Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans! May the sentiment of our holiday spread far and wide across the world. We need it.
I don’t have an entire holiday menu to share, but I do want to alert you to a little something for the pre-feasting. An eggplant appetizer, rich and smokey, garlicky, nutty, tart & sweet. It’s called badrijani nigvzit, and I’m addicted.
The first thing I ate in Azerbaijan was this incredible Georgian dish. My friend and colleague, Angela, picked me up at my hotel shortly after my arrival and took me to her apartment. It was a warm summer night with long-lasting light. She poured me a glass of wine and offered a tray of badrijani nigvzit from the little underground (literally) Georgian restaurant down the street. I’d never tasted such a thing: thin strips of eggplant grilled to smokey delight, wrapped around a filling of walnut garlic paste with herbs and spices (a pinch of fenugreek is key here), topped with fresh fruity pomegranate seeds bursting with flavor. Not to tell you what to do, but this would make a delightful seasonal dish for the holiday.
I made these rolls a few weeks ago, when our trees still had fruits — along with green leaves. No more. The winter months have arrived with cold and wind, and our yard is blanketed in leaves. (But we still have plenty of sunshine.)
This was my first attempt at making badrijani nigvzit, so I consulted several recipes to approximate the dish I remembered from Baku. The rolls turned out very garlicky, which I like, but you might want to reduce the garlic if you’re not so keen. Here goes:
Georgian Eggplant Rolls with Garlic-Walnut Paste & Pomegranate (badrijani nigvzit)
2 large globe eggplants (or 6-8 medium-sized long eggplants)*
2 cups walnut pieces
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
2 teaspoons ground coriander
pinch of ground turmeric
1/2 cup each packed cilantro and parsley leaves (optional)
dash of red chile powder to taste
seeds of 1 pomegranate
salt and pepper to taste
*I prefer the long eggplants, but I was unable to find a healthy variety on the day I shopped for eggplants, so I opted for fat globes. They worked well.
Wash the eggplants, cut off the ends and slice into thin strips with skin still on. If you’re using large globe eggplants, cut each in half lengthwise, then again. Each slice should be about 1/4 inch thick (too thick and they won’t roast properly). Sprinkle with salt and let sit for half an hour to draw out the moisture from the eggplants.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the eggplants, brush with oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast about 15-20 minutes, flip, coat with more oil if necessary and continue roasting until the strips are nicely browned, slightly crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside, but not burnt. Be careful: the skins can burn easily and the eggplant can dry out. This step can also be done on a grill.
Meanwhile, grind the walnuts in a food processor. You want a coarse grind, but not mush. Then add remaining ingredients except pomegranate seeds and purée. Some recipes also call for a teaspoon of ground marigold, but I didn’t have any. Add more water if necessary. You want a thick but spreadable paste that holds together.
Let the eggplant strips cool. Then spread a hearty tablespoon of walnut mixture onto each strip and roll snugly so each strip holds together with the paste inside. Place on a platter and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.