Grocery Ninja: Tkemali

Or, 'Still on a Sour Plum Streak'

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.

20071218-groceryninja.jpgYou know how most of us have culinary habits that we cleave to? Like my mom would disown me if I ever battered and fried really, really fresh fish—because it would be a "waste." The Chinese, you see, believe fish is best served steamed, a gentle cooking technique that is most unforgiving of mediocrity, with only the most impeccable specimens doing well. There's no hiding in steaming. It's like donning a spandex catsuit; flaws you never imagined break into a song and dance routine.

So I tend to be cautious about appropriating foods from another culture. I mean, you go to a grocery store, you spy something appealing, you bring it home and dig in—it's delicious! A few days later, you're gushing about it to someone, and he clutches you, nearly falling over in pain and indignation. Turns out what you've been doing with the item, how you've been eating it, is the equivalent of eating vanilla pudding on hamburger. Or something horrifying and unorthodox like that.

Conversations with friends tend to go like this:

Me: So, this sour plum sauce Tkemali—you're not attached to it?

Russian Housemate: What do you mean "attached to it"?

Me: I mean, you usually eat it with grilled meats right? As a condiment?

Russian Housemate: Yeah.

Me: So, you won't keel over if I tell you I've been tossing my salads with it? And my pastas? And putting it in my wraps?

Russian Housemate: It's a Georgian sauce. I have no loyalty. Go nuts.

[Note: Friendly readers from Georgia (the republic, not the U.S. state), please don't kill me. Or my Russian housemate. Neither of us can afford the rent alone.]

It's a glorious thing, Tkemali. It's refreshingly tart, slightly sweet, and spicy from being stewed with a mixture of coriander seed, fennel seed, garlic, cayenne, fresh mint, and cilantro. I've been all but glugging the stuff. Turns out there's a saying: "With a Georgian sauce you can swallow nails."

While I won't quite be attacking the toolbox anytime soon, it is very moreish—and a lot more gluggable than ketchup, the condiment it's most often compared to. I confess I came close to pouring it on my sundae last night. And I don't think it would have been a disaster. Quite the opposite, really.

I spotted three varieties at the store—green, red, and redder—made from plums at various stages of ripeness. I had zoomed in on the green one, but I'll be returning for the others soon. Like, in five minutes. Because the one I bought on Friday? It tasted really good with chips, too.