Libyan · North African · Soup

Soup Adventures, Part 2 – Libyan Soup

Libyan soup, or more simply called “shurba” in Libya, is my favorite soup. No one calls it “Shurba Libeeya” in Libya because it’s just known as “shurba,” which translates to “soup.” Such a simple name. And there is never any confusion if you say you are making “shurba” to a Libyan, they’ll know exactly which soup you are making for dinner. No need for a more descriptive name, lol. During Ramadan, the majority of Libyans make this soup daily to break their fast. It is also the only soup you serve to dinner guests. My non-Libyan friends always request this soup and if Libyan cuisine ever comes up in conversation with non-Libyans, this soup is always the first to be mentioned (or maybe second after couscousi). It is uniquely Libyan and I have yet to come across a similar flavor profile in any other soup. It’s like an elaborate tomato soup and you will never be able to eat a plain tomato soup after tasting Libyan soup without longingly thinking about it.

Shurba

What makes the soup’s flavor so memorable and unique is the addition of dry mint just before serving it. If you forget to add the dry mint, you will notice that there is something not quite right about the soup. It still tastes delicious, but it won’t be memorable. The dry mint is the key, distinctive ingredient. If you do not have dry mint (regular mint aka spearmint, not peppermint!) on hand, do not make this soup until you acquire some. This is the one ingredient that you do not want to omit or substitute!

You should be able to find dry mint at your local Middle Eastern store or even at your local grocery store. I found some at Target in their Archer Farms spice section; however, it’s definitely a lot cheaper at the Middle Eastern store.

IMG_4532.JPG
Overpriced dried mint.

By the way, I only bought the overpriced Archer Farms jar of dry mint because I am slightly OCD about my spice cabinet and need my spice jars to match and be clearly labeled. After I initially finished the dry mint, I began to refill the spice jar with the much cheaper dry mint from the Middle Eastern store. This keeps my spice cabinet visually pleasing and is much easier on my wallet. (Honestly, I do this for all my spice jars because buying bags of spices at the Middle Eastern store saves so much money!)

IMG_4533
My spice jars match! Thankfully, I don’t feel the need to alphabetize them…yet.

If you still cannot find dry mint locally and do not feel like ordering it from Amazon, you can dry some fresh mint in the sun or in your oven.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 lb beef stew meat (or lamb), small penny-sized cubes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon paprika (sweet, not smoked)
  • 1 teaspoon Libyan bzaar spice mix (if you don’t have any, use Arabic 7-spice and a pinch of turmeric)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • 1/3 cup pre-soaked chickpeas
  • 7-8 cups water
  • 1/3 cup orzo or star-shaped pasta
  • 1/4 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried mint leaves
  • fresh lemon (for serving)

Begin by finely chopping the onion and cut the meat into small cubes. The meat should be cut pretty small, about the size of a penny.

IMG_3876

In a pot, sautee the chopped onions in the oil over medium heat until softened. Add the meat and brown, which will take a few minutes. Once the meat is browned, add the tomato paste, salt and the spices. Stir and allow to cook for about 1-2 minutes, which will help activate the flavors of the tomato paste and spices. (In the pictures below, I am clearly not using a 1/2 lb of beef, but that’s because I halved the recipe since I’m only serving two people.)

Add 5 cups of water and stir well, add the chickpeas and then partially cover the pot with a lid but allow a small gap to let the steam escape. Allow the soup to simmer over medium heat for at least one hour and stir it occasionally.

IMG_4430.JPG

After the soup has cooked for an hour or so, add at least 2 cups of water (add more if the soup is still thick). Taste the soup and add more salt, if needed. Add the orzo or star-shaped pasta and allow it to cook for another 15 minutes. During this time, chop the parsley and cilantro. After the 15 minutes are up, turn off the stove. Add the parsley and cilantro to the soup and mix well.

Just before serving, add the dried mint to the soup by pouring the mint onto the palm of your hand (which needs to be dry for this) and rubbing your palms together over the pot, which should pulverize the mint into a powder. If your hands are not dry, the mint will just get damp and not pulverize into a powder…so ensure your hands are dry, not damp or wet.

IMG_4450
By the way, the smell of the freshly pulverized dried mint is intoxicating. For a little impromptu aromatherapy, sniff the residual mint oils left on your palms before you wash your hands, lol.

Mix the soup well and give it a taste. Add more water if you think it is too thick and adjust the salt, if needed. Serve the soup with a nice crusty bread and fresh lemon on the side. Adding a squeeze or two of lemon into your bowl will brighten the flavor of the soup even more. Enjoy!

IMG_4456.JPG

 

Libyan Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

The traditional soup of Libya and a delight for your tastebuds. It will most likely become your favorite soup!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 lb beef stew meat (or lamb), small penny-sized cubes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon paprika (sweet, not smoked)
  • 1 teaspoon Libyan bzaar spice mix (if you don’t have any, use Arabic 7-spice and a pinch of turmeric)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • 1/3 cup pre-soaked chickpeas
  • 7-8 cups water
  • 1/3 cup orzo or star-shaped pasta
  • 1/4 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried mint leaves
  • fresh lemon (for serving)

Directions

  1. In a large pot, sautee the onions in the oil over medium heat until softened. Add in the meat and brown for several minutes.
  2. Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste, spices and salt. Stir and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes. Add 5 cups of water and the chickpeas, then mix well. Partially cover the pot with a lid, leaving it slightly ajar to allow the steam to escape. Allow the soup to simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove the lid, add 2 cups of water (more if the soup is still thick) and add the pasta. Allow the soup to simmer for another 15 minutes, then turn off the stove.
  4. Stir in the parsley and cilantro. Immediately before serving, add the dried mint by pouring the mint into the palm of your hand (your hands must be dry, not wet or damp) and rub your palms together over the pot, which will pulverize the mint into a powder. Stir the soup and give it a taste. Add more water if the soup is still thick and adjust salt as needed.
  5. Serve the soup with a crusty bread and fresh lemon on the side. Adding a squeeze or two of lemon to your bowl will brighten the flavors. If you have leftovers, you should add a little water when re-heating it later since the soup will thicken in the refrigerator.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Soup Adventures, Part 2 – Libyan Soup

  1. I love your soup ideas, i did not know it’s a tradition to break the fast with them. I come from Eastern Europe and soup is a base dish for everyday home cooking- as a starter or maybe a one-pot all in casserole…we can’t go without them. What’s really interesting is that your name for soup = translated is shurba, whereas in Romanian it is chorba – which sounds very similar. i have a feeling that Romans may have transferred these words across continents a long time ago…Fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have just looked it up and the Romanian word ciorba or chorba – meaning soup which is usually denser and with added acid as opposed to just a clear soup called supa – the word is originally from Persian language, then transferred to Turkish – corba – influencing the vocabulary of other countries through the former Ottoman Empire

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really interesting! I love hearing about other cultures. I did not know that Romanian used a very similar word for soup. It makes sense that the countries from the former Ottoman Empire have all adopted shurba/chorba into their own languages. The acid ic versus clear soup distinction is fascinating. I also think all of the soups/shurbas in the North African Maghreb region (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco) are acid based…you won’t find a clear soup anywhere. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s