I don't travel as much as I'd like to, but in a small way I explore the world through my city's endless array of international grocery stores. Which is how I found myself in a hole-in-the-wall Russian market the other day. Hardly anything was in English, but I asked the owner for tips and picked out a few foods to try. My favorite discovery from this little adventure? Tkemali.
I almost bought the tkemali for the elegant looking bottle alone but the description of "plum sauce with Georgian spices" sealed the deal. What kind of Georgian spices? Who knew for sure, but svaneti salt and khmeli suneli are staples in my spice cupboard so I couldn't resist.
Tkemali, I learned, is the name of a sour plum in Georgia and this ubiquitous sauce can be made from unripe green, ripening yellow, or ripe red plums. There are many brands and many home recipes. The one I tried — Trest B Tkemali #3, a green version — is tart, vinegary, aromatic, slightly spicy and slightly sweet, sort of a cross between ketchup and chutney.
Traditionally tkemali is used to season stews and potato dishes and as a condiment for grilled meats and seafood. I've been slathering this garlic and coriander rich sauce on tofu, grilled summer squash, and roasted potatoes. I can just imagine the wonders it will bring to my next pot of lentil soup.
It's late in the season for green plums, so I'll have to wait until next year to make green tkemali. This year I plan to make a homemade red version using a recipe in Darra Goldstein's The Georgian Feast (she recommends slightly underripe Santa Rosa plums). Additional recipes may be found at Georgia About and the New York Times. I'd love to hear from anyone with first-hand experience!