Sunday, April 29, 2012

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.


  1. This is post is so beautiful... the pictures and the words... It is wonderful to see the world hold hands...

  2. What a celebration of sights and smells and tastes. I enjoyed every moment of reading this post.

  3. I just love your photography! And the Georgian Dumplings look wonderful too!

  4. What an explosion of colors and cultures, wonderful pictures!

  5. Looks/sounds like an amazing festival! I love what you create - when imagining the 'world holding hands'. Beautiful and inspiring!!!

  6. A great festival post!
    Great scene and colors...
    Dumplings are perfect for setting.

  7. Colleen from EDUCATEApril 30, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    I'm sorry to say that I haven't been visiting your blog, as it's about cooking, something I've been away from for nearly 2 years. (Hopefully, the latest surgical repair to my dominant hand will take. Even so, I was never much of a "pianist" in the kitchen.) I didn't realize all the fabulous photography I was missing. Applause, applause! Gorgeous work, Sarah.

  8. So many photos! You are very good photographer! Festival is amazing, so many colors and so much happiness. I know a little about Georgian food, your dumplings looks very moist, I wish I can have one now-))) Thank you for your post!

  9. Sarah, Wow! I'm not sure what is more gorgeous, your dumplings (perfectly shot!) or all of the wonderful a varied faces you captured. What a vibrant, textured, lively post. Beautiful!

  10. I am amazed at all these photos, Sarah! You captured so many different people and acts here, it's really impressive. I will never turn down a dumpling, and the ones you made look so tasty.

  11. What any amazing festival - so vibrant and exciting. I love these dumplings - delectable!
    Mary x

  12. I loved this granny and I used to make these (although she always baked hers). Her parents were doukhobours exiled from Russia to Georgia just outside of Tbilisi, they came to Canada in in 1899. We also made a sweet version which is delicious...she called them pyrahi and I've posted the recipe at if you are interested.

  13. Your post and pictures are amazing! And the dumplings look very inviting also :)

  14. What a wonderful, colourful festival. I love all your photos of the different ethnicities. Such interesting faces!

  15. Your photos are absolutely amazing!! So vibrant! I'm a huge fan of any type of meat stuffed in a dough, whether it's baked, fried or boiled.

  16. Such gorgeous post...
    So full of colors from every part of the world....
    These dumplings look so good.... Really delicious!!!

  17. Wow, these pictures are AMAZING. Love the dumplings and everything else.

  18. This post is one of the favourites I have seen in a while - there is much beauty and marriage of cultures, colours and pure happiness :)
    Thank you :)

    Choc Chip Uru

  19. Your gorgeous looking dumplings make my mouth water. It reminds me of our Chinese dumplings (sui kow). I really enjoy looking at each and every one of your stunning shots. Each one has its own story to tell. Awesome!

  20. Oh, Sarah. You have such a talent with that camera of yours. I adore your view of the world; it always leaves me uplifted. The dancers in yellow and pink still have me smiling. And the dancing elderly couple - too sweet. Thank you for the encouragement I always find here.

  21. I had to click on your post based on the picture - I happen to be living in this small but beautiful country of Georgia and these dumplings, "khinkali", are indeed delicious. Lovely pictures!

  22. I so appreciate the 'thyme' it took to create this big, colorful, joyful post ... thank you for sharing and the dumpling sound amazing!

  23. All I can say is WOW! WOW! and WOW! Such a wonderful post Sarah...your photos are absolutely stunning! Dumplings yes...but life..fabulous! You are a natural with the camera...the lighting is just perfect and the engaging. :)
    Jeanne xx

  24. Growing up in St Paul, I adored and looked forward to the Festival of Nations each year. I particularly loved the Cream Puffs and well-sugared frybread, but watching the costumed dancers was also ritual. As was seeking out a unique trinket from one of the vendors. I never saw any men with devilish horns, though!

    We're crazy about dumplings in my house, too:) I'll have to find myself some fenugreek and give these a try!

  25. Oh how I wish I could dance.
    But what I can do, however, is eat :P
    The festival looks fun! I've only ever really participated in Asian festivals ^^;

  26. it does intriguing and you have once again presented them beautifully. think i might just cook these myself :)

  27. I love all of your photos - what a beautiful festival! And these dumplings look amazing. I've never had Georgian dumplings, but I've yet to meet a dumpling I haven't liked. And living in Israel I actually have been introduced to some Georgian food (specifically their hearty stuffed breads). Wonderful post!

  28. What a fantastic-sounding festival! Wish I could have popped over to Houston to attend. Your dumplings are gorgeous. I love learning about different corners of the world through food.

  29. It looks like a whirl wind of a time you had at the festival. You've provided wonderful context for these cute Georgian dumplings through words and pictures. Wonderful post. You should feel good about it.

  30. What an amazing festival! I wish it was held in my neck of the woods. Your photos are gorgeous! Love those dumplings…so delicious looking! Great post…I really enjoyed visiting this festival through your eyes and camera lens!

  31. so much work went into this post.
    I enjoyed all of the images.


  32. Sorry I have been MIA Sarah. Bad Devaki.

    Those georgan dumplings are marvelous and you are right - so reminiscent of dim sum :) What an amazing festival. I am absolutely looking you up when we visit Houston - yes?

    Your pics, the way you see the world and what you capture is always heartwarming Sarah. Great post…

    chow :) Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  33. OMG! SUCH AMAZING PICTURES.. so bright .. happy .. colorful :)
    And the dumplings .. YUM! I love making dumplings .. it's fun .. and a family can get together in making it and then sit back to enjoy the hard work!

  34. I so enjoyed reading this post tonight Sarah - the photographs, read like photo journalism in this post - and I feel as though I were at the festival myself. These dumplings look really tasty and like something my husband would love. Thanks for sharing the details of such a fun, colorful, and vibrant festival!

  35. I love International festivals, maybe because I attended and worked at the Turkish booth so many years! It is amazing the amount of people it brings together and the diversity. And more importantly, I am always amazed by the Americans who come out there to taste our food, listen to the music, and talk to us and try to learn and absorb everything. It means the world to me. It shows me that we are not living in such an isolated place, though it is hard to see that at times.
    I am glad you had fun. Those Georgian dumplings remind me Turkish manti. They look so soft, cloud-like.

  36. beautiful Sarah! You covered all cultures and colors beautifully


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