Georgian Eggplant-Walnut Rolls
Vegan, gluten-free, kosher for Passover – the only thing these rolls aren’t is nut-free (or low-fat, ha). But they are delicious, and everyone, even people who hate eggplant, will love you for them. The following is an approximate recipe for how I make them. I picked up techniques and ingredients from a bunch of places, so these are a little more complex than most versions. If you are interested, there are many other versions online, both in English and Russian. There’s also an Armenian version – which apparently includes dairy – that I’ve never looked into.
- Walnuts (I use about 2-3 cups, ideally on the higher side of that)
- An onion
- Some garlic to taste (I use 3-5 cloves)
- Oil for frying
- Fresh herbs: definitely cilantro, optionally also flat-leaf parsley, chives
- Spices: Use a variety, including paprika, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, maybe a little turmeric. Fenugreek, summer savory and marigold are great if you have them; if not, some nice fresh curry powder actually makes a good substitute. If you’ve been to Georgia recently (which you probably have if you have summer savory or marigold on you), whatever spice blend you have from there is good to add too – particularly the yellow one.
- Fruity/sour component: I’ve used lemon juice, red wine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, and (in a pinch) Thai tamarind paste. Pomegranate molasses is my preference, if you have it. If you don’t have it, check at Middle Eastern or Persian grocers in your area.
- Eggplants – I like the smaller, somewhat thinner ones best because they make the best-shaped wrappers. (But not Chinese or Thai varieties, which are too thin and too small, respectively.) But really, whatever you can get is probably fine. The eggplant is just a vehicle.
- A food processor or other way of turning the filling to paste.
A note about quantities: I have never successfully made this and had the right ratio of filling to eggplant. You generally need fewer eggplants than you think, is all I can say – often I buy 3 and find that after slicing 2 I have enough for, like, 30 rolls and am going to be out of filling before that. Also, having extra filling is great because it’s outrageously delicious. So maybe buy 2 eggplants.
Okay so: toast your walnuts in a dry pan. Set them aside. Fry up your onion in a little oil to a nice golden color – don’t worry too much about whether it’s sliced or diced or chopped, since you’ll be food processing it later anyway. Either add the garlic, chopped, to the pan at the end of this step (this is what I do) OR leave the garlic raw. I think that is more traditional, but I’ve never made it that way because raw garlic, gross. If you’re using curry powder you can add that to the pan at this point, too, as parts of it are oil-soluble. Remove from heat and add all the other spices.
Put the onion-garlic-spices into the bowl with the walnuts. Drizzle over some of the sour component, maybe 3 tablespoons. Throw on the herbs, roughly chopped. Don’t be afraid to use a couple handfuls of herbs. Put in some salt – don’t go crazy, but definitely don’t skimp. Now, food process it. You’ll get a sort of meal at first – once you get that, add a few tablespoons of water. That should help the mixture turn a sort of weird light gray color and become more paste-like. Lightly chunky, cohesive, not crumbly but definitely not sopping wet – that’s what we’re going for. Like a spread. Once you get there, taste it and adjust the salt and sour if you need to. Don’t be afraid to make it bold – remember, people are eating 1-2 bites of this at once, so assertive and super flavorful is good. Try not to eat the whole batch while tasting.
So next, put all that in the fridge, well covered. Weirdly, it doesn’t handle being unrefrigerated that well. It goes kind of limp and the top gets dried out. I don’t have empirical data to back this up, but I believe letting it sit in the fridge for a while so the flavors can marry makes it better. So this could be a two-day recipe if you want.
While that’s in the fridge, make the eggplant. Slice it lengthwise as thin as you can – if using a mandoline slicer, the 3/16” setting is recommended. Here I must admit I have not decided what works best. I’ve tried brushing the slices with oil and baking them, which leads to a less heavy, greasy wrapper but sometimes involves stickage and ruined eggplant and also tends to make the skin brittle and hard to roll up. I usually just pan-fry, which is fine but uses many paper towels (you’ll want to put the slices on paper towels to absorb the grease). Sometimes I salt beforehand to make the slices absorb less oil, and sometimes I don’t. Frankly, I haven’t noticed much difference in oil absorption either way, and I prefer unsalted, to up the flavor contrast between the eggplant and the filling. Anyway, bottom line, no one will complain about the eggplant no matter what you do to it. So cook up a bunch of slices, done but not crispy, and let it cool.
After that, take the filling out of the fridge, use spoons to place portions of it on the eggplant slices, and roll or fold up the eggplant end-over-end. Arrange nicely on a serving plate, garnish with pomegranate seeds if you want to be real fancy, and prepare for everyone to love you.