One of my favorite things about living in St. Petersburg was walking into the Haymarket, one of the large open-air markets in the city.
The abundance and color, honey vendors from Altai bragging loudly, tempting you with sample spoons, piles of melons trucked up from Azerbaijan, dried fruit from Uzbekistan, pickled everything—mushrooms, cabbage, garlic, cucumbers.
Best were the tables and overfilled buckets of spices and teas from everywhere. Golden heaps of marigold from Georgia, in petals and powder, tart European barberry, crushed or whole, and blue fenugreek. You are encouraged to taste everything.
Much as the Dutch have rice tables, the Brits their curry, the Russians have Georgian cooking.
Lobio, a staple in Georgia and Russia, is deceivingly simple, combining kidney beans, cilantro and fenugreek. I served it alongside roast chicken given a rub of sumac, garlic and olive oil, cooked on a rack over spicy seasoned fresh plums and shallots. Out of season you can use prunes and apricots, or even persimmons.
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds
3 tbs. oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 16-oz bag of dried red kidney beans or 14.5 oz can of red kidney beans
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 sprigs parsley, chopped
2 sprigs dill, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Either drain and rinse canned kidney beans, or cook dried beans until tender.
Heat a small, dry frying pan and toast the coriander, fennel, and fenugreek seeds until fragrant, then crush with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until amber and sweet smelling, 10-15 minutes. Add the beans and warm through.
Mix together the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, vinegar, sugar, crushed spices, herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl. Combine with the warm beans and serve warm or cold.
Adapted from Olia Hercules: Mamushka