June 24, 2010

To the Friendship of Russia and Georgia: White Bean Salad with Georgian Cilantro Sauce

The other day I read about a breakthrough concept of a US takeout restaurant called "The Conflict Kitchen" serving food from the countries that have rather controversial relationship history with the US and include Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea (and the list goes on). The owners of the place have decided to create bridges between the people of the nations that have been aliened by the politics and went as far as holding simultaneous communal lunches in Pittsburgh and Tehran via a web-cam. This made me think that being Russian I would have to cook Georgian food till the end of time to restore once brotherly warm relationships between Russian and Georgia.

White Bean Salad with Georgian Cilantro Sauce
Here comes my exercise in the multiculturalism and friendship of nations: adopted from the NY Times recipe of Georgian cilantro sauce cooked with Ukrainian-grown ingredients by a Russian woman. Maybe I should also add that I took some cooking tips from a Moroccan man living in Turkey. Georgia, see how much international forces are here to make us brothers again! To your health and our friendship! And I could not resist a temptation to share a Georgian toast here as the Georgians being world champions in hospitality are famous for their endless meals accompanies by toasting to all the good things! Here you go:

In the old times a ship got wretched in the storm. Only one person could survive as he grabbed a floating wooden log and stayed afloat. In half an hour out of the blue another survivor surfaced and grabbed the other end of the floating log. The first one started crying and the second survivor asked, "Why are you crying?". The first one replied, "Wah! What a guest! And I don't have anything to treat you to!" So let's toast to the hosts who always know how to treat even the most unexpected guests!

I must say that with a bit of this Georgian cilantro sauce in your fridge you are always ready to make gourmet treats for your guests by coupling the sauce with very simple ingredients. To your health and hospitality!

White Bean Salad with Georgian Cilantro Sauce Recipe (adopted from NY Times)

Delicate taste of the white beans is well accentuated by the very fresh and sophisticated flavor of the sauce and pungent tang of feta cheese

Ingredients

For the salad (for 2 servings):
100 g (220 pounds) dry white beans (Great Northern, Navi or Cannellini)
1 small red onion
2 garlic cloves
100 g (220 pounds) feta cheese or cottage cheese, crumbled
Salt to taste
4 tbsp Georgian cilantro sauce
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

For Georgian cilantro sauce (yields about 200 ml; can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 1 week):
90 g (3 oz) dried apricots
2 garlic cloves
90 g (3 oz) shelled walnuts
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (or replace with orange juice)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne
6 tbsp cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp dill, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp scallions, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp walnut oil (or more, to taste)
40 ml soaking water from the apricots, as needed

Method

White Beans1. Soak the beans: Here is the theory of the bean soaking. Although it takes some planning soaking helps significantly reduce the cooking time as the dry beans start rehydrating. Soaking is best done overnight and takes from 6 to 12 hours, make sure not to overdo it as if you soak the beans for over 12 hours they may lose their texture and flavor. Start with sorting the dry beans and remove any pieces of little rocks or dirt, beans with holes or cavities, hollow or wrinkled beans. Then transfer the beans to a deep bowl and add enough water as the beans will double in size while soaking – having about 3 sm (1 inch) of water over the beans would be a good rule of thumb to follow. The water should be room temperature: hot water may cause the beans to sour and cold water slows rehydration and the beans will take longer to cook. You may also consider adding just a pinch of baking soda to the soaking beans as it helps to avoid discomforts of the gas, or flatulence, sometimes caused by eating beans.

2. Cook the beans: Transfer the beans with the soaking water into a bowl, add some water, bring to boil and let simmer for 20 minute, skimming off any form. Then discard the bean water and add fresh cold water. Add onion and garlic in muslin or just halved – you need them for flavor but the chopped boiled onions and garlic are not great neither for presentation nor taste. Bring to boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes till the beans are tender. Drain and keep the liquid. As I have picked Great Northern beans they take 1-1.5 hours to cook and so do Cannellini; Navy beans take up from one and a half to two hours.

Ingredients for Georgian Cilantro Sauce3. Make the sauce: I know it is not sexy but you need to start with the soaking again – the results are truly awarding though. Soak the dried apricots in the boiling water for at least an hour or ideally, overnight. Drain and retain the soaking water. In the food processor or blender mix the ingredients in the following order: garlic, then walnuts, then drained apricots, the lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne, then the cilantro and other chopped herbs. After mixing in each new bunch of ingredients stop the machine to scrape down the sides. Eventually, combine the walnut oil and soaking water from the apricots, and with the machine running, gradually add it to the puree. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and allow resting at room temperature for a couple of hours before serving. Taste and adjust salt. The cilantro sauce will keep for up to a week in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

4. Mix the salad: Toss the beans with the cilantro sauce and allow to cool to room temperature, if not done before. If you wish, moisten with some of the bean liquid. Add crumbled feta cheese or cottage cheese and sprinkle with cilantro. Well, after all our labors you've really deserved this treat to be enjoyed and shared!

Georgian Cilantro Sauce

2 Responses to To the Friendship of Russia and Georgia: White Bean Salad with Georgian Cilantro Sauce:

Dawn said...

That a gorgeous post. I was just going to do something similar with pasta and beans but I love the alternative of some feta instead! (you can't go wrong with all these amazing fresh ingredients and some feta. Perfection!)

Olga Tikhonova said...

Thanks a lot, Dawn! Feta indeed gives this pungent tang which works so well with the herbs and brighten up any bean or pasta dish

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