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Red bean pkhali (Georgian red bean and walnut paté)

Time About 1 hour 30 minutes plus soaking/chilling time
Yields Makes 2 cups
Red bean pkhali (Georgian red bean and walnut paté)
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Print RecipePrint Recipe

You won’t find any chef’s whites in Elmira Avetian’s cooking class. There are no mirror-polished, stainless-steel workstations or pre-weighed mise en place. There’s just Avetian in her snug Glendale kitchen, standing in front of a four-burner stove on a floor mat that reads “Mom’s Kitchen Always Made With Love.”

Avetian is one of the cooking instructors for the League of Kitchens, a unique cooking school where small groups of students learn regional specialties from immigrant women who happen to be exceptional home cooks. Founded in New York City in 2014, the idea came to founder and CEO Lisa Gross after her Korean grandmother passed away and she longed for her cooking and regretted not learning by her side. After trying to teach herself to cook from books and internet tutorials, Gross determined there was no substitute for the sensory cues that are often left out of recipes, so she set out in search of hired grandmas and aunties from all over the world — Nepal, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Argentina and Afghanistan — who could teach curious home cooks in the manner that daughters and sons and cousins have been taught for generations, standing alongside their elders at the stove.

This October, the League of Kitchens will launch its first workshops outside of New York, in Los Angeles with two instructors — the Tbilisi-born Avetian, who specializes in Georgian and Armenian cuisine, and Smitha Sindagi, who hails from Karnataka, a state in southwest India where she earned the title of roti-master in her family.

ou won’t find any chef’s whites in Elmira Avetian’s cooking class. There are no mirror-polished, stainless-steel workstations or pre-weighed mise en place. There’s just Avetian in her snug Glendale kitchen, standing in front of a four-burner stove on a floor mat that reads “Mom’s Kitchen Always Made With Love.”

Avetian is one of the cooking instructors for the League of Kitchens, a unique cooking school where small groups of students learn regional specialties from immigrant women who happen to be exceptional home cooks. Founded in New York City in 2014, the idea came to founder and CEO Lisa Gross after her Korean grandmother passed away and she longed for her cooking and regretted not learning by her side. After trying to teach herself to cook from books and internet tutorials, Gross determined there was no substitute for the sensory cues that are often left out of recipes, so she set out in search of hired grandmas and aunties from all over the world — Nepal, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Argentina and Afghanistan — who could teach curious home cooks in the manner that daughters and sons and cousins have been taught for generations, standing alongside their elders at the stove.

This October, the League of Kitchens will launch its first workshops outside of New York, in Los Angeles with two instructors — the Tbilisi-born Avetian, who specializes in Georgian and Armenian cuisine, and Smitha Sindagi, who hails from Karnataka, a state in southwest India where she earned the title of roti-master in her family.

Every workshop includes a recipe booklet, but Avetian teaches with her senses. “The Georgian ways of mixing things is with your hands and your eyes,” she says, “but the main tool is love. My grandma always said, if you’re in a bad mood don’t go to the kitchen.”

Beyond advancing culinary skills, Gross’ ambition for the League of Kitchens is to better value immigrants’ knowledge and the richness of their cultures. “We are recognizing women home cooks who have been doing this work for their whole lives,” she says. “Many of these women are taken for granted by their families and communities, but have incredible expertise that’s not valued culturally or monetarily. They are just as unique and special as any French chef,” and without the League of Kitchens, their knowledge wouldn’t be accessible outside their own families.

While diners in Los Angeles have long championed immigrant cooking, rarely is it available to the public outside of restaurants, and in the case of Smith Sindagi, Karnataka-style cuisine doesn’t exist in any bricks-and-mortar in L.A., so her kitchen may be the only place Angelenos can learn about usali, a sprouted bean curry with tomatoes, coconut and spices. Similarly, you won’t find Avetian’s red-bean pkhali anywhere outside her Glendale kitchen. The mixture of ground vegetables — often beets, spinach or beans — with pureed walnuts, herbs and spices, is a hallmark of the Georgian table, and Avetian’s version made from kidney beans is fragrant with the quintessential flavors of her home country: cilantro, coriander and fenugreek.

Pkhali is one of six dishes that lands on Avetian’s dinner table when the workshop winds down and students gather over a feast of plump Armenian tolma, electric red borscht, Mediterranean salad and a whole trout baked with no less than a window box worth of tarragon.

After the savory courses, Avetian will serve Armenian coffee with gata, a flakey sweet bread, and read everyone’s future in their coffee grounds, but for now she looks around the table and worries what will become of all the leftovers.

“You’ll have to come back tomorrow,” she says to the students who laugh until her expression reveals that she’s serious. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

1

In a large bowl, soak the beans in a generous amount of water for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

2

Drain and rinse the beans, then transfer to a sauce pot. Cover with fresh cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until the beans are very tender and the skin starts to split apart, 40 minutes to an hour, possibly more, depending on how soft the beans are after soaking. Add more water if needed during cooking to keep the beans covered. Drain the beans, reserving about ¼ cup of the cooking water. Set the beans aside to cool completely.

3

In the bowl of a food processor or using a meat grinder with the smallest die, pulse or grind the cilantro until finely chopped. If the food processor or meat grinder has trouble grabbing hold of the cilantro, add some walnuts to the machine. Transfer to a bowl. Add the rest of the walnuts with the garlic to the work bowl or meat grinder and pulse or grind until finely ground. Add to the cilantro. Add the beans to the work bowl or meat grinder and pulse or grind until almost smooth and combine with the cilantro, walnuts and garlic. Add the vinegar, coriander, fenugreek, salt, pepper and chile powder. Mix with your hands until well combined to form the pkhali. The mixture should be very sticky and hold together when squeezed. If it feels dry, add the reserved bean cooking water 1 tablespoon at a time. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

4

To serve, divide the pkhali between 2 small, round dessert plates. Shape the pkhali into a disc and smooth the sides and top with a knife. Using a fork, make a criss-cross pattern on the top and garnish with pomegranate seeds or fresh herbs.

Adapted from a recipe by Elmira Avetian of the League of Kitchens. She advises against using canned red beans, as they don’t have the same firm, meaty texture as dried beans. When buying walnuts, Avetian checks for freshness by looking for whole pieces that are smooth and plump. If possible, she’ll break a piece between her fingers to make sure the nuts are still oily and don’t taste bitter. Avetian prefers using the meat grinder for a smooth texture, but a food processor can be used instead.