Tart and spicy, tkemali is used on most grilled meats and fish and just about everywhere in Georgia (the republic, not the state), much as Americans use ketchup. So says Darra Goldstein in her book, The Georgian Feast. It is a sauce made of sour plums, called tkemalis, not generally available elsewhere. And it is an important addition to Tabaka (grilled, flattened baby chickens) and Lobio Tkemali (a red bean dish), both of which I'd hoped to try. So I thought I'd make some. I had in mind brushing this stuff on some grilling lamb kebabs or the like, too.
Both Darra Goldstein and cookbook author Anya von Bremzen suggest the substitution of other kinds of unripe plums for the unobtainable tkemalis. The Georgian Feast recipe calls for Santa Anna plums. Please to the Table, Anya von Bremzen's anthology of recipes from the former soviet republics, uses prune plums instead. Otherwise, the recipes are very similar. I tried a sort of combination of the two.
The plums I bought were called "Red Plums." An honest name. Smaller than a Santa Anna, larger than an Italian type prune plum, they were, at least, red-which is apparently the color of the original. They were also my sole available choice, and gratifyingly unripe and rock-like. I was probably the only Iggle shopper to appreciate this feature. One recipe calls for the addition of lemon juice, for sourness, but after a taste of these guys, I knew none was needed. Who knew there was a use for unlocal, out of season, hard as a rock, unripe fruit?
If your plums are not very sour, you will want to add a bit of the lemon. Two days after I made this, the two leftover plums had ripened slightly, and were even slightly sweet. And, of course, it is not every supermarket which can be counted on to offer such thoroughly inedible fresh fruit.
Tkemali keeps unsealed and refrigerated for several weeks, and the recipes , with pretty much the same quantities of ingredients, are said to make either 2 or 3 cups of sauce. I decided to make a small amount to try soon, and to seal whatever was left for later. With this in mind, I sterilized 3 half-pint ball jars. I wound up with 2 full jars-sealed, and one half jar in the fridge. I thought I'd let the fridge jar sit for a few days for the flavors to meld, and try a bit with the beans or a little hen this weekend. My finger-licking of the scraped pot told me that this is definitely sour enough. Seriously puckery.
And isn't this a pretty, red stained glass condiment? This is what you need to make it :
plums, very unripe 1 1/2 lbs
water 1/4 cup
whole coriander seeds 3/4 tsp
fennel seed 1 tsp
garlic cloves peeled and chopped 2
salt 1/2 tsp
fresh mint minced 1 tbsp
fresh cilanto minced 1/3 cup
Sterilize 3 one cup ball jars. Cut the plums in half, cut out the seeds and put in a heavy pot with the water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook til soft- about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, grind everything but the green herbs in a mortar, to a paste.
Put the plums through a chinois or food mill and return puree to pot. Bring back to boil, add spice paste, and cook about 5 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the herbs. Pour hot into sterilized jars, and seal, if desired. Otherwise, store in fridge.
The little plate to the right is lobio tkemali-red beans and plum sauce. It is made with a half pound of soaked dried red beans, cooked until very tender in salted water, and mashed with 1/3 cup of the plum sauce, while still warm. You correct the salt, add a bit of pepper, and top with chopped cilantro. I am liking this very much on some toasted pitas. This can also be made leaving the beans whole. you mix with the plum sauce, garnish with cilantro and raw onion rings, and serve it cold.
Tkemali is a really distinctive taste, and I wasn't sure what I thought of it when I tried it plain...it's very sour. And I say this as a lover of sour things to eat. It is delicious in the bean dish, though...I am looking forward to trying it with something grilled, juicy and crisp.* Have I mentioned often enough how I love plums? Stay tuned for more plummy developments.
*addendum-It was very nice with marinated lamb grilled on skewers, rice, and a salad of parsley and raw onions.