Every time I make lobio, or any other Georgian dishes (that’s a country, not a state), it reminds me not only of the majestic Caucasus mountains, but also of the unique culture of Georgian people. Militant, fiercely independent, yet exceptionally warm and hospitable to strangers, they are fond of traditional, hours-long feasts with an endless stream of various dishes, all fragrant with exotic spices, all colorful and flavorful, many with walnuts or almonds, and lots of vegetables. Georgians are famous both for their wines and for their elaborate, long-winded toasts. At every supra (feast), there is a toastmaster, called tamada, who calls the next toast. Best and most creative toastmakers are highly respected.
The famous unbelievably delicious Georgian wines are drunk from kantsi, drinking horns, like the one hanging on my wall, presented to me by a gracious host with a disclaimer: it is really small, made for little boys who are only learning to drink from it, and a real “man-size” one I am not getting because “women don’t have time to hold it.” Now, if you don’t get this, visualize yourself holding a horn that contains two liters of Kindzmarauli for 10 – 20 minutes, or even more, waiting for a toast to end. And just as you hear the final “so let’s drink to…”, and thankfully bring it to your lips, you hear, “Alaverdi!” – someone wants to add to the toast already made, and you can’t put it down, and your arm is about to fall off, and you are thinking, “OMG, eventually I’ll have to drink all of it without putting it down!” Meanwhile, women are orchestrating that endless stream of food coming to the table. Of course they don’t have time!
Lest you start screaming discrimination, the Golden Age of Georgia dates back to 12th century, under the benevolent rule of the wise and beautiful Tzarina Tamar. One of the most accomplished Medieval poets, Shota Rustaveli, dedicated to her his famous epic poem The Knight in Tiger Skin.
Looking at the Georgian dances, proud and powerful men and graceful, gentle women, you realize that the blood of this knight is still flowing in the veins of his descendants.
And the songs – polyphony proliferated here at least a few centuries before J.S. Bach! I found this on Youtube. This is just a family gathering, not a staged performance. I’ve been to a few of those, and let me assure you, this kind of polyphonic singing is a standard part of every supra. You don’t have to listen to all 50-something minutes of it, but do yourself a favor, click and hear something unique.
Yes, you’ll hear as many voices harmonizing as there are men at the table. When do they have time to eat all these splendid dishes? Oh, I don’t know, but they do manage!
Inasmuch as they love their meat, Georgians are also extremely creative with vegetables. Lobio is actually one of the most common and the least elaborate of them, but it does have the traditional ingredients: walnuts, kindza (cilantro), garlic, and red wine.
The word lobio actually means beans, and not necessarily red kidney beans. It is related to Persian loobia, also a spicy bean stew, and Moroccan loubia, a very spicy bean stew. Georgian lobio could be made as a stew or as a soup, and a stew is most often made with dark red kidney beans. You need to soak and cook the beans, and drain off some of the water, but not all. In a deep frying pan or dutch oven, saute those beans with squeezed garlic, chopped walnuts, and chopped fresh cilantro. The more garlic and cilantro you add to it, the more Georgian it will taste. There is also an option to add diced onion and saute it first, but I prefer not to. You can try it, if you like.
Keep stirring occasionally, as it simmers. As the liquid evaporates and the beans are dissolving, add red wine and salt and pepper. You need to keep simmering and stirring, and singing, and sipping good Georgian wine, now available in most American liquor stores, and the beans are done when soft and bursting. Sometimes, people take lobio out when beans become very soft, mash them up together with walnuts, garlic, and cilantro, and then cook it some more with wine and lemon or pomegranate juice. It saves time, but the result is not very different. I prefer it this way, which comes out chunkier.
In my book, it is done when it looks like this, and you can still recognize the beans. It should still have plenty of liquid, and if too much of it evaporates, more wine and lemon juice can always be added. I have never cooked it in a clay pot or a tandoor oven, as I don’t own either one, but this is a pretty fair imitation of an authentic simple lobio.
Garnished with lots of fresh cilantro – Georgians often serve plain fresh cilantro as an appetizer or a side dish on its own – it should be accompanied by Mchadi, plump cornmeal pancakes that you are supposed to dip into spicy lobio sauce. It could be served either hot or cold, or room temperature. Go ahead and start soaking your beans (overnight), and look up Mchadi recipe right here.
- 2 cups cooked dark red kidney beans, 1 cup liquid preserved
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 4 – 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, and more for garnishing
- 1/2 cup sweet or semi-sweet red wine, or more per need
- A dash of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lightly mist a deep frying pan or dutch oven with oil, transfer cooked beans in preserved liquid to the pan, bring to boil, reduce to simmer.
- Add garlic, walnuts, and chopped cilantro, stir. Keep it simmering, stir often.
- When liquid starts evaporating, add wine.Keep simmering. If too much liquid evaporates, add some more wine and a dash of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
- When beans are soft to bursting but there is still enough liquid for dipping, remove.
- Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with plenty of fresh cilantro.