Georgia is well known for its deliciously rich culinary traditions, and one of the most delicious of dishes to try when you are travelling across the nation is Kharcho, a hearty soup that’s bursting with taste and flavour.
Kharcho comes in a hundred different forms, and like all Georgian dishes, every single region has its own unique recipe and set of ingredients, and Kharcho can be thick or thin, or tomato or walnut based. Whichever variety you order though, you’re guaranteed to love it, especially if you’re into your soups and spices.
With the local chefs at Chakandrila Georgian Cooking Classes, I was given a culinary masterclass in the crafting of Megrelian Kharcho, a creamy Kharcho variety that comes from the west of Georgia.
My Georgian food series, which began with the baking of some outrageously cheesy Acharuli Khachapuri, continues with a look at Kharcho, and in particular, at Megrelian Kharcho.
Kharcho is a beloved staple across Georgia, and in any Georgian restaurant, you’ll likely find the dish on the menu. It’s easy to prepare, it can be made in bulk, but it’s bursting with flavour. Kharcho though isn’t quite as well known as many other more ‘iconic’ Georgian foods.
Ask a tourist to name Georgian dishes, and they’ll likely say Khinkali and Khachapuri. Kharcho doesn’t have the fame of Khinkali dumplings and it doesn’t have the buttery, cheesy overload that makes Acharuli Khachapuri so popular, but Kharcho is probably just as popular amongst the locals as any dumpling or cheese boat is.
In many of the true, local restaurants in Georgia, you’re even more likely to find Kharcho on the menu than anything more well known in tourist circles.
Simply put, Kharcho is deliciously understated, and if you want to impress your fellow travellers with a solid meal of traditional Georgian food, then you can never go wrong with a steaming bowl of Kharcho.
But each region has its own peculiar tastes when it comes to cooking up a broth of Kharcho, and depending on where you are, or which restaurant you are ordering from, you’re likely to encounter a range of different varieties.
Kharcho is traditionally served with boiled pieces of beef, but this can also be changed to lamb, chicken, veal, or these days, simply vegetables. It can also be made with a tomato-based broth, which is the most common variety you’ll find on a culinary tour of Tbilisi for instance, or it can be made with a walnut base, which is the Megrelian Kharcho that I would be learning to cook at Chakandrila.
Megrelian Kharcho is made from a paste of ground walnuts, to which a variety of spices, including garlic, coriander and chilli, to name just a few, are added in liberal quantities. Megrelian Kharcho is a dish which is popular across the country, but which has its origins in the west, in the region where the Megrelian language is spoken.
Preparing Megrelian Kharcho
In the homely kitchen at the cooking school in Tbilisi, pots and pans were arrayed on the stoves, and spices were racked up on the tabletop. Boiled beef was ready to be braised, the walnut was ground into a fine powder and onions were being chopped by Mzia Velkauri, a local chef who has been preparing Megrelian Kharcho for decades.
After seamlessly chopping the onions, she drops them into oil that’s sizzling away on the stove, before adding in chunks of beef that had been pre-boiled earlier.
As the onions and beef sizzle away on a low temperature, she chops up fresh coriander and begins to prepare the walnut base.
Adding the coriander, chilli and Georgian spices to a bowl full of ground walnut, Mzia mixes all the ingredients together, before adding in water to form a paste.
Once the paste is suitably thick for her requirements, and once the beef and onions are suitably fried, she adds the walnut base to the pot, before adding in water to thin the mixture. But this is Megrelian Kharcho, and although it’s classed as a soup, it’s meant to be incredibly thick, and in my opinion, is more reminiscent of an Indian curry such as Korma. It’s thick, creamy and hearty, and so Mzia leaves it to stew, and to burn off any excess water.
Stirring the Kharcho, and intermittently adding in more seasoning to taste, Mzia only has to leave the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes before she’s excitedly preparing it for the table.
If you have all the right ingredients, then this is by no means a difficult or time-consuming dish to produce, but it’s insanely delicious given the relatively short prep time.
With a steaming bowl of Kharcho and a plate of bread to scrape up the remnants at the end, I sat down as Mzia poured me a large glass of homemade red wine to accompany what was going to be a delectable portion of Megrelian Kharcho.
Megrelian Kharcho Cooking Instructions:
These are just a few basic steps to follow, to cook up your own version of the deliciously creamy and walnut laced dish that is Kharcho!
It’s probably a little more complicated than this in practice, but once you get going it is still rather easy to make, just make sure you’ve got all the spices listed below, to bring out that Georgian flavour. I’d really recommend taking a cooking class to see how it’s really done though because no one prepares Kharcho quite like Mzia Velkauri from Chakandrila Georgian Cooking Classes!
Once it’s cooked, don’t forget that the true way to eat any Georgian dish, is with copious quantities of homemade wine!
Ingredients: Stewed Beef, Onions, Ground Walnut, Garlic, Tomato Puree, Coriander, Chili powder, Salt, Pepper.
- Stew the beef pieces in hot water
- Fry the chopped onions
- Fry the stewed beef with the onions
- Make the paste – mix ground walnuts with Svanetian salt, Georgian spices and chilli powder. Mix together, and add water to create a stock.
- Add the stock to the onions and beef.
- Simmer for five minutes.
- Add fresh Coriander/Cilantro
- Simmer for at least 15 minutes.
- Serve with bread and plenty of wine
Chakandrila Georgian Cooking Classes
If you’re looking to learn how to cook, Georgian style, then one of the best culinary schools in Georgia is Chakandrila. This small cookery school is locally owned and it’s run by Georgians who know how to cook in that glorious home cooking style that’s usually found in the villages.
You can learn how to make a whole host of different Georgian dishes, be it Khinkali or Khachapuri, and I really can’t recommend these guys enough when it comes to learning how to cook!
Chakandrila Georgian Cooking Classes provided my cooking class free of charge, but as always, my opinions are always my own!
All Words and Photos by Richard Collett