Lobio, or Georgian red bean stew, is one of my absolute favourite dishes in the entire array of Georgian cuisine. It is the one thing that I consistently want to order at every Georgian restaurant and I absolutely love how it’s a bit different depending on where and how it’s made. And because of how much I love this dish, I’ve combined my favourite elements of a number of different iterations to create this lobio recipe!
Though it certainly does not have the international acclaim and notoriety of other popular Georgian dishes like khinkali or khachapuri Adjaruli, lobio is just as delicious, completely vegetarian (provided that you don’t happen upon one of the versions that incorporate Racha ham!) and a good bit healthier. Oh, it’s also pretty easy to make at home!
So if you want to experiment with Georgian cuisine beyond what is well-known outside the country’s borders and experience one of the most flavourful and hearty dishes, then why not give this lobio recipe a try!
What is Lobio?
Before I jump into my super-simple lobio recipe, I need to talk about what lobio is and how it can vary across region to region and even household to household. How much lobio can differ really showcases just how diverse Georgian cuisine can be and how delicious a visit to this incredible country can be.
So what is Georgian lobio? Well, simply put, it is a Georgian red bean stew. The word “lobio” in Georgian, in fact, simply translates to “beans.” However, the beans are typically cooked and mashed with a plethora of delicious herbs and spices making them incredibly flavourful and delicious.
There are lots of different iterations to lobio out there, as mentioned earlier. One of the most common that you will see is lobio nigvzit, which is beans stewed with walnuts, and that is the kind of lobio that I’ve made in this recipe. Countless Georgian recipes use ground walnuts as a thickening agent along with adding extra flavour and nutrition to their dishes it is absolutely delicious.
Lobio is also often flavoured with a number of local acidic sauces and juices, adding an extra element to the dish. There are times you will see it flavoured with pomegranate juice (which is so good!) and often, it is also flavoured with a bit of tkemali, or sour plum sauce. This lobio recipe is flavoured with tkemali and it makes it incredibly complex and it is available online, however, you can always sub in lemon juice (or pomegranate juice — just make sure it’s 100% pomegranate juice and there isn’t any added sugar) to get the right acidity.
Lobio is often served in a clay pot (in fact, on most English menus in Georgia you will see it listed as “beans in a clay pot”) with a side of mchadi, or Georgian cornbread, and an assortment of pickled vegetables. I haven’t included a recipe for mchadi here because I, personally, hate it. When it comes to pickles, lobio goes great with anything that is sharp and acidic — typically you will get pickled cucumbers, cabbage, and radishes but I’ve even eaten at a restaurant that serves lobio with a side of Korean-style kimchi – delicious!
The consistency of lobio tends to vary depending on who is making it, as well, but typically you will see it quite thick and stew-like and that is how I, personally, prefer it. There are times when you will find lobio that is more of the consistency of a Georgian bean soup — if you want your lobio like this, then just add more liquid when cooking!
All in all, lobio is an incredibly delicious, hearty and flavourful red bean stew that is sure to delight anyone who eats it!
Georgian Lobio Recipe: How to Make Lobio
Lobio, though so flavourful and unfamiliar to most palates outside of Georgia, is actually relatively simple to make — though you do need a bit of time in order to properly cook the beans and it does require some time to plan ahead. You also can use canned beans for this recipe, however, it won’t end up tasting as good. The difference in flavour in dried beans vs canned beans is night and day and it really isn’t difficult at all to cook dried beans, so I would urge you to use them instead.
Start off by soaking your beans in cold water for at least four hours, but preferably overnight. This hydrates the beans and allows them to cook evenly and in less time. If you forget to soak your beans in enough time, you can bring them with some water up to a rolling boil, cook for about 10 minutes, and then turn off the heat and soak for an hour or so to achieve the required results.
Once you’ve finished soaking, drain the water from the beans, rinse them in a colander and add them to a large, heavy saucepan covered with about 2 litres of heavily salted water. Don’t be stingy with the salt — this is the only chance you get to flavour the beans completely and you don’t want to end up with an underseasoned bean. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook the beans until they are tender and cooked through, about 1.5 – 2 hours, skimming off impurities with a spoon as necessary.
In the meantime, grind walnuts until they reach the consistency of coarse sand and have begun to release some of their oils. I’ve seen Georgians use an old-school hand crank meat grinder to do this, but you can very easily do this quickly with a food processor. If you don’t have either of these (I don’t!), then chop them as fine as you can with a knife and then transfer to a zip-top bag or sandwich between two sheets of parchment paper and beat and crush with a rolling pin until the desired consistency is achieved — it’s more work, but the results are, more or less, the same.
Finely mince your garlic and cilantro (coriander), and add them to the walnuts along with your spices (blue fenugreek is available online). Mix until well-combined. I use the back end of the spoon to grind everything together — traditionally, you would use a mortar and pestle to do this, I just don’t have one.
Once your beans are cooked, drain them, reserving about 500 millilitres of the cooking liquid — you will use this later — and set aside in a bowl. In the same pot that you cooked the beans in, heat some oil over medium-low heat until shimmering and add the onion. Cook onions until softened and translucent around the edges, about 5 minutes, before adding the walnut mixture.
Cook the walnut, garlic, and spice mixture until incredibly fragrant and well, incorporated, about one minute. Add the tkemali, the beans, and about 150 millilitres of the cooking liquid. Stir to combine.
Using a potato masher, mash the beans until about three-quarters of them are mashed, adding more liquid as needed. Remember, you’re going for the consistency of a thick stew but if you would rather make it thinner and go for more of a Georgian bean soup, then just add more liquid.
Now is also a great time to taste for seasoning and add more acid, salt, or spices as needed. Once you’ve achieved the desired consistency, cook for a further 5 minutes until the flavours have had a chance to get to know each other and mellow. Turn off heat. stir in remaining cilantro, and serve.
- 400 grams dried red beans
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1/2 large yellow onion
- 150 grams walnuts, ground
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground blue fenugreek
- 1 teaspoon ground dried coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon dried kondari or thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 50 grams fresh cilantro (coriander), chopped
- 50 ml tkemali or 100% pomegranate juice or the juice of 1 lemon
- Rinse beans in a colander and transfer to a bowl. Cover with cold water and soak for at least 4 hours, preferably over night.
- Drain and rinse beans and transfer to a large saucepan. Cover with about 5 centimetres of cold water seasoned with 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until beans are tender, about 1.5-2 hours, skimming off any impurities as needed.
- Drain beans, reserving about 500 millilitres of poaching liquid. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, combine walnuts, garlic, fenugreek, coriander, kondari (or thyme), cayenne pepper and 2/3 of the cilantro and mix until the walnuts are moist.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until shimmering, add onions and saute until translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add walnut mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tkemali (or lemon juice), stir to combine.
- Add cooked beans to pot along with about 150 millilitres of the reserved cooking liquid. Using a potato masher, mash beans until only about 1/4 of them are whole, adding liquid as necessary to loosen the consistency - it should be the consistency of a thick stew, not too soupy. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes while flavours meld, add remaining cilantro, and serve immediately.
And that’s it! This lobio recipe uses a number of traditional Georgian flavours and introduces some important parts of the country’s cuisine — namely, the use of ground walnuts for flavouring and as a thickening agent. Lobio is best served hot, immediately, however, it is also delicious as leftovers.
Are you interested in trying out this Georgian lobio recipe? Have any questions about how to make lobio? Let us know in the comments!