A hearty, healthy soup from the Caucasus: Bean ‘khesh’ with thyme (RECIPE)

Mix beans, meat, potatoes with aromatic thyme and milk – an unusual winter soup from the Caucasus. 

Mix beans, meat, potatoes with aromatic thyme and milk – an unusual winter soup from the Caucasus. 

Yulia Mulino
What can quickly warm you up in winter better than a thick, rich bean soup? Only Ingushetia’s bean soup with beef, milk, vegetables and local aromatic herbs. Give it a try!

Khesh has been cooked in Ingushetia since beans first appeared in the region some time around the 17th century. This thick soup with beans, potatoes and beef is now an essential part of the traditional cuisine of Ingushetia, one of the republics in the North Caucasus region. It’s characterized by simplicity in terms of preparation and the use of local ingredients.

With the addition of beans, the soup not only satiates and warms, but it also helps with digestion thanks to the high fiber content. The beans also contain minerals and vitamins, especially B vitamins. Together with beef, the beans give the soup its structure and form. 

Native cuisine in Ingushetia does not use spices in abundance, and preference is instead given to preserving the original taste and smell of the ingredients themselves. Local herbs, however, are used amply and this is what really complements the natural flavors. These herbs are milder than spices and only add a modest flare to the food. 

Ingushetia is located in a mountainous landscape. The hills and rocks are covered with a carpet of fragrant herbs that are used in cooking. No feast is possible without scented thyme tea, which is also often used for cooking meat dishes, including khesh soup. In addition, this herb is very healthy, helping to cure head colds thanks to its antibacterial and antioxidant properties.

In addition to thyme, the milk gives khesh its distinct feature. Sure, this might sound like an unusual combination with beans, but in fact, the soup’s taste turns out softer, richer, and acquires an interesting color.

A picture immediately comes to mind of how, in the olden days, Ingush housewives used to cook thick khesh over an open fire, leaving the wok on glowing coals. The dish was filled with the aroma of mountain herbs and smoke from the fire. In the modern world, however, it’s simply cooked on the stove.

The classic version of khesh soup contains both vegetable and animal protein. But there is also a vegetarian version without animal products, though it then loses its unique taste. Another variation of khesh soup calls for adding tomato. In this case, the dish gets a sourness and an orange color.

I cooked khesh in a cast-iron cauldron in the oven, trying to get as close to the authentic version as possible – with beef and milk. I cooked the whole thing in one dish, imagining how centuries ago it was more convenient for the lady of the house to do it this way. I fried the meat, onions and carrots, and then added soaked beans and potatoes to the stir-fry. As it is widely considered, real khesh should be rich and thick. Therefore, it requires a long cooking time. After 4 hours of stewing in the oven, both the beef and beans were soft. However, I had to use my favorite technique to achieve the thickness. In the last step, I drained some of the soup, without the meat, and pureed it with an immersion blender until smooth. Putting it back in the pot - the texture became much thicker.

In the end, the soup was a success, with everyone in the family delighted. Flavorful, hearty, and creamy in texture, the soft meat melts in your mouth. 


  • Beef - 600 g
  • Beans - 400-500 g (this amount should be soaked for 10 hours in water)
  • Potatoes - 3-4 pcs
  • Carrots - 2 pcs
  • Onion - 2 pcs
  • Bell pepper - 1 pc
  • Butter - 30 g
  • Vegetable oil - 10-20 ml
  • Milk - 200 ml
  • Pepper/hot pepper – to taste
  • Salt - 1.5 tsp (to taste)
  • Thyme – to taste 


1. For this dish, I used beans soaked in plenty of water overnight.

2. Cut the beef into small pieces and fry in a mixture of butter and vegetable oil until crusty. I used a cast iron pan with a lid.

3. Add the onions.

4. Chop and add the carrots.

5. Place the beans and fill with hot water.

6. Add potatoes and peppers.

7. Salt, add black or hot pepper. 

8. Cook with the lid closed in a cast iron cauldron in the oven heated to 180℃ for about 4 hours.

9. In a blender puree part of the soup, without pieces of meat, until smooth.

10. Add to the soup along with milk and fresh thyme if possible, and leave for 20 minutes under the lid.

11. Serve hot with fresh thyme, hot pepper and with flatbread. 

READ MORE: 7 Caucasus pies you absolutely must try

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