Chocolate Khinkali: Italian Chef’s extraordinary version of Georgian dumpling
03 March, 2017
Georgian cuisine, known for its hearty dishes and unique spicy flavors, has gone beyond Georgia's borders and captivated the hearts of many food enthusiasts around the world. Enzo Neri, a celebrated Italian chef based in New York, is one of these enthusiasts. The charismatic chef visited Georgia in 2015 and was fascinated by its landscape and organic products, organized a gourmet dinner at Chateau Mere in Telavi region and prepared exquisite Italian dishes using local ingredients. This time, inspired by
Georgian culture and cuisine, Neri came up with yet another experiment and breathed new life into distinguished Georgian dishes such as Khinkali (meat dumpling) and Chakapuli (lamb stew with tarragon and sour plum sauce). To our surprise, Enzo Neri transformed traditional dumplings into an elegant chocolate dessert with ricotta cheese filling while he presented tender Chakapuli on a spit, in an extraordinary way and with a modern twist.
Enzo Neri, who was raised in the Umbria region in the heart of Italy, has brought Italian flavor to many countries in a creative way. Currently, he leads Mela Restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and serves his customers with authentic Italian food. The chef has many years’ experience under his belt in this field and has been spotlighted by many famous TV channels such as FoodNetwork and ToniOn NYC. Even though Enzo has opened and worked in a number of prestigious restaurants around the world, he still dreams that one day he will have a chance to lead an authentic Italian restaurant in Georgia as well.
How would you describe Georgian cuisine? Why did you decide to prepare Georgian dishes in this particular style?

Georgian food is very clean, very traditional, healthy, organic, and purely biological. I remember going to the local markets where products and cheeses looked rustic and authentic- untouched by time. I always say that there are no real borders in cuisines in different parts of the world; in ancient times explorers brought home ingredients and different traditions that would influence the local culinary aspect. I found many similitudes in Georgian food to Italian cuisine. So I decided to try to make some traditional dishes putting an Italian and modern twist on it. Kinkhali are dumplings, similar to ravioli. Why not turn them into a dessert option adding cocoa and using a different filling, like the sicilian cannoli, with ricotta cheese, candied fruit and chocolate. Or Chakapuli, a spring light version of braised lamb served for Easter. We also, as Catholics, serve lamb for Easter and we have a dish named “alla scottadito” where the lamb is held on skewers. I wanted to reproduce it, so I wrapped the meat in caul fat, pan fried it and then slowly cooked it with a mix of herbs and tarragon. I fried the leeks instead, to give the crispiness back to the dish. Of course, I’m using the spices and the herbs that are part of the Georgian culinary traditions. I had to go to markets down in Brooklyn to find the sauce made using green plums grown in Georgia and I found a fantastic Tkemali to dress the dish. Funny enough, I have two Georgian guys working with me at the restaurant as waiters and when they saw the dishes they were actually wowed!

What were your impressions of Georgia?

From the high sense of the hospitality of the people that unites us, to the warm weather, the architecture, the narrow streets of the old town of Tbilisi, to the amazing food and wine – everything was unforgettable. Of course, my first visit was made unique thanks to George Piradashvili and his wife Nino who made me feel at home from the first second of my arrival. I never felt it was my first time- it was more like I hadn’t visited for a long time. The countryside was stunning. I spent a few days in the wine region of Kakheti between nature and old towns. I remember I found it difficult to stay sober, drinking chacha from the morning to wine through the day. In the end I will never forget all the journalists and the press around me for the culinary event; shooting in the market; the pretty editors and the excitement of being a celebrity for one day. Thanks to all.

What are your future plans? Will you be back in Georgia?

Definitely. I want to come again. I would love to visit the coast and other regions. I often dream of someone opening an Italian restaurant and offering me the chance to come and develop it, as I did in the past in other countries.

CHOCO Khinkali recipe from Enzo Neri:

Ingredients for 30 Khinkali:

Dough – 550 g of flour, 80 g cocoa powder, 1 egg, 350 ml of warm water;

Filling – 500 g ricotta cheese, 80 g powdered sugar, a tsp of raisins, 120 gr dark chocolate finely chopped, a tbs of candied orange, crumbled pistachios. Cooking – boiling water

Preparation: Put flour in a mixing bowl. Make a depression in the middle of the flour and add the egg and warm water.Mix the ingredients from the middle of the bowl until a dough is formed. Make a ball.Divide the dough into two pieces. Sprinkle a work surface and one of the balls of dough with flour and knead (very firmly) and fold the dough.Continue kneading and folding until the dough is very firm. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/3 of an inch thick.Cut out circles of about 2.5 inches in diameter with a drinking glass. Carefully remove the excess dough. Use a rolling pin to roll each circle into a thin 8-inch round. These rounds will be filled with a meat and spice mixture to make khinkali.
NOTE: Repeat the whole process of kneading, folding and cutting and rolling of rounds with the remaining ball of dough. You will then have enough rounds to make about 20 Khinkali.Preparation for the filling, blend the ricotta cheese, chocolate, sugar, and candied orange in a mixing bowl. To make the Khinkali, take one round of dough from your pile of rounds. Put 1 heaped tbs of the mixture in the center of the round. Use your thumbs and index fingers to make an accordion type fold all around the outside. It will become easier with practice! 19 folds are considered ideal. Roll the nubbin of the dumpling between your finger and thumb and pinch off extra dough. Put each Khinkali on a board or work surface that has been dusted with flour. Carefully place the dumplings into a deep pan of boiling salty water, about 6 at a time (depending on the size of your pan). Boil 3 to 4 minutes. If the dough has been made properly the dumplings will not burst. Serve the Khinkali on a plate, sprinkle crumbled pistachio over them and add a sprig of mint, top with candied orange peel and dust with icing sugar.

Chakapuli Italiana Recipe from Enzo Neri:

600g of lamb breast

200g of butter

400 ml of white wine

Tkemali sauce

1/2 bunch of tarragon

1/2 bunch of coriander

1/2 bunch of sorrel

1/2 bunch of watercress

1/2 bunch of parsley

1 bunch of leek

10 fingerling potatoes

6 rainbow carrots

Caul fat to wrap

Salt and pepper


Wash the meat, cut it into pieces and wrap in caul fat. Put it on a skewer and tie with string.Pan-fry in a hot pan with extra virgin olive oil and glaze with wine after you see the meat caramelized. Put the skewers into a cooking pot, covering them with chopped herbs and leeks (leave a few leeks to fry), potato and carrots. Season the mix with salt and pepper and pour the wine inside, lower the flame the moment it starts boiling. After the meat is done, remove from the pot and stir butter in, warm up the green plum sauce (tkemali) in a small pan. Serve the sauce on the plate, add the cooked mixed herbs, top with two skewers of lamb and finish with fried leeks on top. Garnish with the potato and carrots.
Author: Lika Chigladze

Source: Georgia Today

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