Kharcho (pronounced HAR-cho) is one of the most variable (albeit delicious) dishes you can find in Georgia, and therefore searching for the perfect kharcho recipe is going to be difficult, as the dish can vary so much from region to region and from cook to cook. The term kharcho is really a catch-all phrase describing a whole host of spiced stews and soups and ordering this dish at a variety of restaurants in Georgia will likely result in a completely different meal every time.
Despite all of the variations, however, you will find that kharcho is one of the most flavourful and exciting dishes in the repository of Georgian cuisine. Whether you dig in on a large steaming bowl of spicy kharcho soup or spoon thick, Megrelian kharcho stew over a bed of ghomi (Georgian polenta), you’re sure to love the deep, complex flavours of this traditional Georgian specialty.
This kharcho recipe is a recipe for my personal favourite of the stew varieties — Megrelian kharcho. More of a stew than a soup, Megrelian kharcho is thick and decadent and refreshingly easy to make. If you want to really explore some of the flavours and techniques that are indicative of traditional Georgian cuisine, then make sure to try this beef kharcho recipe out for yourself!
What is Kharcho?
Before I dive into how to make kharcho, let’s talk about what exactly it is. As mentioned earlier, the term kharcho can actually refer to a lot of different dishes, however, you will find a few similarities in all of them that will jump out.
Generally speaking, kharcho is a stew or soup made of some kind of meat (you really need not be picky in this instance, however, it is most commonly made with beef), and a very traditionally spiced broth or sauce. The dominant kharcho spice flavours are typically blue fenugreek, marigold (also referred to as Georgian saffron), dried savory and coriander seed with a significant amount of heat, as well.
Kharcho soup, which you will find all over the place in Georgia, is a bit different from the Megrelian kharcho recipe that I’m writing here. The soup is typically made with beef and rice, and the broth is flavoured with the above-mentioned spices along with a puree of sour cherry plums (known as tkemali in Georgian) and topped with a healthy helping of fresh coriander (cilantro). This adds a delicious bit of astringency to the soup and brightness to the soup.
Megrelian kharcho, which is the kharcho recipe that I’m outlining here, is a lot more hearty and is generally served more as a main dish. A delicious stew hailing from the Samegrelo region in northwestern Georgia, it is traditionally made with lots of the same spices, tomato paste, and it is thickened with ground walnuts — much like lobio, or Georgian red bean stew. This is, personally, my favourite iteration of kharcho as it truly exemplifies some of the best flavours and techniques that are unique to Georgian cuisine.
Though most common, kharcho also doesn’t have to be made with beef. There are countless other iterations where you will find chicken kharcho or veal kharcho instead. If you wanted to make a vegetarian kharcho, you could hypothetically add roasted cauliflower to the sauce and use a flavourful vegetable stock as the base — it would still be incredibly delicious!
Kharcho Recipe: How to Make Megrelian Kharcho
My Megrelian beef kharcho recipe diverts slightly from the absolute traditional way to make it — but I promise, it is only an improvement. Basically, I add the step of browning your meat before adding it to the stew and using chicken or beef stock as your liquid base.
The traditional Georgian way to do this (and the way I was taught, as well), is to boil your meat and cook it all the way through, with no browning, and use the poaching liquid as the base for your kharcho soup or stew. My technique of browning the beef adds a bit more depth of flavour and makes the meat taste better.
So, first things first, you need to trim and season your meat. By that, take the time to trim a lot of excess fat from your meat, season liberally with salt and pepper, and then heat about a tablespoon of sunflower oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering.
Working in batches (adding too much meat the bottom of your pan will create steam and inhibit the browning we’re trying to achieve), arrange your beef in the bottom of the pan and sear until the side is well browned. Flip each cube over to get a good sear on the other side. This won’t take more than a few minutes. Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside.
Using the same pan and adding a bit more oil, if necessary, add your diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape up any browned bits leftover from the meat during this time as well. Once onions are cooked, add in the garlic and stir constantly until very fragrant, about 30 more seconds.
Next, add in your tomato paste and stir until everything is well combined and the paste darkens in colour — this step essentially caramelises the tomato paste and, again, adds to the depth of flavour in the dish. Once this step is finished, add the tomato and stir to combine. Cook until the tomato has released a lot of liquid and is cooked through, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Next, add your ground walnuts and spices, stir to combine and cook for a minute or two, just to get the walnuts and spice really nice and toasted and fragrant.
Also, a word about your ground walnuts — Georgians will typically use an old school hand-crank stainless steel meat grinder to grind your walnuts, but if you don’t have this, you can zip them in a food processor until they reach the consistency of coarse sand. If you don’t have either of these items, then you can do what I do and that is chop them about as fine as you can, transfer them to a plastic bag, and then roll over them with a rolling pin until the desired is met.
Once the walnuts are nice and toasted, add the beef back in along with any accumulated juices on the plate. Stir in your beef or chicken stock (either works fine here — I actually use chicken as it’s what I tend to have on hand and the flavour is delicious). Stir to make sure everything is well-combined, bring to a gentle simmer, and let cook, uncovered, for about 15 more minutes. During this time, the sauce will reduce and thicken and the beef will cook through completely.
Once the kharcho is done, serve hot in a bowl with plenty of crusty bread and maybe even a side of ajapsandali or a khachapuri! It is also common to serve this dish on top of some ghomi, which is a type of Georgian polenta.
- 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into 3-centimetre cubes (about 1-inch cubes)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 8-10 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 medium tomato, peeled and diced
- 250 grams walnuts, ground
- 2 teaspoons ground blue fenugreek
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
- 2 teaspoons ground dried marigold
- 1 teaspoon dried summer savory
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more or less to taste
- 1 litre beef or chicken stock
- Trim excess fat from beef and season liberally with salt and pepper
- In a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (Georgians would use sunflower) over medium until shimmering. Add meat in a single layer, being careful to leave enough room in the pan to ensure browning, you may need to work in batches. Sear beef on one side until browned before flipping with tongs. Once beef is browned, remove from pan and transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and add onions, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add tomato paste and stir constantly until well incorporated in onion and garlic mixture and the paste has darkened in colour, about 2-3 minutes. Add tomato and cook until softened and cohesive, another 5-10 minutes.
- Add ground walnuts and spices, stirring until all liquid is absorbed and sauce is very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beef along with any accumulated juices and pour stock over the mixture, stirring to combine.
- Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce reduces thickens significantly and beef is tender and cooked through. Serve hot with crusty bread or, traditionally, on a bed of ghomi - a Georgian style of polenta
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All in all this Megrelian kharcho recipe is incredibly simple to make and delightfully satisfying to eat. Combining all of the most interesting techniques of Georgian cuisine with some of its most iconic flavours, you can’t go wrong with a heaping serving of kharcho soup or stew for dinner!
Are you looking for the perfect kharcho recipe? Have you had this delicious Georgian dish before? Let us know in the comments!