Another great recipe from the Republic of Georgia. This sauce has an unforgettable kick and identity. Plum sauce is commonly associated with a glutinous yellow sweet and sour condiment used with Chinese deep-fried dishes. Georgian Tkemali sour plum sauce has nothing to do with it (except the plum ingredient). It has totally different pungent, sour-tangy, spicy and herbal taste and goes with much bigger array of dishes, especially grilled or broiled.
Just like Argentinean Chimichuri, it’s perfect with grilled beef, pork or lamb, but is also very good with grilled or fried chicken, or fish. For some reason, I keep having this parallel of Georgian and Argentinean cuisines in my mind exactly after visiting and trying the Georgian grill (Mcvadi) + Tkemali and Argentinean grill (Parilla) + Chimichuri. Both sauces are sour and full of garden freshness; both go well with all kind of grilled meat and are delicious with vegetables; both can be also used as a marinade. “So do tomato or pepper-based sauces”, I can hear you saying. Yes, but you will not have that “garden in your mouth”, and that is the power of this sauce.
Genuine Tkemali is made of small yellow-green plums called tkemale in Georgia. In season, for a short period of the time, we have a similar variety of yellow plums in stores here at the end of summer. Red sour plums (under ripen), can serve as a good substitute to make this sauce and right now we have them as an import from Chile, Peru and California. You will need about 9-10 plums (about 23 oz or 650g) to make a decent amount of this sauce, which you can keep in the fridge for a few weeks after in clean sterilized jars. Add a splash of an apple cider vinegar while cooking it if you need to keep the sauce for a longer time.
Making it takes not more than 30 minutes in total. I tried to keep the recipe as authentic as I could (considering that there are hundreds of varieties of this sauce) to attain that “garden” taste effect and avoid adding any vinegar (stay away GERD!). Put less cayenne if you want to temper the heat. The mix of freshly ground coriander, fennel seed, cayenne and crushed garlic add a distinct smoky dimension when incorporated into the plum paste.
As one Russian chef said in the heydays of cold war and Soviet bonanza: “Georgians can eat sauce on sauce”. Sauces are so important in Georgian cuisine, nothing is eaten without them. Known to have lots of aromatic herbs and spices in most of their variations, each and every sauce is very different and designed to be taken with a specific dish. Tkemali sauce is very versatile though. And with the new trends for salty-sweet-sour and/or use of fruits in place of veggies, you can literally take it with anything, even the ice cream. I find it tastes especially good with lamb and chicken, others love it with broiled fish, burgers or grilled veggies.
Lace your dish with or dip it in, this sauce successfully contends with the best BBQ sauces I know.
TKEMALI SOUR PLUM SAUCE
Yields: 6 to 10 servings
9-12 (650-800 g or 23-25 oz) sour under ripe plums pitted and sliced
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons coriander seed, grounded
1 teaspoon fennel seed, grounded
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, grounded
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
black pepper to taste
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
1/2 cup fresh coriander, minced
Bring water to boil, add plums, simmer for 10 minutes, remove from heat. Transfer to the blender, add garlic, salt and give it a few runs to blend the mixture to paste. Transfer blended mix back to the saucepan. Add grounded spices: coriander, fennel seed, cayenne and black pepper to taste. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add minced fresh mint and coriander. Mix and boil for 1 minute. Cool to room temperature and transfer to clean sterilized jars. Keep refrigerated. Great with lamb, chicken, fish, beef, pork or grilled veggies.
TIP: Dry fry the coriander and fennel before grinding to powder in a pestle & mortar to enhance the flavor of the spices in the sauce.