Whilst staying in Stepantsminda, near the Georgian-Russian border, we visited the family run Nao’s Guest House, both for dinner and to learn how to make – Georgian dumplings made of twisted knobs of dough, stuffed with meat, fish or vegetables – one of the country’s most important dishes.
Our table was laid with a feast: tomato and cucumber salad with walnut dressing; sliced Sulguni cheese; Ajapsandali, an eggplant stew rather like ratatouille; and shoti bread. Nao and her husband were beavering away in the open plan kitchen and more dishes followed: garlic mushrooms and succulent pork chunks with fried potatoes accompanied by adjika, a spicy tomato-based paste. The finale was what was becoming one of my favourite Georgian dishes, khacapuri, a cheesey bread, but this version had the addition of nettles. Unusually for Georgia, this was a wine-less meal, and we enjoyed a delicious cherry compote, water infused with sugar and the fruit which had been picked from Nao’s garden.
Having stuffed ourselves, we then had a hands-on khinkali making session where we were shown how to thinly roll the dough and pleat it around the meat filling before teasing out a little stem. Nao explained the difference between town khinkali and mountain khinkali – the latter are smaller, often made with lamb, rather than beef, and use mountain herbs.
Whilst I thought I’d mastered the technique, when photographs were taken of the finished dumplings, you could clearly tell which I’d made. We were then shown a different style, resembling a Cornish pasty but with an elegant, pleated seal which I struggled to get neat.
The dumplings were then boiled for 15 minutes. Although we’d already been shown how to eat the dumplings by hand in Tbilisi – hold it by the stem, take a small bite from the side and suck and slurp out the hot broth before chewing into the filling – we still didn’t quite manage the knack and ended up with messy chins.
The meal then finished with a bowl of fresh apricots which we struggled to do justice to, but Nao insisted we take with us.