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In the three quick weeks since my last post, I went to Poland, came down with a cold, came back from Poland, sent the S.O. off for a week of comedy festivals in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, got over my cold, hosted my parents for a weekend, and finally got the S.O. back.  This weekend, I host a colleague (and very good friend).  So those are my excuses for neglecting my kitchen.

But I was inspired — a lot — in Poland.  On my last night in Warsaw, I finally felt well enough to venture beyond my hotel lobby for a bite to eat.  Having not had a proper meal in about a day and a half, I wanted nothing more than to stuff my face with kielbasa and pierogi, preferably cooked in lots of butter.  But I knew my immune system would mutiny if I fed it that crap.  So I passed up several Polish restaurants before finding an adorable Georgian restaurant — highly recommended to anyone heading to Warsaw — and it turned out to be the best thing for my cold.

I fell in love with phkali, vegan spinach-walnut dumplings.  Now, I’m an unapologetic carnivore.  I also think food ought to be piping hot and contain cheese in order to be considered “comfort food”.  But these little dumplings, served cold, were surprisingly comforting and felt like a bear hug to my tummy.  I couldn’t wait to come home to replicate them.  Adapting a few recipes I found, I made this lovely version in which the walnuts and fenugreek really punch through, and the spinach keeps the recipe bright and clean.  I serve phkali on butter lettuce leaves, to be eaten like a taco, but leftover phkali also makes a wonderful dip for carrot sticks or crackers.

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Phkali Georgian Spinach-Walnut Dumplings

Serves 2-3 people as an appetizer

  • 1/2 lb. baby spinach
  • 3/4 C. walnuts
  • 1/4 C. roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 C. roughly chopped parsley
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. saffron threads *
  • juice of half a lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • Handful pomegranate seeds (garnish)
  • Few parsley leaves (garnish)
  • Butter lettuce leaves (for serving)
  1. Boil spinach in salted water for about a minute, or until gently wilted without losing color.  Immediately remove from boiling water and immerse in cold water to stop cooking.  Drain, then squeeze out as much excess water as possible (this is important — the drier you can get the spinach, the better the phkali will form together in the end).
  2. Toast the fenugreek seeds in a dry, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.  Once the aromas begin to release, remove from heat and let cool.  Grind seeds to powder in spice grinder.
  3. Combine all ingredients on the list (except the last three items noted as garnishes or for serving) in a food processor.  Process on low until well-incorporated and very finely-minced.
  4. Shape the mixture into golf-ball-sized ellipsoids.  Serve phkali on lettuce leaves garnished with parsley and pomegranate seeds.

* The traditional Georgian method uses dried marigolds (yes, the flower).  But saffron is easier to find (though certainly not cheaper!) and imparts the same citrusy, floral flavor.

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