Unlike a number of cuisines in this area of the world, Georgian food is wonderfully reliant on vegetables and can be incredibly friendly to vegetarians and vegans travelling in this beautiful nation. One of my absolute favourite vegetarian Georgian dishes in ajapsandali, which is a stew of eggplants (aubergines) and other vegetables that is incredibly flavourful and healthy! Because it is one of the dishes that I order on a continual basis at Georgian restaurants and it is one of my absolute favourite staple Georgian dishes, I’ve gone about figuring out how to make it at home and have developed an authentic and delicious ajapsandali recipe.
It astonishes me how delicious Georgians have been able to make their vegetables, but it also just has to do with how fantastic the local produce is in this beautiful country. There are few places on Earth that have better tomatoes, for instance, and the beauty of the eggplants and sweetness of the red peppers are something special, as well. So if you do try your hand at this ajapsandali recipe, make sure you get the highest-quality vegetables possible — head to the farmer’s market and support your local farmers!
Georgian ajapsandali is refreshingly easy to make and incredibly delicious and flavourful. If you’re interested in trying your hand at this ajapsandali recipe, you are sure to be surprised by how simple and delicious this incredible Georgian eggplant stew is and it is certain to become a favourite way to eat your veggies for years to come.
What is Ajapsandali?
Before I jump into how to make ajapsandali, we need to discuss what this dish actually is. Well, unlike a lot of instances in Georgian cuisine, there aren’t a huge amount of iterations of this dish and you will typically find very little variation in ajapsandali throughout Georgia.
At its core, ajapsandali is essentially a Georgian ratatouille as it’s just a hodgepodge of vegetables stewed together for a period of time, breaking them down and releasing their flavours.
Where ajapsandali differs from something like French ratatouille or Spanish pisto is that it is typically served cold at least one day after it is cooked. This process allows all of the flavours (most notably, the abundance of garlic and cilantro) to meld and get even tastier than it would be hot and directly from the stove. While there is certainly nothing to stop you from eating it freshly cooked, Georgians almost always serve this dish cold.
Ajapsandali is also, dare I say it, quite a bit more flavourful than the veggie stews that you would get in continental Europe. Like in a lot of Georgian cuisine, there is typically a slight element of heat (in ajapsandali’s case, it’s a minced chilli) and there is usually enough garlic and cilantro (coriander) in it to make some people shrink away in fear. Don’t be cautious with the amount of either of these flavours, however, as they are what make ajapsandali so incredibly delicious!
What I, personally, love about ajapsandali is just how simple it is to make, how it takes only a handful of ingredients and how much flavour it manages to pack into it.
Now that we’ve covered the bases on what this delicious Georgian eggplant stew is, it’s finally time to discuss how to make ajapsandali! As I’ve mentioned earlier, it is refreshingly simple, only requires one pot, and you will need no special equipment or hard-to-find herbs and spices to make this dish. It is actually likely the easiest traditional Georgian dish to make at home!
The first step in making ajapsandali is to heat about a tablespoon of a neutral vegetable oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Georgians will typically use sunflower oil, but it doesn’t really matter what kind of oil you use so long as it is neutral in flavour — just avoid something like olive oil if you’re keen to get the most traditional taste out of this recipe. Add a diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and softened, about five minutes. You want to make sure to keep you heat low enough the onion doesn’t brown as it will throw off the flavours of the ajapsandali.
After you onion is sufficiently sauteed, it’s time to add the tomato paste. This is an essential aspect of the flavour profile of ajapsandali. Stir in the tomato paste so it’s evenly combined with the onion and it is fragrant. Cook for about 1-2 minutes — this is to further deepen the tomatoey flavour and add a touch of acidity to the ajapsandali. You don’t want to be stingy with the tomato paste!
Next, add your diced eggplants — cut the eggplants into small cubes about 2 centimetres in diameter — and a good amount of salt in order both to season your ajapsandali and to encourage the eggplants to release their moisture. Eggplants container a lot of water and you’re going to need that to cook out to get the cohesive, stew-like texture of the finished ajapsandali.
Stir the eggplants to combine with the onion, tomato paste mixture, cover your pot and let cook until the eggplants have released quite a bit of liquid and they have reduced in size, about five to ten minutes. Uncover and stir every so often during this process, but make sure to put the lid back on right away so you don’t lose any of the moisture released by the eggplants.
Next, add your diced peppers, diced chilli, diced tomato (Georgians will typically encourage you to peel the tomato — I find this to be more hassle than it’s worth, but feel free to), and half of your chopped cilantro. Stir to combine, cover the pot again and allow to cook down for about five to ten minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure to taste for seasoning. It may be necessary to add a bit of water every so often to loosen your ajapsandali and to make sure it isn’t too thick. Only add about 50-100 millilitres at a time to avoid thinning out your stew too much — it should be thick, not soupy.
Continue cooking the ajapsandali until the eggplants and tomato have completely cooked down and the peppers are quite soft — the mixture should be thick and cohesive without a lot of discernable pieces. When you have reached this stage, it’s time to add you garlic.
While a good portion of European cuisine would shy away from using raw minced garlic at all, Georgians are bold with their garlic flavour and aren’t afraid to add a lot of if. To mellow the garlicky-ness slightly, stir in your minced garlic and cook for a further five minutes or so. Then turn off the heat and stir in the remaining half of your cilantro, making sure to taste one last time for seasoning and adjusting with salt and pepper until your desired outcome is reached.
Allow you ajapsandali to cool slightly before transferring to an airtight container and refrigerating for at least 4 hours and, preferably, overnight. This allows the flavours to meld and everything to taste better. While you certainly can eat it hot and fresh from the stove, this isn’t traditional in Georgia.
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 medium eggplants (aubergines), cut into 2-centimetre cubes
- 3 Bulgarian sweet red peppers (or red bell peppers), coarsely chopped
- 1 Bulgarian green pepper (or 1/2 green bell pepper), coarsely chopped
- 1 red chilli (Fresno pepper or Jalapeno pepper), minced and seeds removed, if desired
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 50 grams fresh cilantro (coriander), finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until well-combined and fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add eggplant and about 1 teaspoon of salt to encourage moisture release. Stir to combine and cover, cooking for about 5 minutes, or until the eggplants release a fair amount of moisture and decrease in size.
- Add peppers, chilli, tomato and half of the cilantro, stir to combine, cover, and simmer, adding a bit of water, if necessary, to thin out the stew. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until eggplants are completely cooked through and the mixture is homogenous and flavourful.
- Add garlic, stir to combine and cook for about 2-3 more minutes. Turn off heat and add remaining cilantro. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to an airtight container and refrigerating for a few hours, preferably overnight. Serve cold.
Ajapsandali is typically served as a side in Georgia and it is the perfect accompaniment to traditional dishes like khinkali, lobio or Adjaruli khachapuri. This Georgian eggplant stew is a deliciously simple dish to make that is sure to transport you to this beautiful nation in the Caucasus.
Are you looking for an adjapsandali recipe? Have you made it before? Let us know in the comments!