It’s cold out there… Well, it’s cold out there somewhere other than Alabama. I scroll through my Facebook timeline and see posts of my remote friends about freezing cold, and knee deep snow, and I want to be there with them. I love snow. I want to be cold, curl up on the couch all wrapped in blankets, my ugly fuzzy socks on, a cup of hot tea with lemon in hand, and a nice book in my lap. Warm weather just isn’t that conducive to reading and being cosy.
Snow changes things. The cars on the street are scarce, and those that move by are barely heard — everything is nicely muffled by snow. People stick closer together, fireplaces are burning nicely, hot cocoa is bubbling on a stove, the streets are looking mysterious in the special light that only snow and the dark red sky can create. It’s perfect.
One of the reasons I love cold and snow is — it’s a perfect time for a hearty heavy soup. The kind of soup that would make you quiet for a while. Piping hot, stomach warming, soothing, rich soup, the kind that would make you go “ahhhh” after a few minutes of ecstatic slurping, the kind that would make you walk back to the pot for the second round.
If you are reading this while millions of fluffy snowflakes are twirling in the dim light outside your window, I’d say it’s time. The time is ripe for making something truly special. This almost sinfully good soup came to you from Georgia, a hospitable country in the heart of Caucasus Mountains. The soup called Kharcho is featuring two Georgian staple ingredients — lamb and walnuts, but it can be cooked just as well with beef. Be sure to use a nice cut of meat with a bit of fat on it, it can’t be completely lean.
Adapted from Anya Von Bremsen’ book Please To The Table. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
- 1-1/2 to 2 lbs of lamb or beef, with some fat on it
- 8 cups of stock (optional)
- 3 tbsp butter or tallow
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp all purpose flour
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 16 oz can of diced tomatoes or 6 ripe Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1/4 cup white rice
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp dried tarragon
- 1/4 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp dried mint
- 1-1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- 3/4 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp fenugreek
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tsp tamarind concentrate diluted in stock, or 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- fresh herbs — dill, parsley, cilantro, mint, basil — finely chopped
Heat the Dutch oven on high. Cut meat into 4-6 chunks, brown on all sides, cover with stock or water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for about 1-1/2 hours, until meat is tender.
Remove the meat and set aside.
In a large skillet melt butter or tallow over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook slowly until nicely golden. Take care not to brown the onions. Stir them frequently, for about 10 minutes.
Add flour, stir and cook for about a minute more.
Pour a ladle-full of hot stock into the skillet, scrape the bottom with a wooden spatula, and stir well until smooth and creamy.
Add tomato paste and diced tomatoes. Stir well until smooth, bring to a simmer. Fold everything out into the pot with stock, where meat was cooking before. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to simmer, add rice, cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
Cut the meat into bite size pieces and remove bones, if there were any. Return meat into the pot.
Mix the dry spices up in a mortar and crush them. Add spices to the simmering pot.
In the mortar, smash walnuts, garlic and 1/2 tsp salt into a paste. Add the paste to the pot.
Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add tamarind paste or lemon juice at this time.
Cover the pot again, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until rice is completely tender.
Turn off the heat and put about half of fresh herbs into a pot. Let sit covered for another 10 minutes.
Add the rest of the fresh herbs into the soup directly before serving.
Serve hot, with flat bread (lavash, for example).