Eggplant kharcho with Georgian gremolata from The Joy of Better Cooking
Kharcho (like a sneeze!) is Georgia’s answer to congee, a gloriously gloopy, soupy mix of rice and broth that usually has a lamb or beef base. I’ve turned it totally plant-based by using one of nature’s meatiest veg: eggplant. You could stir any left-over wet-fried mushrooms through instead, or as well as. Layered with cooked, crispy and raw garlic, this soup is hot and spicy, the kind of combo that’ll knock a cold right out of your nose. For a PG version, go easy on the cayenne and garlic. The walnut cloud is a technique. I love implementing to fancy up soups and salads, grating the walnuts over like parmesan, perfect for vegans. Try the technique with other nuts, too.PRINT
- 800 g 1 lb 12 oz eggplants (aubergines)
- 2 tsp salt flakes
- grapeseed or rice bran oil for deep-frying
- 250 g 9 oz cherry tomatoes
- 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- a handful of walnuts toasted (optional)
- coriander cilantro, to garnish
- good olive oil to serve
Khmeli suneli paste
- 100 g 3½ oz walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley stems
- 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander cilantro stems
- 1 tbsp finely chopped mint stalks
- 1 tbsp finely chopped dill stalks
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp salt flakes
- 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
- 1 tsp ground fenugreek
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 brown onion diced
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 celery stalk diced
- 5 garlic cloves sliced
- 1 red chilli seeded and roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup 75 g medium-grain white rice, or 1 cup (185 g) cooked rice
- 2 tbsp tomato paste concentrated purée
- 2 stock cubes see Subs
- 1 tsp pomegranate molasses plus extra if needed
- 2 potatoes peeled and diced
- 2-3 bay leaves
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- ½ cup chopped coriander cilantro
- ½ cup chopped dill
- ½ cup chopped mint
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 garlic clove finely grated
- 1 tbsp walnuts toasted and finely grated
- Slice the eggplants into 1 cm x 3 cm (½ inch x 1¼ inch) wedges. Sprinkle the salt over the exposed eggplant faces, rubbing it in a little, then leave the eggplant in a bowl to sweat. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, pound all the khmeli suneli ingredients to a well-combined paste.
- To make the soup base, heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot and celery for 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and starting to caramelise. Stir in the khmeli suneli paste, garlic, chilli and rice. Sizzle for 2 minutes, or until aromatic. Stir in the tomato paste, stock cubes and pomegranate molasses. Add the potato, bay leaves and 10 cups (2.5 litres) water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes, or until the potato is fork-tender and the flavours are starting to develop, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface.
- While the soup is simmering away, heat 5 cm (2 inches) of oil in a large saucepan over medium–high heat to 180°C (350°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden in 15 seconds.
- Grab handfuls of the eggplant and squeeze the liquid out. Fry the eggplant in batches for 8–10 minutes, or until golden and crisp on the outside, yet soft in the middle. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
- Use a slotted spoon to drop the cherry tomatoes into the hot oil, being careful to only use tomatoes with their skin fully intact; stand back as the oil may spit. Remove from the oil once they pop to the surface. Drain on paper towel; the skins will slip right off as soon as they’re cool enough to touch. Set aside.
- Fry the garlic slices in the oil for 1 minute, or until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
- Combine the gremolata ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
- After the soup has been simmering for 45 minutes, check the seasoning. Add extra salt and black pepper to taste, and extra pomegranate molasses for more acid if needed. The soup should have a bit of an agrodolce vibe — a little tangy, a bit sweet, and spicy and aromatic.
- To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, blob in some gremolata, then arrange the tomatoes, crispy garlic and eggplant on top. If you like, grate the toasted walnuts over the top to create a fluffy cloud, then finish with fresh coriander and a glug of olive oil.
Shortcuts You can make this soup in a hurry, using pre-cooked rice, roasted veg, tomato paste, stock and roughly chopped herbs. Finish with crispy fried shallots and call it a day. Subs Instead of using stock cubes, you can use 10 cups (2.5 litres) home-made or good quality stock as the soup base. I’ve tried to keep the khmeli suneli ingredients as light-on as possible, but if you’re low on spices you can use a teaspoon or so of madras curry powder instead of the mixed ground spices, plus an extra tablespoon of ground coriander.