kharcho recipe history culture origin

Kharcho is a staple soup of Georgian national cuisine.

Kharcho: Georgia’s Spicy Beef Stew

Published: March 17, 2019

For those of us who have had the singular pleasure of being seated behind a hefty bowl of kharcho (харчо), it is hard to describe exactly how delicious this Georgian delicacy really is. It is also, interestingly enough, hard to describe what it actually is, as there is rather heated disagreement about several of the ingredients central to the recipe. All recipes agree, however, that kharcho is a hearty meat and rice soup, distinguished most by the flavor kick of its characteristic walnuts and sour(ish) plum component. While it is undeniably a dish native to Georgia, it is, like nearly all Georgian foods, enjoyed across the entirety of the former USSR.

How It Got Its Name

(Почему он носит такое название?)

The name of the soup, “kharcho”, is derived from the dish’s actual Georgian appelation: “дзерохис хорци харшот” (dzerokhis khortsi kharshot), which, in Georgian, means simply “beef soup.” While other meats (especially lamb), are sometimes used, many purists refuse to make kharcho with anything but beef, citing the improbability of making, for example, beef soup from lamb.

When and How to Eat Kharcho

(Как правильно есть харчо?)

Kharcho, like many Georgian foods that have found a most appreciative home in Russia, requires no special occasion to be devoured; the love for the dish is too great to restrict its ingestion! In the soup’s native land, as well, kharcho is extremely common.

How to Prepare Kharcho

(Как правильно готовить харчо?)

kharcho recipe history culture origin
“Kharcho” in Georgian literally means “beef soup.” However, one can also find lamb and chicken kharcho, especially on restaurant menus outside of Georgia. Many argue that if the main component is not beef, then the name “kharcho” cannot be used as it results in the rather ridiculous translations of “beef lamb soup” or “beef chicken soup.” In many cultures outside Georgia, however, the dish is more associated with the spices used and the resultant, very specific aromatic quality of the soup. Thus, the name, whose meaning is not known by many who use it outside of Georgia, tends to be applied to any soup using a similar recipe to kharcho.

The most complex aspect of kharcho is most definitely what to put in it! As mentioned above, there are various disagreements regarding the components of the soup. Absolute purists will not call a soup kharcho if it is not made using the following trinity of ingredients: beef, grated walnuts, and “тклапи” (tklapi) ‒ a dried puree of cherry plums. Many, however, call it fair play to either replace these ingredients with others (as is the case with both the beef and tklapi) or to leave them out altogether (a most common occurrence with the walnuts). The traditional beef in the recipe is most commonly switched out for lamb, but there are pork, chicken and even goose variants on the kharcho theme. The soup’s base, tklapi, is now often replaced with fresh cherry plums, a popular Georgian sauce made from these plums called “ткемали” (tkemali), tomatoes and/or tomato paste, or even pomegranate juice.

While pre-prepared tklapi is a rarity in both America and in Russia, tkemali can be purchased easily online. You might also check at your local grocery story to inquire if they might have cherry plums in stock or if they can special order them if you are interested in trying the recipe with fresh fruit.

Another ingredient that can be difficult to find in Georgian cooking is a spice mix called “хмели сунели” (khmeli suneli), which contains a variety of ingredients including saffron, pepper, basil, dill, cilantro, and marjoram. It is used in kharcho as well as many other Georgian dishes. However, again, the age of Internet wonders is upon us and khmeli suneli can be found online at Amazon and specialty spice retailers. Don’t feel bad about investing in whole bottles of either of these unique ingredients – tkemali complements nearly any meat dish and can be used in place of ketchup or barbecue sauce for a spicier, more original flavor. For those who cook, khmeli suneli can complement nearly any dish in which the main ingredient is beef, lamb, or beans.

While there is a lot of disharmony regarding what should be put in this soup, there is the general rule that before ingesting your kharcho, it should be topped off with cilantro!

Kharcho Recipe

(Давай Приготовим!)

Суп-харчо по-грузински Georgian Kharcho
Ингредиенты (на трехлитровую кастрюлю)
  • 500-600 г говядины
  • 2/3 стакана риса
  • 2/3 стакана грецких орехов
  • 2-3 луковицы
  • 2-3 моркови
  • 2 небольших корня петрушки
  • 1/2 большой головки чеснока
  • большой пучок кинзы и базилика
  • тклапи/ткемали/свежая алыча/гранатовый сок (по вкусу)
  • хмели-сунели (по вкусу, я положила 1 ст. ложку)
  • толченые семена кориандра (по вкусу, я положила 1/2 ч. ложки)
  • свежемолотый черный перец (по вкусу)
  • лавровый лист (по вкусу)
  • соль (по вкусу)
  • растительное масло или жир для жарки

Приготовление

  1. Мясо вымыть, обсушить и нарезать на порционные кусочки. Залить холодной водой и поставить на сильный огонь. Довести до кипения, тщательно собрать пену, убавить огонь до минимального и томить бульон примерно 1,5 часа.
  2. Рис хорошо промыть и добавить в суп.
  3. Орехи измельчить и тоже добавить в суп.
  4. Лук мелко нарезать, морковь и корень петрушки натереть на крупной терке. Спассеровать овощи и положить в суп.
  5. За 10-15 минут до окончания приготовления добавить в суп хмели-сунели, толченые семена кориандра, свежемолотый черный перец и 3-4 лавровых листика. Посолить. Добавить подкислитель (тклапи/ткемали/свежая алыча/гранатовый сок) по вкусу.
  6. Чеснок очистить и измельчить. Кинзу и базилик мелко порезать. Готовый суп выключить и положить в него чеснок и зелень. Накрыть крышкой и дать настояться 20-30 минут.
Ingredients (for a 3-liter pot)
  • 1-1.3 pounds of beef
  • 2/3 cup rice
  • 2/3 cup walnuts
  • 2-3 onions
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2 medium-sized parsley roots
  • 1/2 large head of garlic
  • Big bunch of cilantro and red basil
  • tklapi/tkemali/fresh cherry plums/pomegranate juice ‒ to taste
  • Khmeli-suneli (a traditional Georgian spice mix that contains a variety of herbs including saffron, pepper, basil, dill, cilantro and marjoram) – to taste
  • Crushed coriander seeds – to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper – to taste
  • Bay leaves – to taste
  • Salt – to taste
  • Vegetable oil or grease for cooking

Preparation

  1. Wash your meat, dry it and cut it into morsels. Add cold water to the pot and put it over high heat. Bring this to a boil, thoroughly skimming off any foam, and reduce heat to a minimum. Let the stock stew for about 1.5 hours.
  2. Wash the rice thoroughly and add it to the soup.
  3. Cut or pound the walnuts into very small pieces and also add them to the soup.
  4. Finally chop the onion and grate the carrot and parsley root. Saute the vegetables and put them into the soup.
  5. Ten to fifteen minutes before the cooking time is up, add the khmeli-suneli, crushed cilantro seeds, freshly ground black pepper and 3-4 bay leaves. Salt the soup. Add your sour factor (tklapi, tkemali, fresh cherry plums, pomegranate juice) to taste.
  6. Mince garlic, finely chop cilantro and basil. Turn off the pot of soup and add the garlic and herbs. Cover the pot and let the soup sit for 20-30 minutes

Our Favorite Kharcho Videos

This video is part of a series on traditional Georgian cuisine. A very good foundational video on kharcho as it not only showcases some of the variations spoken of above (they use tomato paste instead of tklapi) and some shortcuts all its own (e.g. there is a blender involved), but there is also a kind of question-and-answer session about the nature of the dish itself going on between the host and the chef.

https://youtu.be/n4Luqx_lVB0

This is an amateur video made by a fairly prolific Russian cooking blogger. Although the quality is not optimal at times, it is a good one to watch as she uses lamb and also throws in some preparation variations, such as cooking her meat beforehand. Also interesting to look at the comments posted under the video; the argument over kharcho ingredients is alive and well even on the Internet!

Very cool video that is actually an advertisement for a multi-cooker. Shows you a nice, quick-and-dirty version of kharcho using tkemali.

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About the author

Jordan Bryant

Jordan Bryant graduated from Harvard University with a BA in Slavic Languages & Literatures. She  previously spent two summers studying abroad in St. Petersburg and one in Prauge. She participated in SRAS’s Home and Abroad Program in Vladivostok, Russia.

View all posts by: Jordan Bryant