Lovely Lobiani: Georgian Bean Bread

If using the words bean and bread together does not get you excited, have no fear. The word Georgian in front of them makes all the difference. Georgia is one of those border regions between East and West that, rather than taking a bit of both, is itself a tertium quid. Its language is unique, its culture ancient, and its culinary tradition so impressive that, according to Darra Goldstein, the poet Alexander Pushkin declared that “Every Georgian dish is a poem.”

There is nothing especially poetic about beans or bread, but when you put them together to make savory, satisfying lobiani you get something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is great kid food, party food, picnic food, potluck food, or take-your-lunch to work food. The only problem? Despite the fact that it showcases beans and comes from a country where over 80% of the population is Orthodox, lobiani is not traditionally vegan. Most of the recipes I found called for cooking the beans with Racha ham (a Georgian ham that is said to be quite salty and looks more like American salt pork than honey baked ham), mashing them with butter, and adding anything from an egg or two to sour cream and two whole sticks of butter to the bread dough. Obviously I have made a few changes to make this version vegan, while still trying to preserve some of the richness of the original. There are quite a few imitation ham and bacon substitutes available, and you are welcome to add some in if you like. I find, however that they are a) expensive, b) full of ingredients that I would not normally eat, c) not widely available, and d) rarely as subtle or richly flavored as the real thing. I used just a pinch of smoked paprika to give the tiniest hint of smokey flavor, but otherwise relied on caramelized onion, garlic, herbs, and lots of olive oil to replace the flavor from the ham. I first made this using a foccacia recipe for the bread, but have since found that my basic pita recipe is just as good, if not better, and is slightly less work.

As a last note, lobiani would traditionally be baked in tone, or circular clay ovens. The closest you can come in an average kitchen is to preheat a pizza stone in a very hot oven for at least half an hour before baking. Also, lobiani can come in a variety of shapes. I made mine large and round, but feel free to try log shaped or individual sized ones. Just shorten the cooking time if you make them smaller. Click here for step by step photographic instructions for shaping the dough and here for an alternate way of shaping them and pictures of a traditional oven in a real Georgian bakery.

Makes three 10-12″ loaves, each of which will serve 4 people as a meal, or 8-12 people as a snack or party food. It will keep in an air tight container or wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap for a day at room temperature, several days in the fridge, and several weeks in the freezer. Leftovers can be eaten at room temperature or warmed in a 350° oven before serving.

Ingredients:

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for the filling

  • 1 lb kidney beans (or 3-4 cans)
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 5 cloves garlic, slightly crushed with the side of a knife
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp summer savory (savory is not traditional in lobiani, but is used in many other Georgian dishes – if you can’t find it you can use something else – Georgians also love tarragon, cilantro, dried coriander, and dill)
  • a pinch of smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt (plus more, to taste)
  • 3-6 TBSP olive oil

for the bread

  • 4 1/2 cups (1 lb 6.5 oz) flour (I used white whole wheat, but you can use all-purpose or a combination of all purpose and regular whole wheat)
  • 2 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 TBSP sugar or honey
  • 3 tsp yeast (I use instant or bread yeast, but regular should work just fine with a slightly increased rising time)
  • 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 3 TBSP olive oil

Method:

1. Soak the beans overnight if using dried beans. If using canned beans, drain and rinse them. Cover the beans with several inches of water in a large pot. Add crushed garlic cloves and bay leaves (Georgians use enough bay leaves to really flavor a dish, not just as a background hum). Cook at a low simmer until the beans are very soft and beginning to fall apart. I recommend cooking even canned beans for a little while, just to make them really soft and infuse a little bay flavor.

2. Measure water for bread into a large glass measuring cup or medium sized bowl. Add yeast, honey, and oil. Measure flour and salt into the bowl of a standing mixer (or other large mixing bowl if kneading by hand). Whisk liquid ingredients to combine, then slowly pour into dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed (or while stirring with a wooden spoon). Once the ingredients come together to form a dough, turn the mixer speed to medium low and knead for about 10 minutes. You may need to add more flour after a few minutes. Ideally the dough should clear the sides but still stick to the bottom of the mixing bowl. Don’t add more than a half a cup of extra flour, though. This dough should be somewhat soft and sticky. If you are kneading by hand, just keep adding a little bit of flour at a time, just enough so you can keep kneading without it sticking to your hands. Knead until the dough is soft and smooth, also about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, put in a warm spot, and allow to rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.

3. While the dough is rising, chop your onions and remaining garlic. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and a IMG_3768teaspoon of salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft and starting to turn golden-brown. Keep the heat fairly low, turning it down if the onions brown too fast. You want them to get really soft and sweet so they will melt into the filling. It should take at least 15 minutes.

4. When the onions are soft and beginning to brown, add the garlic, savory, and smoked paprika. Stir and cook for another minute or two. Drain the beans, picking out the bay leaves and garlic cloves. Add the onion mixture to the beans. At this point you have several options for mashing the beans. You could try a wooden spoon and lots of elbow grease, a potato masher, or a food processor. I put mine in the bowl of my electric mixer (no need to wash it after making the bread dough) and used the paddle attachment. While you are mashing the beans, add anywhere from 1-4 more TBSP of olive oil or vegan IMG_3772margarine, depending on how rich you want it (don’t add the oil right at the beginning unless you are using a food processor – it will make the beans slippery and hard to mash). You will probably want to add more salt. I started with 1/2 a teaspoon, but ended up adding about another whole teaspoon. The filling should be just a little salty and have plenty of flavor. You can also add more savory or paprika at this point.

 5. Put your pizza stone on a rack in the bottom half of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°. When the dough has doubled in size, divide it into three equal portions. Roll the portions into balls and place on a floured surface, covered with a clean, damp towel or loosely draped with plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 20-30 minutes.

6. Roll your first ball of dough into a circle about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. (Some tips for getting dough to roll easily: use a silicone mat if possible; imagine the dough as a clock and roll from 5 o’clock to 10 o’clock, turn the dough a quarter turn, and repeat – it makes it rounder than rolling back and forth; pick it up and flip it over occasionally, adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking; cover it and let it rest a few minutes longer if it resists stretching or bounces back.)

IMG_3843IMG_3844   IMG_3780IMG_3783

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 The last four pictures are from an earlier batch, which I made using the focaccia dough. The pita dough is not quite as soft and does not squish together quite as easily. When I made it with pita dough I left the pinwheel shape made by folding the dough together and did not try to flatten it out or score it, more because I was in a hurry than for any other reason. It works and looks nice either way.

7. Put a third of the filling in the center of the dough. Fold the dough around it, pinching to seal in the center and pressing with the flat of your hand to make sure the filling goes all the way out to the edges. You can gently score it into wedges if you want, but be  careful not to cut through the dough. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Place on heated pizza stone in the oven (or an upside-down cookie sheet covered with parchment paper). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling. (You can bake more than one at a time if you can fit them. Otherwise roll the second one out while the first is baking). Enjoy as a snack, or serve with a salad for an easy meal. Try it with charkhlis chogi (beets with sour cherry sauce) and spinach pkhali for a real Georgian supra (an hours-long eating event, complete with intricate toasts and a master of ceremonies).

There is just no way to make this look as good as it tastes.

There is just no way to make this look as good as it tastes.

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3 thoughts on “Lovely Lobiani: Georgian Bean Bread

  1. Hello Thea! I recently visited Georgia and had the chance to eat a couple different variants of lobiani. When I came home, I tried this recipe and it was a hit with my family, especially the dough! Can you tell me if the dough can be frozen and still turn out well? Would you recommend freezing with or without the bean filling?
    Thanks so much!

    • I have not actually tried freezing uncooked dough myself, although I believe I have read about people freezing pizza dough successfully. I think I would try freezing the dough in balls, thawing, then rolling out and filling (you could freeze and thaw the filling separately). I have successfully frozen whole cooked loaves of lobiani, then thawed them in the fridge or on the counter and reheated in a 350 degree oven. I am so glad you liked the recipe! I have live in a small town in Mississippi and have never been to Georgia (the Republic, anyway), so I had to go by what I imagined it ought to taste like rather than an actual memory.

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