excerpted from The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia by Darra Goldstein
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A hallmark of Georgian cuisine is mkhali (or, colloquially, pkhali), a vegetable purée to which herbs and ground walnuts are added. Mkhali is made from any number of different vegetables, though spinach and beets are favored. Some of the most interesting versions call for radish and even cauliflower greens. Try experimenting with greens from the garden that might otherwise go to waste.
In making mkhali, you must rely on your palate, since the amount of vinegar necessary depends on the sugar content of each given vegetable. The purée should taste slightly sharp, but never vinegary.
Georgians insist that the real secret to a good mkhali is mixing it well by hand. Indeed, for the best flavor, experienced cooks prepare food whenever possible not just by hand, but with the hands. This careful mixing ensures that all ingredients are well incorporated and allows for perfect control of the texture. In deference to American style, my recipe calls for blending in the food processor. Should you have the time or inclination, however, by all means try mixing the mkhali by hand.
1 pound beets
1/2 cup walnuts
3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried summer savory
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Scrub the beets but do not peel. Bake until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (If you are short of time, the beets may be boiled, but their flavor will not be as good.) While the beets are cooking, grind together the walnuts, garlic, and salt. Add the cilantro and parsley and continue grinding to make a fine paste. Transfer to a bowl.
When the beets are soft, peel them and finely grate them in the food processor. In a medium bowl mix together the grated beets and the ground walnut mixture, then stir in the dried spices and pepper and vinegar to taste. Keep tasting, as the amount of vinegar needed will depend on the sweetness of the beets. The mkhali should be slightly tart.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but bring to room temperature before serving, mounded on a plate and crosshatched on top with a knife.