In the first of the 2013 Vegetarian and Gluten-free Christmas series, I bring you: Georgian eggplant rolls with walnut-garlic filling! The best part? They are not only incredibly delicious, but also 100 percent vegan!
Gamardschoba! (That’s “Good Day” in Georgian)
My husband and I attended a wedding in late September in my hometown, Frankfurt am Main. Knowing that eating would be a bit of an issue, I called the bride and agreed with her that I would speak with the caterer concerning a gluten-free, vegetarian meal. This endeavour was less than successful. When I first called, the person on the phone said the boss was out and that I should call back some other time. I think he assumed I was calling about a catering job when she passed on the message, because he called me back not even two minutes later and seemed a bit disappointed at my question. He proceeded to list all meat dishes that would be served at the event, following each bit of information with the comment that this was not something I would be able to eat. Yeah. I KNOW. I mean this was after I had offered to order an own meal and to pay for it separately. Anyway, so in a very annoyed voice he suggested I call him back in half an hour when he would have the order in front of him. When I called back exactly half an hour later, the boss had already gone home for his lunch break. Since I had been glutenized by mistake just weeks earlier and become a lot less willingt to eat out at restaurants that do not explicitly offer a gluten-free option on their menu, I decided to find an alternative source for a meal. I was also scared that if I annoyed the caterer too much he would end up spitting into everyone else`s food at the event, so I dropped it.
I checked with the restaurant lists on the online forums for celiacs, and ended up ordering a menu from Wondergood, a vegan restaurant in Preungesheim. If you are ever in Frankfurt and want to eat a great meal, I totally suggest you check them out. Their menu varies weekly, and I think the owners are from somewhere in Eastern Europe, adding a great new twist to their culinary palate. Since eating their food, I have been a regular visitor to their website, it always looks too good to be true!
The day of the wedding came and once we were seated and the pre-dinner celebrations were taking place, my husband left to pick up my meal. He got lost on the way back and took forever to find his way back, so when he returned the couple sitting across from us said that if I had not yet married him, they would have suggested that I agree to marry him now, it was really cute. He brought back: eggplant rolls with a walnut-garlic filling with a side salad (so very fresh and crispy!), rice tagliatelle in a coconut-mushroom sauce (a bit of a mess to eat, but so full of flavour) and two types of creme brulé (coffee and vanilla – how can you go wrong?). The food was absolutely amazing, each dish deserving its own praise. I ended up saving my husband one of the eggplant rolls, he just had to try this little miracle! They were garlicy, soft and lush, dripping with juices and full of herby flavours.
When we slowly made our way back to Cologne near midnight, my husband joked that I should call Wondergood and order another twenty eggplant rolls to go, they were that good. Back in Cologne, I set out to recreate for this wondrous vegan specialty. Turns out they were a Georgian dish, named Badrijani Nigzvit, often garnished with pomengranate seeds. I soon was able to replicate the truly enlightening experience I had whilst eating them at the wedding. Yes, they are loaded with calories, but they are also full of flavour and they make a great appetizer or special contribution to a potluck. I hope that I can discover more Georgian delicacies in the time to come. There must be more where these babies came from!
For the eggplant slices:
1 eggplant (firm and fresh)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt, pepper, parsley to taste
Ingredients for the walnut-garlic filling:
1 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon parsley
2 cloves garlic
Salt, chilli powder (or flakes) and pepper to taste
water (or lime juice, if you are so inclined)
Wash the eggplants, cut off both ends, and cut them into thick slices (depending on the eggplant, there will be about eight). Heat up a pan all the way (if you have a grill-type pan, use this one, the eggplant slices will look much nicer with the characteristic brown lines), and place the eggplant slices into it. Spread salt, pepper, chopped garlic and parsley onto them and one drop of olive oil each onto every slice. Turn over the eggplant slices after a couple of minutes and add salt, pepper, parsley and the drop of olive oil to the upper slice and turn slices around again after another few minutes.
Be sure to avoid any tearing or rips in the eggplant slices. Remove eggplant slices when they are roasted golden and soft. The eggplants should lose a bit of their liquid and change to a darker colour overall, that is how you will know that they are done, they will also fill your kitchen will a fragrant smell. Place eggplant slices over each other on a plate or into a tupperware. The eggplant slices can be prepared up to three days ahead of time and will hold in a tightly closed container in a fridge.
Place the walnuts, the garlic cloves, the coriander and parsley leaves in your mixer, and pulse for a couple of seconds. If you have large chunks of walnut left, you can either decide to leave them this way or continue pulsing. I find the chunks add to the dish, but you may see this differently. Either remove the mixer knives or place walnut-garlic mixture into a bowl, add about a tablespoon of water and a tablespoon of olive oil and mix until you have a smooth paste.
Place one eggplant slice onto a clean surface, and put about one teaspoon (or more) onto the thick end of the eggplant slice. Form eggplant-garlic paste into a small tootsie-roll type shape, tuck the smaller end of the eggplant slice over the eggplant mass and continue until you have an eggplant roll. You can hold the eggplant rolls together by using a toothpick, but it is not really necessary. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices, using up all walnut-garlic mix.
ნახვამდის (That’s “Goodbye” in Georgian)