My mum spent many years of her childhood living with her family in Libya, where my grandpa used to work. Their friends there were from different nationalities and my grandma picked up more than a few dishes there that she added to her repertoire of endless recipes. I must say though that the Libyan dishes my mum prepares are some of my favorite and this soup is perfect and is a full meal on its own. Deep inside, I have always felt grateful they stayed in Libya, as it made me experience dishes I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.
Although, we enjoy this soup so much, mum almost exclusively prepares it in Ramadan, especially when we have people over for Iftar and almost always on the first day of Ramadan, which makes it even more special. Everyone who tastes the soup raves about it, even my husband who usually hates everything that has lots of tomato paste.
When I decided to write this recipe, I asked mum what this soup was called in Libya, as there is no way they’ve called it Libyan soup. To my surprise, it was only called “shorba”, which is the Arabic for soup. I read in a blog post of a Libyan blogger that when Libyans talk about soup, this is the one, and there is no confusion as to which soup they are referring to. This is how popular this soup is. It sums up all the flavors of Libya in one dish.
Traditionally, this soup is cooked with lamb, but we cook it with beef at home. The beef needs to be very thinly sliced. Also, most of the variations I saw have chickpeas, but it is not found in the version my grandma used to cook. The dried mint added at the end of the cooking is what gives this soup its unique taste, so please do not omit (check my post on how to dry your mint at home if you do not have access to dried mint). Additionally, Libyans use a lot of tomato paste in their cooking, and this recipe is no exception. If you plan to cook this, please try to use the best tomato paste you can find, preferably all natural with no added preservatives.
You’d notice that this recipe calls for Libyan spice mix called Hrarat. Believe it or not, even though my mum and aunts haven’t set foot in Libya for over 30 years now, they still receive their Libyan spice from their friends in Libya! I will at some point write a post about how to make your own blend, but for now if you can’t find the Libyan mix replace with ¼ tsp each of cinnamon, black pepper, ground ginger and cardamom.
To make the soup, start by sautéing the onions on medium heat until the onion is translucent. Then add the thinly sliced meat, bouillon cube, spices and ½ tsp salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
Then add the chopped cilantro and parsley and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the water, the remaining ½ tsp salt and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the orzo and cook for an additional 20 – 25 minutes, or until meat is tender. Then add the dried mint and serve immediately.
I assure you once you try this soup, it will easily become your favorite as it is full of flavors and is heartwarming. This delicious soup is usually served alongside our perfect cheese sambousek.
- 200 g stewing beef very thinly sliced
- 150 g tomato paste
- ¼ cup orzo
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup cilantro finely chopped
- 1 cup parsley finely chopped
- 1 bouillon cube
- 1 tsp salt divided
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp salma’s spice see page under Arabic pantry for the recipe
- 1 tbsp Libyan spice mix or see note
- Pinch of Aleppo pepper
- 2 tsp dried mint
- 5 cups of water
- Add oil to a large pot and sauté onions on medium heat until translucent.
- Add the meat, spices, bouillon cube and ½ tsp salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Add the chopped cilantro and parsley and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add water and remaining ½ tsp salt and simmer covered for 15 minutes.
- Add the orzo and continue simmering for 20 – 25 minutes, or until meat is very tender.
- Add dried mint and serve immediately.