“I express emotion through color,” chef Davit Narimanishvili said, as my fork hovered over a trio of perfectly spherical amber, green and purple entrees that were almost too exquisite to eat.
This is Georgian-born Narimanishvili’s reworked version of his homeland’s beloved vegetarian dish: pkhali (the “kh” is pronounced like a deep, guttural “h”). Held with a seasoned nut paste known as bazhe, molded balls are usually made with vegetables like eggplant and Swiss chard. But in the spirit of Georgian ingenuity, everything from unused celery leaves to wilted parsley ends up in pkhali, making it the perfect leftover dish.
A culinary chameleon, pkhali can be slathered on toast as a vegan pâté, served mezze-style as a savory dip, or spooned – along with other cold finger foods – into a special sharing bowl called gobi. Above all, pkhali is a mainstay of the supra: a structured dinner that celebrates the boundless hospitality and melting-pot cuisine of Georgians. The South Caucasian nation has endured its share of invasions, so it’s no surprise to find Mongolian, Mediterranean and Persian flavors infusing its dishes.
“There’s no supra without pkhali,” Narimanishvili told me from the kitchen of his swanky riverside restaurant. Opened last August, Kevri (s8, Khashuri-Akhaltsikhe-Vale St) is a two-hour drive west of the capital Tbilisi, in the village of Tashiskari, best known for being the site of a 24-hour skirmish. hours between Georgians and Turks in 1609.
Narimanishvili revealed how he extracts the earthy flavors from pkhali by smoking pumpkin over an outdoor fire and cooking beets in salt. Equal parts creamy, spicy and aromatic, the delicately textured balls are an explosion of taste.