THE GEORGIANS who live in the small, mountainous, southern Caucasian region of Russia are noted for their independence, longevity, hospitality, native wine and good raw ingredients that they make into innovative dishes. They are devotees of vegetable oils nuts, whole grains, grilled lamb and chicken, herbs, greens, cheeses, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, especially a wide variety of beans.
Dining with a Georgian family is a pleasure as they spend hours at the table drinking wine, eating and talking. You learn from them that their traditions, including cookery, date back to early times when the country was in independent kingdom. Their way of living, even their language, is quite different from that of their neighbors, including the rest of Russia, and has changed little over the centuries.
The remote Georgians, however, must have had contact with America or persons who had visited the New World at an early date. Two of their staple foods have long been corn and the common field, garden or kidney bean, native to South America. Corn is eaten on the cob, as a vegetable, and to make porridge or mush and bread.
Beans of every description, color and kind, both fresh and dried, are not only relished by Georgians as basic fare but are used to make delectable dishes. Georgians boast that they are great bean eaters and never tire of them. At least one bean dish appears n the table for daily meals and is a must for a company dinner.
Georgians cooks combine beans with their other favorite foods, such as walnuts, both pounded into a paste and as an oil, fresh and dried herbs, onions, garlic, hot peppers, vegetable and flower oils, sour cream and pomegranates, among others. Beans are also cooked with other vegetables and eggs.
Fresh green beans in season are highly prized in Georgia. But Georgians are particularly fond of dishes starring red kidney beans, which are served hot or cold, as a part of an array of appetizers, or as an accompaniment to main dishes. They may be flavored with cranberries, or perhaps flower petals. A characteristic dish called lobio is well seasoned with pounded walnuts, garlic, hot peppers, onions, vinegar and fresh coriander, a favorite herbs. Another version calls for pomegranate juice and seeds.
Below are recipes for lobio and two other Georgian bean dishes. GEORGIAN BEANS WITH WALNUT SAUCE (4 servings) 1/2 cup shelled walnuts 1 clove garlic, crushed 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne 3 scallions, with some tops, cleaned and sliced 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 3 tablespoons minced fresh coriander or parsley Salt, pepper to taste 3 cups cooked or canned red kindey beans, drained
Pound walnuts in a mortar with a pestle or grind in a nut grinder. Combine with garlic, cayenne, scallions, vinegar, coriander or parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Thin with a little water, if desired. Add beans and toss to mix. Refrigerate and serve cold or heat and serve hot. GEORGIAN GREEN BEANS WITH SOUR CREAM (4 servings) 3 cups freshly cooked cut-up fresh or frozen green beans 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dillweed 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional) 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over low heat just long enough to blend flavors. GEORGIAN GREEN BEANPIE (4 servings) 1 pound fresh green beans, stemmed and shredded Salt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dillweed 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley Few grains nutmeg Salt, pepper to taste 4 eggs, lightly beaten Cook green beans in lightly salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain. Turn into a buttered shallow bakin dish. Add butter, dill or dillweed, parsley and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Toss and spread evenly. Pour eggs over green bean mixture, tipping dish to spread evenly. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven about 20 minutes, until eggs are set. Run a spatula around edges of dish and invert onto a warm plate or platter. Cut into wedges to serve.