Autumn on the Silk Road means pickles, and one unique kind gives garlic a chance to stand out on its own. One of my favorite Silk Road pickles is Pomegranate Pickled Garlic enjoyed in the Black Sea countries of Georgia and Armenia, and down into Azerbaijan and Iran. . . [MORE HERE]
I love this time of year! I love the blustery days and the chilly evenings and snuggling under blankets to keep warm. I love the cacophony of colors offered up by the deciduous trees, and of course, I love the panoply of fall produce – my favorite of which are pumpkins and squash.
They are just so beautiful – all the shapes: round, oval, flattened, tubular, and fluted like an amber bead, or goose-necked, with bumps and warts and all. And the colors – warm shades of orange, ochre, yellow and deep earthy green – some striped, some with a gradation of color fading from one into the next. Such variation in color and shape – and flavor! There are so many ways to prepare pumpkins and squash, that it seems unfortunate that we generally relegate these vegetables to pies or soup. All too often with the familiar triumvirate of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and more often than not – too much sugar.
By themselves, many pumpkins and squash are already quite sweet and don’t need much sugar to make their flavors really shine. My two favorites – the Butternut and the Kabocha – are amongst the sweetest. I often use them to temper dishes with sour flavors offered by pomegranates, sour grapes, lemons, or limes.
Across the Asian continent there are a myriad of ways to prepare pumpkin and squash. As main dishes, many cultures stuff them – with rice, or a combination of meat and grains. They appear mixed with curries, stews and braised meat dishes. They are layered in casseroles, topped with sauces, curried, stir-fried and coated with spices and baked. However they are prepared, they are another gift of the New World to the Old and have been dearly embraced since their introduction only a few hundred years ago.
In Western Asia, they can be stuffed with marigold petals or pomegranate seeds in Georgia, layered in an Armenian casserole called Ailazan; baked with eggs in an omelet called a “kuku” (after the Persian work for egg) or braised with fowl or lamb in a delectable cardamom and pomegranate sauce in Iran, used as a stuffing for pastries or prepared with tomatoes and sour grapes in Afghanistan.
In South Asia, pumpkin and squash are curried in rich ginger and garlic-laden sauces, baked and pounded into dips with or without yogurt, used in rice pilafs, mixed with pulses for dals, mixed with seed spices (such as fenugreek, onion, mustard and poppy), cumin, a handful of chili peppers and lemon juice in sweet and spicy dish, and sweetened with coconut cream.
The Central Asians use squash in casseroles like Damlyama flavored with copious amounts of cumin and black pepper, stuff them with their own pulp flavored with tarragon and lemon or nuts, sour cherries and nutmeg and pepper or baked with cinnamon and black pepper, or cooked with tamarind, fenugreek leaves and garlic.
In the Himalayas, the Bhutanese have delectable pumpkin fritters spiced with cumin and use squash or pumpkin layered in their biryani, the Nepali have their Tarkari curries with garlic, ginger and lots of cilantro, the Tibetans coat squash slices in chickpea or lentil flour spiced with chili peppers, star anise, lots of black pepper and some cinnamon and fry the slices until golden, and the Burmese have make a stew of them with shrimp and soy sauce, lime juice, ginger and garlic and lots of pungent peppers. And in the Indo Pacific, one of the most common ways to prepare them are using a tomato-based sauce flavored with sweet soy, vinegar, nutmeg and pepper.
In the far-east, the Korean’s have their black-peppered squash cooked with soy, ginger and garlic and garnished with sesame seeds. The Japanese cook them similarly using sweet soy or a soy-ginger sauce, and in Southern China there is fish-flavored eggplant named after the method of preparation with brown bean paste, fish sauce and rice vinegar, often used to cook fish. In Thailand, pumpkins or squash are used to flavor the rich spicy curries and are used with a variety of meats or cooked rapidly in a stir-fry with lots of spicy Thai basil, or cooked with crushed black peppercorns, lemon juice and fish sauce to form a rich sour sauce around a sweet kabocha squash. The Cambodians use squash in mixed vegetable stews and stir fries, and use them with in stews with beef, coconut milk, and their ginger-spice paste called Kroeung, the thick fish sauce tuk prahok and lots of Kaffir lime leaves. And lastly in Vietnam, squash and pumpkin are sometimes enjoyed with stir-fried with lemongrass and peanuts, and roasted and pounded into a dip with lime juice, fish sauce and basil.
Certainly not an exhaustive list of Asian pumpkin and squash recipes, but ones that reach far beyond the familiar flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and too much sugar, and all of which are available in the Silk Road Gourmet volumes already published or yet to come.
So enjoy our seasonal bounty of pumpkins and squash, but think outside the box and try an unfamiliar recipe or two. You may discover a favorite vegetable you’ve never tried before – like the Sri Lankan curry posted below. (Words by Laura Kelley. Photo of Autumn Pumpkins by Haywiremedia @ Dreamstime.com; Photo of Pumpkin Curry by Sarsmis @ Dreamstime.com. Recipe in Silk Road Gourmet Volume 2).
Curried Pumpkin in a Ginger-Garlic Sauce
This curry is sour, sweet, and hot due to its curry leaves, vinegar, coconut milk, sugar, and ground chili peppers. Blended together, these flavors make this dish quintessentially Sri Lankan, but it also complements a wide variety of other cuisines as well.
1 medium butternut squash or small kabocha pumpkin, peeled, sliced and seeded
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds, ground
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
½ cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon chopped chili peppers
10 curry leaves, crushed
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Preheat oven to 375°. Place sliced squash or pumpkin on an oiled or sprayed baking sheet and when the oven is hot, bake for 20–25 minutes. Remove from oven, cool, and slice into quarters or eighths, depending on the size of the slice.
Heat oil in a medium sauté pan and sauté onion until it softens and starts to color. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, and mustard and stir for a couple of seconds. Add the garlic, ginger, coconut milk,
chilies, and curry leaves.
Add the vinegar, salt, and sugar and bring slowly to a boil. Add the squash or pumpkin pieces, stir, and simmer on a low heat for 5 minutes until the pumpkin is warmed.
Sasha Martin has just completed a week of cooking some of my favorite dishes from Georgia adapted from The Silk Road Gourmet Volume One. For a look at her meal review, beautiful photos of the preparation and recipies check out her Global Table Adventure Website. Its a great project: 195 countries, 195 meals, 195 weeks. The site is informative, interesting and full of personal insight and great food!
We had friends over again, and as usual, I spent a couple of days in the kitchen preparing for their visit. This time I whipped up a regional tasting menu of Caucasus Celebration specialties from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. As they ate and in between the “yummy sounds” my friends kept on commenting that there were, “so many flavors on the plate”.
Many thanks to my decorator, line chef, historian and cyber-guy husband for making everything possible. All dishes were enjoyed with Georgian Tvishi or Kindzmarauli wines.
Pomegranate Pickled Garlic
Armenian Red Pepper
Yogurt and Cucumber Dip
Grilled Chicken Garo
Azeri Lamb Chops with Sour Cherry Sauce
Eggplant in a Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Sauce
Azeri String Beans in a Sour Tomato Sauce
Sesame and Almond Pilaf
Saffron Ice Cream
Dried Figs and Apricots
All recipes are, of course, from Volume One of The Silk Road Gourmet.
Georgian Dolmas: Stuffed Grape leaves, dolmas or dolmades are eaten from Eastern Mediterranean Greece and Turkey clear across Central Asia and in several Eastern Asia countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The Georgian variety I served stuffed the leaves with lamb and rice mixture with the strong flavors of dill, lemon and walnuts. Delicious!
The Pomegranate Pickled Garlic: I’ve written about this pickle before in the blog and will likely mention it again, because it is one of my Silk Road pickles. This Georgian dish uses unsweetened pomegranate juice with a hint of vinegar and dill and lots of cracked black pepper to flavor the garlic. The longer it pickles, the milder and more fruity the garlic becomes. Enjoy with naan or other flat bread.
Armenian Roasted Red Pepper Salad: This salad offered a sweeter alternative to the appetizer table. Roasted and skinned sweet red peppers marinate in grapeseed oil and white vinegar with a bit of garlic and roasted almonds added.
Yogurt and Cucumber Dip: Once again, yogurt dips are enjoyed from Eastern Europe throughout Western, Central and Southern Asia. Keeping with the Caucasian theme of the dinner, I chose an Armenian version flavored with mint, garlic and black pepper. The yogurt and the cucumbers create a cooling dip to soothe the palate challenged by spicy or fiery foods.
Grilled Chicken Garo: A sensational Georgian way to prepare chicken that will tease and amaze your guests with unfamiliar flavor combinations. The chicken is first marinated for several days in lemon juice and light sesame or peanut oil and generous amounts of the Georgian spice mixture Khmeli-Suneli. Then the chicken is grilled and enjoyed with the cilantro-based Garlic and Walnut sauce with overtones of fenugreek and lemon.
Azeri Lamb Chops with Sour Cherry Sauce: Lamb with a light crust of freshly grated nutmeg and cracked pepper is baked and sweetened with a sauce of sour cherries, cinnamon and a hint of lemon juice. Together an amazing and unforgettable combination!
Eggplant in a Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Sauce: This recipe couples earthy eggplants with a Georgian pomegranate sauce flavored with red onions, sweet basil and a couple of chili peppers.
Azeri String Beans in a Sour Tomato Sauce: One of my favorite vegetable dishes of all times. Green beans sautéed with onions and then joined by a sour tomato sauce made with white vinegar, black pepper and yogurt. Fabulous!
Sesame and Almond Pilaf: A buttery, nutty, Azeri pilaf flavored with roasted sesame seeds and almonds that is related to Gulf and Levantine rice dishes. I like this pilaf because it has a strong enough flavor to be paired with the main meats and vegetables described here, but complements without interfering with those flavors.
Ravane: This cake is once again a regional favorite eaten from Greece through Central Asia. The Georgian version I made is baked with a mix of nut flours and wheat flour and then permeated with a simple syrup flavored with citrus and cinnamon that is allowed to sit overnight before serving. Sweet, but earthy at the same time. Some versions use only wheat flour, while others make the syrup from honey instead of sugar.
Saffron Ice Cream: Just a little something to complement the ravane. A saffron flavored ice cream made with chopped pistachio nuts and rosewater. Semi sweet and a bit nutty – really good!
(Words by Laura Kelley. Photo of the Dolmas borrowed from the Food and Wine Blog by Azat Aslanyan).
The earliest winery has been uncovered in a cave in the mountains of Armenia.
A vat to press the grapes, fermentation jars and even a cup and drinking bowl dating to about 6,000 years ago were discovered in a cave complex near Areni, Armenia by an international team of researchers.
They also found grape seeds, remains of pressed grapes and dozens of dried vines. The seeds were from the same type of grapes — Vitis vinifera vinifera — still used to make wine.
Analyses of pottery sherds and vessels have provided evidence for wine consumption in the region as early as 8,000 years ago in Shulaveri, Georgia and 7,000 years ago in Hajji Firuz Tepe, a Neolithic village in northern Iran. Although significantly later than the Georgian or Iranian sites, the recent Armenian find is hard evidence of a well-developed viticulture.
Materials for winemaking have also been found at Titris Höyük in southeastern Turkey dated to the late third millennium BCE, and grape seeds and spent skins have been found in Greece dating to about 6,500 years ago. The Greek find is particularly intriguing, because figs were found along with the grapes, suggesting perhaps that a mixed fruit wine was being produced.
Wine residue has also been found in Egypt dating to about 5,000 years ago in the tomb of King Scorpion I. Interestingly, however, the wine was found inside imported ceramic jars, indicating perhaps that a broad regional trade in wine was already underway.
Archaeological evidence of winemaking in China is significantly later that that in Western Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean and comes from the Shang Dynasty about 3,000 year ago. Like the Greeks, however, some of the Chinese finds have the remains from several different types of fruits on site (peach, plum and jujube) suggesting either, mixed fruit wine or wines produced from fruits other than grapes – like the pomegranate or plum wines enjoyed today.
The more we seek, the more we find. Makes me wonder what other wonders await. . .
(Words by Laura Kelley, Photo by Gregory Areshian/Associated Press)
We toasted to the mountains and how they have perseved Georgian culture over the millennia, to our ancestors, to our homelands, the men stood and toasted to the beautiful women in their lives and we all toasted to the future. Those were amongst the many toasts that we shared over glasses of Pheasant’s Tears recently at the Supra in Levante’s restaurant in downtown Washington’s Dupont Circle.
Our tamada, or toastmaster, Mr. John Wurdeman, co-owner of Pheasant’s Tears Vineyards, also bade us drink to the musicians and dancers, Zedashe, who illuminated our meal with ancient songs – like the one called Chakrulo sampled here *. The soulful, tight harmonies of the Georgian songs have been adapted for mixed male and female voices by the group with beautiful results. I’m no expert, but some of the recitative songs (particularly those from the Kartli-Kakheti region) seem to be stylistically related to Russian znammeny chant or perhaps share a common ancestor in the Byzantine church with znammeny. The group also played the panduri lute, the doli drum and a sort of goat-skin bagpipe called the chiboni.
There was wine, there were toasts, there was music – this being a Georgian Supra, there was, of course, dancing. Men dancing alone, men dancing with women and small groups of people circling each other, arms and legs blazing. It was impossible not to get drawn into the passionate sounds and sights and let one’s knife and fork down to clap along with the group.The food itself was solid, mostly Turkish offerings of Levante’s that were quite delicious. I had the spiced adana kebab and found it tender and very good and my husband had the beyti which he also enjoyed. The only truly Georgian food item was khachapuri the bread filled with suluguni cheese, but it didn’t distract from the overall enjoyment of the evening.Our dining companions were Maryland Senator, Jim Rosapepe and his wife, journalist, Shelilah Kast who hosts an NPR radio show called Maryland Morning. In addition to being great to dine with and interesting to talk to, both the Senator and his wife have written a book called Dracula is Dead about the fall and rebirth of modern Romania. Georgian embassy staff were also present with their families and at the table next to our own, I spied Oleg Kalugin.
The highlight of the evening came for me when the tamada came round to our table to tell us that, “My best friend in the whole world is a Persian Prince. . .” (what an opening line, eh?) “and a few nights ago, he gave me a gift of the Silk Road Gourmet, saying that it was his family’s favorite cookbook.”
Good food, great companions, a commanding tamada urging us on to more toasts celebrating life, and love; beautiful singing and dancing . . . why did it have to end?
It ended as all good parties end, so we can go out and live – to give us more life to celebrate. So, we left with smiles, with CDs and bottles of wine to share with our families. I also left with the knowledge that my book is bringing value and joy to some wonderful people. (Words and photographs by Laura Kelley; use of Chakrulo, courtesy of Zadashe. Special thanks to Prof. Mamuka Tsereteli of American University and the Georgian Wine House for organizing the event.)
* The song Chakrulo was also included as a representative sample of human communication on the Voyager Spacecraft in 1977 . . . I wonder if they like it too?
Cucumbers, capers, ginger, garlic, peppers, beans, asparagus, onions: Any vegetable out there – and quite a few fruits as well make excellent pickles. All along the Silk Road, harvest time and the weeks and months that follow are a time when, in many traditional cultures, foods are salted or pickles or otherwise preserved to provide a bountiful table in the cold winter months that follow. Vinegars or souring agents of all types combine with spices and herbs to create new forms of familiar foods that are like but different from their fresh counterparts.
Some pickles take weeks or months to develop, others can be made ready in days or even hours to as a light accompaniment to meal of kabobs or other roast meats and vegetables. I have a few favorite recipes for pickles. One is for Pomegranate Pickled Garlic enjoyed in the Black Sea countries of Georgia and Armenia, another for Mint Onion Pickles from Iran and a third from Bhutan for cucumbers pickled in rice vinegar with coriander and cumin seeds a healthy dose of cracked Sichuan Pepper.
Of the three, the Pomegranate Pickled Garlic is probably my favorite, possibly because outside of Eastern European and Western Asian ethnic enclaves and such garlic-growing regions as the California’s Central Valley, we don’t enjoy pickled garlic as much as we could here in the US; but partly it is the use of the pomegranate juice as an alternative to vinegar as the pickling ground. A recipe follows:
2 large heads of garlic (about 60 cloves), peeled
3 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup of unsweetened pomegranate juice
¼ cup of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked or lightly crushed
3 hot, dried, red chili peppers
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
Place the peeled garlic in a sterile glass jar and add the salt and sugar. Cover and shake to mix. Let stand on the counter for 1–2 hours, shaking every now and then to get the garlic to start to break down and give off its liquid.
Heat the pomegranate juice and the vinegar in a small saucepan to bring to a boil. Add the peppercorns, the sliced or torn chili peppers, and the dill to the garlic and then top off with the pomegranate juice and vinegar mixture. Cover and shake well. Store refrigerated for at least 1 month before eating.
I give the jars and shake at least once a week while they are developing to ensure that the pickling process is happening evenly. And what a joy at the end to have such flavorful, sweet, sour and slightly spicy pickles to enjoy with a hearty piece of lavash or shoti bread to soak up the juices and a bowl of soup or small plate of hinkali dumplings, these pickles help make a wonderful meal.
So, you have a favorite pickle or pickle recipe?
(Word by Laura Kelley; photo of Mixed Pickles by Olgalis at Dreamstime.com)
Last week I had the honor and the pleasure of attending a wine tasting at the Georgian Embassy in Washington, DC. Already a fan of Georgian wines – especially of the robust red Mukuzani and the full-bodied, white Tvishi – I attended the tasting to discern the differences between the wines from the featured vintners from Khaketi and the Teliani Valley.
Georgia has some of the oldest viticulture practices in the west, with a history going back thousands of years before the common era (BCE). The traditional method of fermenting grapes – in beeswax lined clay amphora buried in the ground – is still used by some of the vintners. One vineyard represented at the Embassy that still makes wine this way is Pheasant’s Tears, which brought its Saperavi and Rkatsiteli to the tasting. The traditional method produces wines that are thin by today’s standards, but wines that are intriguing none the less. The Rkatsiteli was a rich amber color and had hints of walnut with a citrus bite and the Saperavi also has a citrus bite, but is richer wine that I found more complex.
From vintners using modern production methods, I sampled an unfiltered Saperavi which was very good, and my favorite Mukuzani – which is a dry red produced from Saperavi grapes. The Teliani vineyard version of this wine that I sampled was fabulous. It had a complex aroma with hints of black pepper and oak, robust plum overtones with a strong, but not overpowering finish. It was the scene stealer for me – along with a delicious Bagrationi extra dry sparkling wine with overtones of quince and melon.
The wine was delicious, but the surprise of the evening for me was the delightful informality of the Georgians present from the Embassy staff and cultural association representatives to the visiting dignitaries and even the caterers. Everyone was friendly, interesting to talk to and eager to share their knowledge of Georgian food and wine with me. The event was more like being an invited guest at a `friend’s family dinner than any other Embassy event I have ever attended. The Georgians spoke to their Ambassador to the U.S. as if to an old friend and addressed him by his first name. The husband of the caterer, Maya of The Georgian Feast, even asked me if I wanted to take some of his wife’s delicious food home with me. Ingrained manners forced me to decline, even though I really wanted some more of her amazing spinach balls with pomegranate seeds. Still, I was charmed by the invitation.
The event was sponsored by the Georgian House of Greater Washington and the wines provided by the Georgian Wine House. The Embassy is leading an effort to educate wine-lovers in the U.S. about the delicious, wide-variety of Georgian wines. I encourage those interested to seek out the wines in your own areas or to order them and experiment with food pairings – hopefully with dishes cooked from The Silk Road Gourmet. (Words by Laura Kelley.)
In previous posts I’ve extolled the virtues of Arab traders in keeping the engine of global commerce and subsequent cultural exchange alive along the Silk Road. Although the Arabs were indeed an important part of trade along the Silk Road, many other nationalities and ethnicities were as well. There were Chinese, of course, Greeks, especially along the maritime trade routes, Europeans, and Jewish merchants situated in strategic outposts of both the land and the maritime Silk Road lines.
Dating back almost three millennia, the Jewish community in Iran is the oldest in Asia. Originating as enslaved subjects in ancient Babylon (now, Iraq), Jews first settled within the territory of modern-day Iran after the Persian emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BCE, freeing the Jewish slaves and making them an integral part of the Persian Empire. As Persian subjects, Jews traveled widely and did business in Persian dominated lands from Afghanistan, the Caucasus and Caspian through Central Asia.
In the Caucasus, the Jews traded with many of the displaced Turkic tribes that were wandering westward and southward, but they formed a special association with the Khazars. Evidence of great glassworks factories can be found in Orbeti, which dates to the 7th and 8th centuries. This factory were likely under Jewish control, because the designs of the glass produced in these factories and especially the shape and the coloration of the beads can be traced to Near-Eastern Jewish glass designs. Around this time the Khazar king “converted” to Judaism and by the 8th and the 9th Centuries, most Khazars followed Judaism as they continued west and south into the Danube basin.
The largest settlements of Persian Jews in Central Asia was to be found in Uzbekistan, and Jewish merchants worked the important hubs of commerce along the Central Asian Silk Road in places like Bukhara and Samarkand, helping to establish them as major trading posts.
Mediterranean Jews were great entrepreneurs who controlled a considerable part of the trade in that region and played an important role in developing the economies of those nations. In Alexandria, they monopolized shipping; in Syria they controlled many of the markets and as early as the first few centuries AD, they set up their own silk production industry based in Beirut. Other arts and crafts that were dominated by Jews in this region were textile dyeing and glassworks – with glass beads often being used to pay for incoming shipments of foreign goods.
Possibly as early as the first few centuries of the Common Era, large merchant settlements of Jews could be found along the Eastern Silk Road, reaching even into Kaifeng, China. Early trade documents in a unique form of Hebrew from the area dating from around 400 CE have been found in China that suggest the community was not only in existence, but thriving by that time. Remains of a great synagogue have also been found in Kaifeng and have been dated to the 11th and 12th Century CE.
So the mixing and blending of goods, foods and cultures in countries touched by the great Asian trade routes was accomplished by a wide variety of different types of people – most of whom were merchants – out to make a buck along the Silk Road. For thousands of years, Arabs, traded with Africans and Greeks and Jews, and Jews traded with Persians, Georgians, Uzbeks and Chinese, and Chinese traded with Indonesians and Thais and Sri Lankans and Arabs who traded with . . . As bloodlines merged, imported cultural practices became integrated into those held dearly for millennia and modern cuisines emerged from the crucible of history – all blended and formed along the Great Silk Road. (Words by Laura Kelley)