Georgian Spinach Pkhali

April 9, 2013



Life has been a whirlwind recently. Aside from writing a book, doing my normal job and studying, I thought it would be a great idea to move house. Totally sensible.

Of course, I had flu at the same time as packing up the entirety of my belongings and shifting them from one place to another, which then evolved into suspected malaria (I’d been to Ethiopia). I haven’t told my mum that yet so when she reads this she’ll kill me. Anyway mum it turned out I don’t have it, because some things are actually, sometimes, genuinely, too dramatic to happen to me.

The point is that I’ve moved to Camberwell. I have betrayed Peckham. Well, sort of. If I walk about ten paces to the left then I am still actually in Peckham so I’ve decided I now live on the Peckham/Camberwell borders/badlands and I am entitled to enjoy the best of both worlds. There are several awesome things about the new world however. The first is that I am spitting distance from Silk Road and F M Mangal. Dangerous. The second is that I have discovered the Turkish Food Centre on Camberwell New Road where I basically just went mental, flinging money about and grabbing stuff off the shelves like a crazed, food-shopping-starved dervish which, essentially, I have been. I bought lots of things to go with spinach, which I’ve been obsessing about. I think it’s part of needing to get some vitamins in. Not being settled in one place can really balls up your eating, by which I mean there’s been a lot of eating out, buying crap or just not being organised or happy enough to even consider making anything like a decent packed lunch.

So, the spinach. As you will know (because I keep banging on about it), I went to Georgia and properly fell in love with the country and the food. I’ve therefore been thinking about making these little spinach and walnut balls, called pkhali, for yonks. This month’s issue of Saveur had a 4 or 5 page spread on Georgia (all of a sudden the food is getting attention) and they had a recipe so I gave it a whirl.

I have to say, it tasted pretty authentic, although there are a couple of amendments which I’d say are pretty crucial to consider. Firstly, they advise puréeing the spinach which I’d strongly suggest you don’t do. All the pkhali I ate in Georgia had a very satisfying coarse texture. I’d also say it is essential to let the mixture rest overnight in the fridge. Other than that, the recipe is pretty spot on. The final result is a lovely punchy vegetable spread, with a richness from the ground walnuts and plenty of flavour from the herbs, coriander and tarragon (very Georgian) and the ground fenugreek.

You can make pkhali with any vegetables really, and the Georgians also commonly use beets, which make a lovely colour contrast against the spinach if you’re planning your own supra.

This mixture improves the longer you leave it in the fridge and I’d say it will keep for up to a week.

Georgian Spinach Pkhali

(adapted from Saveur)

600g spinach (the proper, big ballsy stuff; I’m done with baby spinach)
180g shelled walnuts
1 generous handful coriander leaves
1 generous handful tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek (I crushed the seeds in a pestle and mortar)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 spring onions
1 heaped teaspoon chilli flakes (I used Turkish)
1 pomegranate, for garnish

Chop the stalks off the spinach and then wash the leaves really well. Chuck it into a large pan while it is still wet, put a lid on and set it over a low heat. Let it slowly wilt down, stirring every now and then, until it is all wilted. Allow it to cool completely (the easiest way to do this is to spread it out on a plate). When cool, squeeze out as much water from the spinach as possible. You will be amazed at the amount of water that has come out and by how much the spinach is now reduced in size.


Pound the walnuts in a pestle and mortar until they are more or less all crushed to a powder (a few chunks here and there are fine). Mix the walnuts with the spinach and all the other ingredients, plus plenty of salt (more than you think necessary) and pepper.

Mix really well, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball and make a small indent in the top of each one with your fingertip. Place a pomegranate seed in each. Serve with bread or toast for spreading. Ideally khachapuri.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Hungry April 9, 2013 at 11:14 am

    That sounds right up my street.

    And i hear you about baby spinach. Why is proper spinach so hard to find?! Waitrose do this speciality spinach sometimes which is about double the price of the usual, and is spinach like-it-used-to-be, but..speciality?! Wtf?


    I folded and made Sag Paneer the other day with frozen spinach – it was a bit meer spinach-flavour-wise, but not that different when compared to sodding baby spinach..

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 9, 2013 at 11:15 am

      Yeah I dunno. The thing is here in South london it’s incredibly easy to find it. I bought 6 massive bunches for £2 and it’s like that pretty much everywhere. The Waitrose thing is…hilarious and bizarre.

  • Avatar
    Reply Alicia (foodycat) April 9, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I always love it when I happen upon a recipe that looks delicious and then I notice it is vegan.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      I hovered for ages going ‘is this vegan? Yes it’s vegan? What if it isn’t? Oh it definitely is. What if I’ve made a mistake?’ It’s definitely vegan though…

  • Avatar
    Reply Julie April 9, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    TFC…..grab a jar of caper leaves……but be careful…. Taste great but they hurt. And the diced lamb is to die for. You are making me home sick.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      Caper leaves! They sound awesome. TFC?

  • Avatar
    Reply Hungry April 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    WHAT? i need to move out of suburbia.

    In other news, I will actually be making this tonight (possibly with speciality spinach)

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      yeah, you need to move! Or yes you could use baby spinach…I SUPPOSE.

  • Avatar
    Reply msmarmitelover April 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Lovely! Will have a go myself…

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Fab! Be good to know what you think as always.

  • Avatar
    Reply Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) April 10, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    I love spinach, it’s my favorite leafy green. I would LOVE beets in it too!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 10, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Same here! Closely followed by kale.

  • Avatar
    Reply Lizzie April 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    YOU TREACHEROUS WENCH! Peckham cries for you. And the fact I can’t walk home from your abode anymore. Devastating.

    (Recipe sounds lovely.)

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      Ha ha! I KNOW. I know. I weep (not really). Yeah but you can get the No. 12! *hopeful face*

  • Avatar
    Reply Lizzie April 11, 2013 at 11:54 am

    And the 12 runs ALLLLLL NIGHT. All is not lost. Phew.

  • Avatar
    Reply The Brussels Cook(er) April 11, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I shall definitely make these asap! Such a great change from the usual pinenuts-feta combo – can’t wait to taste the (to me at least) unknown combination of coriander and tarragon! (BTW I’ve only just discovered your brilliant blog (I follow Lizzie @hollowlegs) and have to pace myself from not going through your archive all in one go… and brings back great memories as I used to live in Brixton!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 11, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Yeah I’d not thought about the fact that it’s such an unusual combination before but yeah…very Georgian. Anyhow I hope you enjoy the blog!

  • Avatar
    Reply Julia April 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Wow I have never seen these before. They look great – will have to have a go!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 14, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Let me know what you think!

  • Avatar
    Reply Rachel McGrath April 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    What beautiful plates! I loooove them! Food looks pretty decent too of course…

  • Avatar
    Reply Sam July 7, 2015 at 2:12 am

    how much does this make?

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen July 7, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Hi Sam,

      Oh dear, I struggle to remember. I think about 12-15 balls? Like the ones you see on the plate at the top.

  • Avatar
    Reply Nicola October 22, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Helen,

    Does this recipe freeze well? I’m planning on using fresh spinach in case that makes a difference.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves October 22, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      Hi Nicola, I haven’t tried freezing it myself but I don’t see why it wouldn’t. I’m not confident the textures would be the same but there is only one way to find out! It may also lose a little of the punchy fresh flavour.

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