Georgian Dumplings ~ What Happens When the World Holds Hands

What does it look like when the world holds hands?  When the world comes together and harmony abounds?

Two images come to mind when I think of global togetherness.  Perusing through Saveur magazine the other, day, I stopped at the recipe for these dumplings, known as Khinkali.

I automatically assumed they were Asian but after peering closer at the photos and recipe, I realized they are from the country Georgia... in Eastern Europe.

Dumplings?  From a tiny little town called Tbilisi, in a tiny country nested just above Turkey and sitting along the Black Sea.  

What does it look like when the world walks shoulder to shoulder in mutual acceptance, festivity, and harmony?

It looks like Houston's International Festival held every year in spring.  I have never seen a coming together of so many diverse cultures, tasted such excellent food, seen such talented performers, and admired so many marvelous crafts.

Houston is at its finest...showcasing a city where Asians, Africans, Europeans, Indians, Middle Easterners, and every other corner of the world has melted into the culturally diverse pot that is today's Houston, Texas.

We all love dumplings in our family and have had fun in the last year learning to make all sorts of these little pockets filled with savory fillings.  Making a dumpling, or Khinkalis, from an unlikely source like Georgia...sounded so intriguing.

At Houston's I-Fest this year, the theme centered around South America and in particular the country of Argentina.

Food, music, dancers, entertainers, and crafters from all over South America showcased a diverse variety of cuisine and culture from our neighbors to the south.

Just as these dumplings from Tbilisi, Georgia might have been influenced by travelers on the spice road centuries ago coming across Asia, or vice versa, the food at the festival combined multiple cultures, spices, techniques, and preparations.

Having trained in ballet for so many years, I was quickly attracted to the long list of performers for the festival.  This group, Ballet Folklorico Azteca, was delightful, playful, and charming to watch.  

Swirling skirts, bright red lipstick, and welcoming smiles lit up the dancers' faces as they twirled, stomped, and expertly showcased  Mexican dance celebrations to a lively and cheering crowd.

Houstonians were walking the festival in style but what most caught my attention were...the shoes!  Heels were certainly "all the rage" and added to the diversity and stylishness of the day.

Another group, Ari-rang Korean Folk Dancers, swirled and  flowed gracefully across the stage,  sweeping their alluring fans then coming together to create beautiful group expressions.

So many activities were arranged for festival goers in between watching performances, listening to bands, and tasting dishes from around the world.

A popular treat was getting beautiful, intricate henna applications to wrists or ankles.  This was a beautiful process and I stood quietly watching, and imagining the cultures that integrate this decor into their wedding days and other celebrations.

Potterers, small cultural musical groups, and every ethnic face imaginable seemed to be mingling, laughing, eating and celebrating the festivities with their friends and children.

I particularly enjoyed watching bowls being sculpted by one potterer.  The  whirring of the wheel spinning, the soft clay scraps curling off to the side, and the mystical formation of an indistinguishable mound into something sculpted is calming and at the same time fascinating to watch.  

These Georgian dumplings were fun and quick to make.  The dough was typical of a dumpling dough eaten with Asian dumplings.

The filling was more similar to that of a meat pie.  The ground beef is spiced with cilantro and fenugreek leaves to give them their unique flavor.

There were many stalls at the festival showcasing carved masks, statues, jewelry, and all sorts of accessories from Africa.  I enjoyed wandering through looking at the jewelry and crafts and trying to imagine them being used or worn in their homeland.

What fun!  The children were having a fabulous time with the bubble blowers.  They created such a playful and festive addition to the day. 

Regardless of culture, ALL children chased after the bubbles squealing in delight as they tried to catch and then pop them.

From hot corn on the cob dipped in butter to turkey drumsticks, everyone had an interesting treat to sample.  The air was filled with so many different types of food from all over the world being showcased by some of Houston's best restaurants.  

I find it amusing that in Houston I sometimes  have to search out the traditional Texan style of cowboy boots and cowboy hats.  

And...then three women strolled by each modeling fabulously decorative cowgirl boots. 

The festival grounds for I-fest are huge.  In every section of the festival, dancers representing many of the countries of South America, Mexico, and Central America were performing their cultural dances.

Many other groups from Asia and India were also delighting crowds with their costumes, movements, and music.

I do enjoy cooking recipes that come from parts of the world we know little about.  Cooking foreign dishes is a great way to work in a bit of geography, history, and cultural awareness.

At the festival, we sampled these wonderful meat and vegetable filled savory cakes.  They were called Caribbean cakes.  The beef inside was spicy and delicious.  We actually went back for more of these Caribbean cakes so we could taste the other variations.

I am a huge people-watching fan.  Festivals give me no end of people-watching satisfaction.  Staring is allowed and there indeed were so many details and moments to be enjoyed throughout the day.  

I particularly liked the Peruvian flute tunes.  The haunting melodies drift out into the air like  woeful calls from the mountain tops.  Something about Peruvian flute sounds and Irish ballads have the same mournful pensive sentiment to their musical quality that I enjoy.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the festival was the Tango performances accompanied by famous Argentinian bandoneoist Hector del Curto.

Saucy, sophisticated, and downright sexy, these dancers and their spicy music had the crowds cheering with pleasure.

Below the stage many of Houston's tango loving couples of all ages danced with their partners in front of everyone. 

It was fantastic!   Excellent performers on stage and the best of the local talent from the people intermixed among the crowd.

We also sampled food from the Cuban vendors.  Delicious hearty corn empanadas were stuffed with spiced chicken, beef, or vegetables.  

Another dish, called Arepas, was a favorite.  A thick flour tortilla was served hot underneath carne mechada, or pulled beef slow cooked and full of flavor.

To end our fabulous day at the festival with something sweet, we headed straight to the "beignet vendor".  Thick, velvety squares of dough were fried to a golden hue and then doused with a coating of sweet powdered sugar.  

Mexico, Central and South America are filled with diverse histories, cultures, religions, and cuisines.  It was great fun to walk from one part of the festival to another to enjoy, learn, and celebrate these diverse countries to the south of the U.S.

Well, we sampled Greek Easter bread for the Easter holiday, rolled a french Buche de Noel last Christmas holiday, and tried our hand at filling and twisting dumplings... from Asia but as well as from the eastern European country of Georgia.

What a marvelous world of cuisine!  I'm rather intrigued by the elusive dishes of Eastern Europe.  I think we'll keep sampling some dishes and learning about people from that area of the world.  

Georgian Dumplings  (from Saveur's 2012 'Best of')

4 cups flour
1¼ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
8 oz. ground beef
8 oz. ground pork
2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp. dried fenugreek leaves (available at Indian Foods Company)
½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
3 small yellow onions, minced 
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Stir together flour, salt, and 1¼ cups warm water in a bowl until dough forms; transfer to a work surface and knead until smooth, about 6 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, combine beef pork, cilantro, fenugreek, chile flakes, and onions in a bowl until evenly mixed; season generously with salt and pepper, and set filling aside.

2. Divide dough into 25 equal pieces, and shape each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll a ball into a 6″ round. Place about 2 tbsp. filling in center of round, and fold edges of dough over filling, creating pleats in dough as you go, until filling is covered. Holding dumpling in the palm of one hand, grasp top of dumpling where pleats meet and twist to seal pleats and form a knot at top of dumpling. Repeat with remaining dough rounds and filling. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, boil dumplings until they float and dough is tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and serve hot. Season with black pepper.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,