Saami Somi Arrives

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Pkhali. Photo by Alyza Enriquez

Saami Somi, the Georgian restaurant by siblings Donna and Michael Kolodesh, opened in Reading Terminal Market last month. The name, Georgian for “three doughs,” reflects one of the restaurant’s focuses — they use a leavened sourdough, an heirloom matsoni yogurt dough and a dumpling dough.

These are used to make the traditional khachapuri, aka “cheeseboat,” and soup dumplings that comprise part of the menu. The other dishes highlight vegetables and feature a flavorful assortment of dips and salad-type items such as the pkhali trio, an array of tastiness offering portions of beet, eggplant and spinach infused with toasted walnuts, garlic and spices.

I sampled these at a recent visit with the traditional khachapuri, and each bite was heavenly. The restaurant is an ode to their Georgian heritage with some local flavor.
The Kolodesh family immigrated to the United States in 1993 when Michael Kolodesh was 5; his sister was born here. Like many ex-Soviet republics at the time, Georgia was experiencing major civil unrest; the family heard constant gunshots, and Michael Kolodesh remembers his mother telling him that these were fireworks celebrating weddings to allay his fears.


Once, while at the airport saying goodbye to friends, gunfire broke out and forced the Kolodesh family to hide in the bathroom. In addition to the civil unrest, antisemitism and sexism were prevalent and, despite their love of their country, the family decided to immigrate. They came to Northeast Philadelphia and found a community of ex-Soviets.

Michael and Donna Kolodesh. Photo by Hadas Kuznits/ KYW Newsradio.

“We have such a strong connection to Philadelphia because we really found a community here. Although they were not all Georgians, there was a shared experience with people from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine … (KleinLife) became a gathering space for us all,” Michael Kolodesh said. “Our tradition is very family-centric; in Georgia, multi-generational families live in the same courtyard, and we had my grandmother with us, so we were able to have that same experience here. She took care of us while our parents worked, and she instilled a lot of traditional Georgian culture in us — we resisted at the time, but now we are grateful.”

Donna adds, “Lor Kats, our chef, is the grandson of the woman who cooked at the Klein JCC café; we have known his family since we were kids. So we really do feel a very strong connection to Philadelphia, in addition to keeping our Georgian roots. This reflects in our menu,” Donna Kolodesh said. “For example, our mushroom khachapuri is a fusion of both places. Mushrooms are not generally used in Georgian cuisine, but the Kennett Square mushroom farms are such an important part of the agriculture in this area, we wanted to reflect that, showcasing our experience as Georgians but also Philadelphians.”

Michael Kolodesh noted that because Georgia is at a crossroads, its food has elements of South and East Asia, Slavic, Middle Eastern and Eastern Europe cuisines.

The siblings shared their recipes for a pkhali trio. See below for the beetroot and spinach varieties; check the Exponent’s online Philacatessen food blog for the eggplant version.
Pkhali combines chopped vegetables and herbs in a spiced walnut base and is typically formed into balls and served as a cold salad or dip.

Donna Kolodesh recommended making these a day ahead of time to allow the flavors to fully mesh. They are delightful served as a salad, a dip or alongside a cheeseboat.

Beetroot Pkhali
Makes 1 pound or 10 small scoops of pkhali

⅔ cups toasted walnuts
1¼ tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
¼ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 teaspoon fenugreek
½ tablespoon ground coriander
½ tablespoon dried savory
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cold water
2 beets
Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Place the whole, unpeeled beets in a pot. Add cold water until they are fully covered. Add the bay leaf and a pinch of salt.

Bring it to a boil, reduce the temperature to medium and cook until a cake tester inserted in the largest beet goes all the way through. Let the beets cool, then peel and grate them; set them aside.

Combine the toasted walnuts, vinegar, garlic, onion, parsley, cilantro, dill, fenugreek, coriander, dried savory, pepper and salt in a food processor. Add cold water and pulse until the ingredients form a thick paste. Add more cold water as necessary to loosen the paste and aid in the blending process.

Add the beets and pulse until they are fully integrated. Refrigerate the beets for at least 1 hour before consuming. Form them into balls, garnish them with pomegranate seeds and enjoy.

Spinach Pkhali
Makes about 3 cups or 4 servings

⅔ cups toasted walnuts
1¼ tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
¼ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 teaspoon fenugreek
½ tablespoon ground coriander
½ tablespoon dried savory
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cold water
12 ounces fresh spinach
1 tablespoon neutral oil
Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the spinach, a handful at a time, stirring until wilted, gradually adding more leaves and cooking out as much water as possible. Remove it from the heat, and cool.

Combine the toasted walnuts, vinegar, garlic, onion, parsley, cilantro, dill, fenugreek, coriander, dried savory, pepper and salt in a food processor. Add the cold water, and pulse until the ingredients form a thick paste. Add more cold water as necessary to loosen the paste and aid in the blending process.

Add the spinach, and pulse until it is fully integrated. Refrigerate it for at least 1 hour before consuming. Form the mixture into balls, garnish it with pomegranate seeds to taste and enjoy.

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