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  • Rohan Kamicheril

BADRIJANI NIGVZIT | GEORGIAN EGGPLANT STUFFED WITH WALNUTS AND HERBS


This dish holds a very special—and specific—place in my heart. Most of the foods that have some sentimental importance to me are the ones I grew up with—the ones that remind me of home or of my childhood.


But badrijani nigvzit, a Georgian dish of little rolls of fried slices of eggplant stuffed with herbs, walnuts, and spices, is something I was introduced to only as an adult, far away from home (and, to be honest, quite far away from Georgia) under circumstances that felt complicated at best.


I first had eggplant cooked this way at a wonderful little Georgian restaurant in Yaroslavl’, in Russia, when I lived there in college twenty years ago. It was hard being so far away from home, and though I came to love Russian food, I missed the fresh herbs, spices, and vegetables of India. And while there wasn’t a good Indian restaurant in Yaroslavl’ at the time (at least that I was aware of), there was this little Georgian gem, tucked away in a little alleyway just behind the university, down a narrow stairway, lined with dark wood and stone, and always filled with the aromas of grilling meats and freshly baked khachapuri.


I couldn’t tell you the number of dishes that I ate here for the first time—each visit (admittedly rare on my meager student budget) was an opportunity to try some new delicacy. And though I loved them all, the one that has stayed with me most vividly was their badrijani nigvzit. Tender, slick with oil, lush and fragrant with their herb-and-walnut stuffing; twenty years later I can still remember the thrilling sensation of biting into one of these exquisite morsels even as the rest of my body was still thawing from the cold outside.


Fair warning to cooks: I’ve cobbled my version of badrijani nigvzit together over the years from a number of different recipes and then tweaked them to approximate the version I first fell in love with. It may not be the most authentic rendition that exists out there, but it always fills me with delight and very special memories; I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. It’s phenomenal in summer, when eggplants are at their best, but it has a particular and wonderful magic in winter, as well. Serve it as part of a spread of appetizers for a group of people you love.


 

BADRIJANI NIGVZIT

Serves 4–5 as an appetizer


INGREDIENTS

4 long purple eggplants (often sold as Asian or Japanese eggplants in the US)

½ cup toasted walnuts

½ cup finely chopped cilantro

2 cloves garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tsp khmeli suneli

4 tbsp pomegranate molasses

2 tbsp olive oil for the filling

Olive oil for frying


PREPARATION

Cut the stems off the tops of the eggplants.


Depending on the length of your eggplants, either cut them in half crosswise, or leave them whole. If they’re too long they’ll be tricky to fit in your frying pan, but if they’re too short you won’t be able to roll them up later. I generally try to arrive at halves (or whole eggplants) that are between six and eight inches in length.


Next, cut the eggplants lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.


Heat ¼ inch of olive oil in a large frying pan till it begins to shimmer.


Gently add the slices of eggplant to the oil, fitting in as many as possible without letting them overlap.


Cook till they are a light golden brown and then turn them over with tongs to let them brown on the other side. You may need to add more oil to the pan when you turn the slices over; the eggplant will consume a great deal of oil during cooking.


As the slices cook, place them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Lightly salt them and set them aside while you prepare the filling.


Place the garlic, walnuts, and cilantro in the work bowl of a food processor. Process till the mixture is finely ground and just beginning to clump together. You want it to cohere but not be a paste.


Scrape the mixture into a bowl and season with salt, pepper, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, khmeli suneli, and stir well to combine. The mixture should taste well-seasoned, tangy, and just slightly sweet. If it is too thick to spread easily, add a little more olive oil and mix again to combine.


Prepare the badrijani nigvzit by taking the slices of eggplant one at a time and laying them out on a clean work surface or plate. Use a small spoon to place a heaping teaspoon at one end of the strip and then gently smear it along the length of the slice of eggplant.


Roll up the eggplant along its length into a compact but not-too-tight spiral.


Repeat with all the eggplant. Leave aside at room temperature for at least an hour before eating.


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