You can find Ekala almost everywhere Georgia. It is a climbing, thorny bush, whose newly-budded stems are used as food. However, Ekala can be picked during only one month, before its sprouts harden and become too coarse. It is traditionally done in April and May, when the stems are picked, packed tightly into jars, preserved and sterilized with boiling water, and kept for a whole year. The sprouts should thicken well and crack easily.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Ekalghichi grows in nearly every region of Georgia, it is mainly used as food in western Georgia. Indeed, it is considered a plant-based delicacy. In Guria, it is called “dzigura” or “kurkantela,” while in Samegrelo it is named “kalia,” “dzigiri” or “korcheli,” and in Kakheti it is called “kankra”, in Kartli “ghichi”, and in Imereti, Racha, and Lechkhumi it is referred to as “burtsumela,” “kinkaruzhi,” or “shashkipura.”
Traditionally, Ekala is considered a part of the cuisine of the western region of Imereti, while, with a few minor adjustments, it has also become part of the culinary scene in the regions of Ajara, Guria, and Samegrelo. Some people season it without walnuts, and instead add vinegar, leeks, and fresh herbs, others may add green tkemali (plum sauce) or fresh savory, while some like it with Welsh onions, and others with dill. The one essential ingredient for all recipes of the dish however is well-chosen fresh ekala with buds, which must be scalded with boiling salty water but not overboiled to the point of losing its shape.
To retain its color, after the Ekala is removed from the boiling water, it is left under cold running water and then put onto a filter for half an hour, to remove the excess water. It does not need to be wrung out extensively by hand, and, like other herbs, does not lose much volume when boiled, so 1-1.5 kilograms would be more than enough for 10-12 people, when spread out over four plates.
The traditional recipe for Imeretian Ekala is as follows:
1 kg Ekala;
400 g walnuts (or hazelnuts);
1 bunch of fresh coriander;
3-4 cloves of garlic (or 3-4 clumps of fresh garlic);
1 bunch dill;
1-2 green peppers (or ground red pepper); and
4 tbsp wine vinegar.
First, put the separated and washed Ekala into a pot, pour enough boiling water to completely cover it, and then add one teaspoon of salt. Put the lid over it, place it over a flame, and boil. Then, take the boiled ekala out and leave it under cold running water for half an hour. Thereafter, leave it on a filter for a short time, wring it out slightly with your hands, and mince it (Ekala does not need to be put through a meat-grinder), and place it into a bowl.
To prepare the seasoning, put finely-chopped coriander, green onions, dill, and garlic on the Ekala and mix it thoroughly, then add finely-chopped green peppers, salt, and (a lot of) vinegar, as well as minced walnuts, then mix it again and, finally, this beautiful dish will be ready.
Some people add pennyroyal to Ekala, and many people think that leeks go well with it, while others prefer hazelnuts to walnuts, and others even say that the juice of unripe grapes is superior to vinegar. In any case, while how to make the most of Ekala appears open to interpretation, any of its recipes will please lovers of herbs. For vegetarians and those who are fasting, Ekala is truly an ally, while its faithful partner – hot Mchadi (Georgian cornbread) – is equally delicious.