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Churchkhela ("church-kay-lah") is a Georgian confection made by repeatedly dunking strands of nuts into thick, concentrated grape juice. After drying in the sun for a few days, the sticky exterior hardens around the knobbly nuts, creating a portable and shelf-stable product that might be your new favorite on-the-go snack.
Definitely also give homemade fruit leather a try. It's way easier to make than you think!
The sausage-shaped treats are such nutrient-rich powerhouses—thanks to the antioxidant-packed grapes and anti-inflammatory walnuts—that Georgian warriors would take them on their military maneuvers for dependable, durable sustenance.
Related: The 10 Foods You Should Prep Every Sunday
Even today, Georgians will often pack a churchkhela or two for long hikes and car rides, though the sweets are such a labor of love that, unfortunately, most everyone buys sugar-bomb industrial versions these days. Having tasted the luxuriously rich and silky-textured homemade stuff in Georgian wine country, take my word for it: The hours spent threading, dipping, and drying are well worth the effort.
Churchkhela is customarily made in the fall using leftover must from winemaking, but with excellent-quality nuts and grape juice (we like Santa Cruz Organic White) available year round, there’s no need to stick to seasonality. Just be sure to store your nuts properly—in the freezer is best—so they stay soft and fresh. (If the nuts seem crumbly, soak them in cold water for 20 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.)
Related: The 5 Worst Sweeteners You Should Avoid—And 5 Safe Alternatives To Try Instead
Once you’ve got the dip-and-dry technique down, try experimenting with different fruit juices (cranberry, apple, and pomegranate, for instance). If you make your own juice, even better—simply run it through a fine sieve to rid it of any pulp and impurities, which can negatively affect the texture.
Then, consider varying the nut type. Walnuts, the traditional filling in eastern Georgia, make a thicker and richer churchkhela, while delicate hazelnuts are more typical in the west. (Surely some of our readers below the Mason-Dixon line are adventurous enough to swap in pecans.)
Related: The 11 Healthiest Whole Grains You Should Be Eating
Whether gobbled on the go or savored alongside fine cheese and wine, churchkhela is a versatile snack that keeps for months, as convenient today as it was hundreds of years ago. Here, in a recipe adapted from Darra Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast that’s equal parts cooking and handicrafts, we show you how it’s made.
Looking for more energizing snack recipes? Check out these no-bake snack balls that you can eat on-the-go.
Makes 2 strands
40 walnut halves
1½ quarts white grape juice
¾ cup sugar
1 cup flour
Thread a needle with a 30-inch length of heavy-duty thread. Knot the ends together. With the flat side of the nuts facing up, thread 20 walnut halves onto the thread, then thread the remaining walnut halves flat-side down. (It’s easier to thread them through the thinnest portion of the nut, rather than through the ridge)
Cut the thread from the needle and knot the ends. Then push half of the walnuts to that end of the thread, leaving about 6 inches of thread between the 2 portions of nuts. Pick up the thread from the top. You will have 2 separate strands of walnut halves hanging flat-side up.
In a large saucepan, combine the grape juice and sugar. Heat to just below the boiling point. Place the flour in a bowl and very gradually stir in the heated juice, whisking constantly so that no lumps form. When about half of the juice has been added to the flour, pour the remaining flour mixture into the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly.
Meanwhile, find a board about 4 inches wide and suspend it between two chairs. Place newspaper on the floor underneath to catch the drips.
Pick up the walnuts by the middle of the thread and slowly dip them into the juice mixture, using a spoon to coat the top sides, if necessary. Slowly pull them up from the juice and carefully drape the thread over the prepared board so that the walnut strands hang down over the newspaper.
Allow the nuts to dry for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the coating is just slightly tacky. Then return the nuts to the juice, which has been kept warm, and repeat the dipping process. Allow to dry again for 20 minutes or so. (It helps to hang the nut strands in front of an open window, or to dry them in front of a fan if the weather is damp.) The drier the coating, the better the next layer will adhere.
Repeat the dipping process 8 to 10 times, or until the nuts are completely coated. Leave to dry 3 to 4 days, until the strands are no longer sticky to the touch. When dry, pull out the strings.
To serve, cut the churchkhela into rounds.