Riding out Coronavirus in Tbilisi has its perks. I’m right around the corner from hiking trails, have an endless list of Georgian wine to sample, and all the time in the world to learn my favorite Georgian dishes such as khinkali, Adjarian khachapuri, and now kharcho soup. This hearty kharcho soup recipe is the comfort food of dreams and loaded with rich herby and garlicky flavor that just makes ya feel warm and happy inside. It’s celebrated all across Georgia and a favorite for warming up during the winter season. Despite it being the heat of June and steadily in the 90s every day, I can’t help but enjoy this delicious soup regularly! I hope you enjoy it, too.
What is kharcho?
So, kharcho can be made in a number of ways, but the most common differentiators are with and without walnuts and thick or soupy. The easiest way to name them is Megrelian kharcho (thick and stewed in walnut paste) and kharcho soup (brothy and herby). They are both equally delicious, but today I am putting the spotlight on kharcho soup. It’s far more soupy than it’s walnut counterpart and has subtle spiciness with bursts of flavor throughout. It is also made with very basic ingredients and doesn’t have any complicated steps.
To brown or not to brown?
Traditionally, the meat is boiled right away but I prefer to do a quick brown before boiling. I personally enjoy the texture more this way and think it adds to the body of the broth. I also trim the fat from the beef – it’s just my preference and the fat scraps make for great dog treats If you wish, you can bypass both of these steps and have even less fuss. Either way, this is a classic low and slow soup that requires little work that will have your house smelling amazing and your neighbors asking if they can join.
What are tkemali and khmeli-suneli?
Tkemali is Georgian sour plum sauce. It’s considered one of the world’s most unique sauces to try and can be used on everything from fried eggs to garlic bread to the most common – grilled meat. Khmeli – suneli is a common spice used in Georgian dishes. It is made up mainly of blue fenugreek, savory, dill, cilantro, bay, and other various herbs. If you’re unable to find khmeli-suneli, you can make your own with my blend in the recipe notes. They are both uniquelly Georgian and quite hard to find outside the Caucacus region so be sure to check the substituions in my recipe notes at the bottom!
2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg beef chuck (or beef stew equivalent)
2 medium white onions diced
2 medium tomatoes diced
5 garlic cloves minced or grated
3/4 cup rice
1 bunch cilantro chopped
1 bunch parsley chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tkemali see notes for sub
1 tbsp khmeli - suneli see notes for sub
1 tbsp salt & pepper to taste
1 diced chili pepper (serrano or equivalent)
Additional cilantro, parsley and chili pepper for garnish
Cut beef into 1 inch cubes, trim fat if desired and season generously with salt and black pepper, brown in large stew pot for 5 - 10 minutes until lightly browned on all sides
Add 9 cups of water to beef cubes. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook on low 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
Add diced onion, garlic, rice, tomato paste, diced tomatoes and khmeli-suneli. Cover and let cook for 20-25 minutes until rice is tender.
Add tkemali sauce, diced chili and chopped parsley and cilantro. Cook on low for another 10-15 minutes.
Serve and enjoy. Garnish with additional chopped cilantro, parsley and chili pepper.
Notes SUBSTITUTES: If you aren't in the Caucasus region, tkemali and khmeli suneli can be hard to come by - substitute with these: Tkemali: Use white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or a generous squeeze of half a lemon in its place. Khmeli-Suneli: make your own spice blend by grinding equal parts blue fenugreek, savory, dried dill, dried cilantro with a generous pinch of black pepper and two bay leaves. Alternatively, you can use blue fenugreek by itself. BROWNING THE MEAT: Traditionally, kharcho beef is boiled without being browned first. I prefer the texture of it being browned for a few minutes first. It adds a nice body to the broth and is just my preference. I also trim the fat. You can bypass both of these steps if you like fatty, soft beef! Both options are delicious.
Step by step instructions
Here’s what you need:
1kg (2lbs) of stew meat such as beef chuck or shoulder, rice, tomatoes, garlic, onions, tkemali (Georgian plum sauce), olive oil, tomato paste and a few spices which we will get to later and generous bunch of parsley and cilantro. Please see recipe notes below for info on substitutions.
First, brown the meat
Traditionally the meat is chopped and then boiled but I prefer to brown it first. I also prefer to trim the fat. I think it adds to the body of the broth and makes for a nice texture. Brown on all sides with olive oil for around 5-10 minutes.
Now add the water
Add around 9 cups of water after the meat has browned. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer and let sit on low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check periodically to remove any excess foam on the surface.
After 1 1/2 – 2 hours,
add the onion, rice, garlic, tomato paste, and khmeli-suneli. Let sit for 25 minutes while the rice cooks. Then add in diced tomato, diced chili, chopped parsley, cilantro, and tkemali and let sit for another 10-15 minutes.
Serve & Enjoy!
Garnish with additional chopped parsley, cilantro, and chili pepper.