Sunday, October 6, 2013

Red beans with sour plum chutney -- Lobio Tkemali

Many (okay, three) devoted readers of this blog have noted that I have not posted in the past several months.  This is because our kitchen is being renovated.  I won't go into this here because it has been much of my life for the past three months and blogging is an escape from it all.  Needless to say, our home cooking has been limited and rather uninteresting.  However, I have made a few things which can be done without an stove, oven or much prep work, so I thought I would share them here.  One of my favorite is a Georgian red bean salad with a dressing of sour plum sauce called Lobio tkemali.  Although better with home-cooked beans, it can be made with canned beans as well.  The sauce can be made in a microwave. If you have the sauce on hand, it takes a few minutes to pull it all together.

Lobio tkemali


  • 1 large can small red beans (red kidney beans are an acceptable substitute, home-cooked beans a significant improvement
  • 1 cup tkemali sauce (about 1/2 of the recipe below)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped coriander
  • salt to taste


  1. Rinse the beans well to remove all of the gross liquid in the can. Drain well and put into a serving bowl.
  2. Mix in the tkemali sauce.
  3. Peel the onion and cut a few thin slices from the center for garnish.  Chop the rest fine.
  4. Mix the chopped onion and 1/4 cup of the coriander.
  5. Spread the remaining coriander on top of the beans, and garnish with onion rings.
  6. Serves 6 as a side dish or appetizer.

I give a double recipe for the plum sauce because it is almost as easy to make in a double as it is in a single recipe and it is very versatile.  It goes well with the George Foreman grilled boneless chicken breast or thigh with spice rubs that have been a mainstay of our kitchen-less diet as well as with shashlik and other kebabs properly cooked over charcoal.   It is the classic accompaniment to kachapuri, the Georgian cheese-stuffed bread.

Tkemali is the name of a Georgian sour plum and a sauce from which it is made.  The great Darra Goldstein recommends using slightly underripe Santa Rosa plums.  I don't know if I have ever even seen this variety, so I make the sauce with Italian prune plums, which are nice and tart and in season in September and October.  If you can 't find these plums, you can make it with empress or any other black plum,  underripe preferred.  Taste the sauce toward the end of cooking, and if it is sweet rather than sour, add some balsamic vinegar or tamarind paste,  bit at a time, until it is nice and sour.  The seasoning is really to taste, but I find that the proportions below make a delicious, sour, garlic, slightly spicy sauce.  The time is also approximate, and will depend on such variables at the power of your microwave, shape of the container, etc.

Microwave Tkemali

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sunflower is more widely used in the former Soviet Union, I use canola
  • 15-20 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 hot fresh chili peppers, red or green  (a variety like serrano, cayenne or bird chili is fine, keep the seeds in if you want the heat), slice 
  • 2 pounds fresh prune plums, quartered lengthwise and pitted
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  1. Heat oil is a 2 quart or larger microwave-safe casserole on high for two minutes.
  2. Add garlic and chili, stir, and zap two minutes more.
  3. Add plums and salt, stir, cover with a piece of paper towel, and zap for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in half the coriander, and cook for 5 minutes more.
  5. Remove from oven, and taste for texture and sourness.  If too thin, return to the microwave for a few minutes until the texture of a thick compote.  The plums will lose more than 2/3 of their volume.  If it is not sour enough, add a bit of tamarind or balsamic vinegar until it is.  Return to the overn for a few minutes to blend flavors.
  6. When cool, and just before serving, stir in the rest of the coriander. (The sauce will keep longer if you hold back on mixing in raw ingredients until just before serving.)
  7. Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

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