you're talented).

Roll these cut out pieces into equally sized rounds with consistent thickness (1/8 inch approx). Think tortilla thickness.

Roll out the rounds - using an empty bottle of vodka or wine will impress your guests.

Add the filling (about a spoonful).

Note the finished dumpling to the other works in progress.

Now comes the tricky part: you will need to fold the khinkali such that the edges of the "pasta" fold over each-other and can be sealed shut by creating a little stem on top (think of a pumpkin's stem). Making the dumplings is NOT easy and will take a bit of practice. Be patient and you will eventually get it. The point is for the Khinkali not to explode or open while boiling so the little stem needs to be pinched tightly. Again - see below photos for a better illustration.

This will not be easy.


Boil the khinkali in salted water upside down until they are tender and float (should take about 8-10 minutes). When removing from the pot, pour cold water on top to keep the khinkali from getting sticky. Once you've got a lot of practice you are encouraged to remove the khinkali from the boiling water with your bare hands (if Tzenni's grandmother who lived to 105 did it so can you!).

Khinkali are eaten by hand immediately as they are removed from the pot and garnished simply with black pepper. They are also great lightly fried in oil until brown the next day. Drink copious amounts of Georgian brandy, wine, and Chacha to complete the total effect! (Of course, if you can't get Georgian booze - which is very likely - moonshine of most types will do).


Anonymous said...

It's very good instructions of Khinkali. I hope i will make it 1 day in future. Keep fingers crossed!

Anonymous said...

I will try to do it today , fingers crossed.