If you were to ask me, there are few sauces out there that are more perfect than tkemali. I have been in love with this tart, flavourful sour plum sauce since I tasted it on my very first trip to Georgia. The unique, pungent flavours marry so well with a number of different foods that I was sure I needed to develop a tkemali recipe to be able to make it once I was no longer in Georgia.
Tkemali is an incredibly popular sauce in Georgia, in fact, its use rivals ketchup in places like the US (and if you want to try Georgia’s version of ketchup, check out my satsebeli recipe!). The distinct tartness pairs excellently with a juicy, charred mtsvadi (grilled chicken or pork) or poured over roasted potatoes. It even features heavily in one of my absolute favourite Georgian stews, chakapuli.
Tkemali is a very versatile sauce and it is actually so easy to make that I encourage everyone to try their hand at it when plums are in season. If you’ve been interested in making this delicious Georgian condiment, then this tkemali recipe is for you!
What is Tkemali?
Before I jump into the nitty-gritty of this tkemali recipe, let’s first discuss just what this delicious Georgian sour plum sauce is. Tkemali is actually the Georgian word for a wild sour cherry plum that grows prevalently in the Caucasus.
The fruits begin to appear in late April to May when they are firm, green and extremely astringent. This is when they are used in dishes like chakapuli and cooked into my favourite iteration of the sauce, green tkemali.
As the plums ripen, they still don’t develop the sweetness of the plums that it’s likely you’re most familiar with, however, they do take on a deep reddish-purple colour as the seasons shift into summer. This is when the plums will be made into red tkemali, which isn’t quite as tart and astringent as its green brother but still absolutely delicious.
To make tkemali, the plums are stewed until soft and then herbs are added to give it a distinctive flavour. It’s then served with any number of different dishes — most commonly with mtsvadi or potatoes — or even stirred into dishes like the aforementioned chakapuli or even some iterations of lobio.
How to Make Tkemali
Now that we’ve established just what tkemali is, now it’s time to talk about how to make it! Though the flavours of this sauce are unique and different from most anything else in other cuisines, the process of making this sauce isn’t actually all that difficult and it should only take about thirty minutes all in.
The first thing you’re going to need to do is to cook your plums. If you can somehow get your hands on sour cherry plums then I definitely recommend using those, however, I have never seen these outside of the Caucasus so I would recommend simply using unripe or underripe plums of any other sort. The goal here is just to make sure that they are sour, so pick the hardest plums you can find.
Then, add your plums to a large saucepan or pot and fill it with cool water until the plums are just covered. Bring the water to a gentle simmer over medium heat and allow the plums to cook until they are extremely tender and at the cusp of breaking down. This will take about 20 minutes.
You do want to make sure to keep a relatively keen eye on the plums just because you don’t want them to begin to break down in the water — this will end up diluting your sauce. You simply want to cook them until a knife inserted gives little-to-no resistance. Use a slotted spoon to remove the plums from the pot and make sure to reserve the cooking liquid because you will be using it later.
Now, over medium heat in a large saucepan, heat a tablespoon or two of neutral cooking oil until shimmering. Add a finely diced yellow onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook until the onion is softened and translucent but not yet browned; about five minutes. Add in your minced garlic (quite a lot of it — it is Georgian cuisine, after all!) and cook until it is just fragrant; only about thirty seconds to five minutes.
Next, in a sieve set over the pot, press the plums through the sieve, removing the stones as you do so. If you struggle to get all of the flesh through the sieve and it is relatively mashed and homogenous, add it to the pot without sieving it completely. Just make sure that there are no stones or stems in the puree (obviously).
Stir the plums in with the onion and garlic and then add in your chopped herbs. I call for a good amount of cilantro and dill because these are the most pervasive flavours in tkemali, however, feel free to add things like tarragon or summer savory, as well. These are also very traditional flavours in tkemali.
Mix the herbs in with plum puree and, if needed, pour a bit of your reserved cooking liquid to loosen the consistency of the sauce. The tkemali should actually be fairly loose so don’t be too worried about adding too much of the cooking liquid so long as it doesn’t dilute the flavours. Make sure to taste the sauce to adjust for seasoning, adding a bit of salt and pepper if needed.
Bring the sauce to a simmer and allow to bubble for about five to ten minutes, just until the flavours meld together and become a bit more homogenous and mellow out a bit. Then, allow the tkemali to cool completely before serving or transferring to a container and refrigerating. This sauce also would work well if you wanted to can it in a water bath so you can enjoy it all year long (it is what they do in Georgia!).
- 1kg unripe plums
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 50g fresh cilantro, chopped
- 20g fresh dill, chopped
- Add plums to a large pot or saucepan and fill with cold water until just covered. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until plums are very tender and just beginning to break down, about 20 minutes. Remove plums from water using a slotted spoon. Reserve the cooking water.
- Over medium-low heat in a small saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of neutral oil until shimmering. Add onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add garlic. Cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- In a sieve set over the pot, add the cooked plums and press them through the sieve removing the stones and scooping any remaining flesh into the pot. Add the cilantro and dill to the pot. Stir to combine, adding a splash of the plum cooking water, if needed, to loosen the consistency of the sauce.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer and allow to cook for another five minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before serving.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 57Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 4mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 2gSugar: 10gProtein: 1g
Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
The perfect tkemali recipe needn’t be difficult to execute and can use ingredients that are accessible the world over. So next time you’re looking for a taste of Georgia in your neck of the woods, consider making this delicious and unique condiment. You won’t be sorry!
Are you wondering how to make Georgian sour plum sauce? Have any questions about this tkemali recipe? Let me know in the comments!