Recipe

Charkhali

by Olia Hercules

A tart and earthy Georgian side dish of marinated beetroot

The combination of beets and plums was such a revelation to me that I immediately set about creating different versions of the authentic Georgian way of marinating beetroot in the tart plum sauce called tkemali. I couldn’t choose which was the best, so I am giving two versions of the salad: the traditional approach and a roasted version for when plums are readily available, but you can’t be bothered to make the sauce. The roasted version will give you a taste similar to the original with the added pleasure of biting into caramelised plums and bitter leaves that contribute texture and a welcome savouriness. 

Ingredients

2kg beetroot, scrubbed really well
1 tbsp sea salt flakes

For the tkernali:
1.5kg yellow and red alycha plums (or greengages or ordinary plums)
½ tbsp ground ombalo (or dried mint)
½ tbsp dill seeds (or ½ tsp fennel seeds)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground blue fenugreek
5 garlic cloves, grated
½ tsp cayenne pepper

Equipment:
4 x 300ml sterilised preserving jars

Method

Bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a saucepan, add the unpeeled beetroot and season with the salt. Cook for about 30–40 mins, until the beetroot is easily pierced with a knife but still al dente.

To make the tkemali, put your plums whole into a saucepan. Add a splash of water and let them come up to the boil. Cook for about 10 mins, until they become soft and separate easily from their stones.

Leave the plums until cool enough to handle, then remove the skins and stones. If a little bit of skin remains, it’s not a big deal.

Mix the plum flesh with the rest of the ingredients, season to taste and cook for a further 2 mins.

While the sauce is still hot, transfer it to the sterilised jars, seal the jars and immerse them in a deep saucepan of simmering water for a few mins, then store in a cool, dark place all winter or, if eating straight away, put in the refrigerator. Although I love this version, sometimes the sauce turns out just too astringent (which it’s supposed to be authentic), so I add 1 large tbsp molasses sugar or black treacle and cook it down for a further 10 mins, rather than 2 mins. This is a version that has more body to it and is a little deeper in flavour—more like chutney.

Drain the beets and leave until cool enough to handle, then peel and cut them into wedges. Pop the beetroot into a bowl, pour over 500g tkemali and leave to marinate overnight in the refrigerator before serving.

If you are short of time, you don’t have to marinate it overnight—you can serve with the tkemali immediately. It’s brilliant, though, because if you have any left over, you can store it in the refrigerator and it will start to pickle. It should keep for up to 1 week if fully covered by the sauce. Serve with a slick of date molasses or honey if it seems too tart.

ALTERNATIVE: Try roasting the same quantity of peeled beetroot wedges in a roasting tray in a preheated oven at 180C for about 30–40 mins until soft and starting to caramelise at the edges. Add the tkemali, covering the beets with it, and roast for a further 5–10 mins. Then serve with a handful of chopped coriander and some thinly sliced spring onions.

Recipe: Olia Hercules
Image: Elena Heatherwick

From Kaukasis: The Cookbook by Olia Hercules