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The fun sounding khmeli suneli is a Georgian spice blend which is used in many different recipes from the Caucasus region. Translating to ‘dried spices’, the blend uses the dried herbs, seeds and spices which are grown in the Caucasus. The resulting mix has warm, bitter, nutty and grassy flavours. It’s such a staple spice blend that it can be compared to what masala is to Indian cuisine. And just like masala and ras el hanout, khmeli suneli is a complex blend which varies slightly in taste according to each spice merchant and their secret formula.
Depending on the merchant, the spice blend consists of a blend of:
Marigold gives colour and earthiness to the blend, while Georgian fenugreek and a native strain of coriander called kindzi (both much more floral than their Indian counterparts) give a tang and a slight bitterness to the blend. These three spices are the foundation of khmeli suneli, and the building blocks to Georgian cuisine.
Georgia lies at the intersection of Europe and Asia, home to the Caucasus Mountain villages and Black Sea beaches. Its location largely influences Georgian cuisine, which is a blend of Eastern and Western food. The cuisine takes shape from the country’s place at the midpoint of the ancient spice routes which stretched from China to the Mediterranean. Georgians had the benefit of choosing the best of what the Greeks, Mongols, Turks and Arabs were cooking on the Silk Road. Soup dumplings are as popular as they are in China, and flatbreads are cooked on the inside walls of clay ovens just like in India. Spice mixes like khmeli suneli were great business for traders on the Silk Road, as combining them made it easier for merchants to ship. Many people couldn’t afford to buy ten different spices to flavour their cooking, so a ready-made spice blend was more within reach.
This convenience still rings true today, and it’s safe to say that a large majority of Georgians have khmeli suneli in their kitchen. The spice blend is generally used for grilling, soups and stews, vegetable dishes, mushroom based dishes, and nut based sauces.
It pairs well with walnuts, a backbone of Georgian cuisine. Walnuts are used generously in traditional dishes such as pkhali, a spinach and walnut pate topped with pomegranate seeds, and badrijani nigvzit, which are fried aubergine stuffed with walnut and garlic paste.
You can think of khmeli suneli as a curry powder of sorts, adding it to dishes when you want to give them spice and depth.
Keen to try it out? You can find khmeli suneli on our website here. Here are some great recipes which use the spice blend: