Life has been a whirlwind recently. Aside from writing a book, doing my normal job and studying, I thought it would be a great idea to move house. Totally sensible.
Of course, I had flu at the same time as packing up the entirety of my belongings and shifting them from one place to another, which then evolved into suspected malaria (I’d been to Ethiopia). I haven’t told my mum that yet so when she reads this she’ll kill me. Anyway mum it turned out I don’t have it, because some things are actually, sometimes, genuinely, too dramatic to happen to me.
The point is that I’ve moved to Camberwell. I have betrayed Peckham. Well, sort of. If I walk about ten paces to the left then I am still actually in Peckham so I’ve decided I now live on the Peckham/Camberwell borders/badlands and I am entitled to enjoy the best of both worlds. There are several awesome things about the new world however. The first is that I am spitting distance from Silk Road and F M Mangal. Dangerous. The second is that I have discovered the Turkish Food Centre on Camberwell New Road where I basically just went mental, flinging money about and grabbing stuff off the shelves like a crazed, food-shopping-starved dervish which, essentially, I have been. I bought lots of things to go with spinach, which I’ve been obsessing about. I think it’s part of needing to get some vitamins in. Not being settled in one place can really balls up your eating, by which I mean there’s been a lot of eating out, buying crap or just not being organised or happy enough to even consider making anything like a decent packed lunch.
So, the spinach. As you will know (because I keep banging on about it), I went to Georgia and properly fell in love with the country and the food. I’ve therefore been thinking about making these little spinach and walnut balls, called pkhali, for yonks. This month’s issue of Saveur had a 4 or 5 page spread on Georgia (all of a sudden the food is getting attention) and they had a recipe so I gave it a whirl.
I have to say, it tasted pretty authentic, although there are a couple of amendments which I’d say are pretty crucial to consider. Firstly, they advise puréeing the spinach which I’d strongly suggest you don’t do. All the pkhali I ate in Georgia had a very satisfying coarse texture. I’d also say it is essential to let the mixture rest overnight in the fridge. Other than that, the recipe is pretty spot on. The final result is a lovely punchy vegetable spread, with a richness from the ground walnuts and plenty of flavour from the herbs, coriander and tarragon (very Georgian) and the ground fenugreek.
You can make pkhali with any vegetables really, and the Georgians also commonly use beets, which make a lovely colour contrast against the spinach if you’re planning your own supra.
This mixture improves the longer you leave it in the fridge and I’d say it will keep for up to a week.
Georgian Spinach Pkhali (adapted from Saveur)
600g spinach (the proper, big ballsy stuff; I’m done with baby spinach)
180g shelled walnuts
1 generous handful coriander leaves
1 generous handful tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek (I crushed the seeds in a pestle and mortar)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 spring onions
1 heaped teaspoon chilli flakes (I used Turkish)
1 pomegranate, for garnish
Chop the stalks off the spinach and then wash the leaves really well. Chuck it into a large pan while it is still wet, put a lid on and set it over a low heat. Let it slowly wilt down, stirring every now and then, until it is all wilted. Allow it to cool completely (the easiest way to do this is to spread it out on a plate). When cool, squeeze out as much water from the spinach as possible. You will be amazed at the amount of water that has come out and by how much the spinach is now reduced in size. I went from a pile of spinach that covered this whole board to this ball you see below…
Pound the walnuts in a pestle and mortar until they are more or less all crushed to a powder (a few chunks here and there are fine). Mix the walnuts with the spinach and all the other ingredients, plus plenty of salt (more than you think necessary) and pepper.
Mix really well, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball and make a small indent in the top of each one with your fingertip. Place a pomegranate seed in each. Serve with bread or toast for spreading. Ideally khachapuri.