Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe and a former Soviet Republic (not to be confused with Georgia – an American state). Georgia’s cuisine is quite unique but little known around the world. It’s aromatic and liberally uses fresh herbs and spices, but it’s not particularly hot. Georgian cuisine has a firm foothold in Russia that goes back into the 19th century, and became even more prominent in the Soviet times. This particular soup, called kharcho (or harcho) was for many years a staple in humble Russian cafeterias and workers’ cafes as well as upscale restaurants. Of course, due to the lack of authentic ingredients, many were substituted for what was readily available and as a result, the original recipe was adulterated to the point where it was no longer recognizable. The authentic version is aromatic, somewhat sour, has just a touch of heat, has beef broth as its base and is thickened with walnuts and rice. The combination or the earthy walnut flavor and authentic Georgian spices makes this soup truly unique and delicious.
I spent some time searching for the authentic version of the recipe and came up with these few points:
1. Only beef is used in the original recipe, not lamb, not chicken.
2. There are no tomatoes of any form in the original recipe. The sourness comes from the addition of sour green or yellow plum (alycha). In Georgia, these are made into a paste and dried as sheets called tklapi. These are of course, impossible to find outside of Georgia, however Russian stores abroad sell a sauce called tkemali which works just as well because it’s made of the same sour plum. I also have a recipe for tkemali on this site. If you cannot find tkemali anywhere, tamarind may be used as a substitute.
3. Walnuts are an essential part of this recipe. It’s not the same soup without walnuts.
4. Khmeli-suneli is a complex mix of dried herbs that is used in this recipe, and in many other Georgian dishes. You can find it in Russian stores, as well as online. As an alternative, you can use the khmeli-suneli recipe on my site.
- 500g (1 lbs) beef
- 2 L water
- 1/2 cup rice, well rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 tsp khmeli-suneli herb mix
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 red or green tkemali sauce or sour pomegranate juice
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp hot chilli powder
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley or cilantro, to garnish when serving
Cut beef into small cubes (1.5 cm or 1/2 in).
Make stock. Add beef to a stock pot filled with 2 L (2 qt) of cold water, add salt. Bring to a boil and boil the meat on medium for 40 minutes, skimming off foam periodically.
Add 1/2 cup of well-rinsed rice, cook for a about 1 hr.
Coat a frying pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Add onions and cook, stirring, until onions turn golden.
Add onions to the soup.
Let soup simmer for a further 5 minutes, then add the crushed garlic.
Let soup stand for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with chopped parsley or cilantro when serving.