After a false start to spring, Canberra has decided that it’s time to go back to 12 degree days and cold, blustery evenings. I’ve taken it an excuse to go back to comfy checkered flannel pyjamas, eating soup and rugging up on the couch watching Stranger Things (for the second time, obviously). As it turns out, this middle eastern meatball soup was just what I needed to get through the miserable weather.
Affectionately referred to as ‘tiny tiny meatballs’ in our house, because of the dozens of little meatballs in this soup, I love this dish for its simplicity. I feel this is a good time to enlist child labour if you have any willing tiny hands that need tasking. The heartiness of meatballs, chickpeas and zucchini make this a low effort one-pot meal (though a little bit of of garlic bread on the side never hurts). Generous amounts of mint, tomato and lemon give it that homely, oh-so-comforting touch – it’s the kind of recipe that makes me feel like I’m sitting at the author’s dinner table.
In fact, I love this soup so much that I wrote to the author Helena Zakharia who lives in Beirut. Much to my surprise, she replied! She is absolutely lovely and says if there are some other vegetables you’d like to add – why not?
Her recipe in its original form, as it’s printed in the book is here. I missed the original print run of the book and it has proved rather difficult to get a copy in Australia. If you can get your hands on a copy, all proceeds benefit the UN’s work with refugees and other charities on the front lines of assisting them, such as the Syrian American Medical Society, which runs hospitals in refugee camps. I absolutely love the idea, sharing wholesome recipes from far away places and hoping that your purchase will go a way towards helping those in need. Author Barbara Massaad has done well in curating a collection of recipes from the around the world (including ones from Yotam Ottolenghi and Anthony Bourdain) that are accessible, affordable and easy to follow. If you’re in the US, the book is available on Amazon and for the UK and for the rest of the world Book Depository seems to be the best option.
My version is not better, it’s just adapted to the Australian supermarket – substituting tinned chickpeas for convenience (whole chickpeas take a looong time to cook!), and rounding up the beef to 500g because most western supermarkets have it pre-packaged in set amounts. In her original recipe, Helena Zakharia peels and de-seeds the zucchini, I just quarter it and slice – seeds, skin and all.
Middle Eastern Meatball Soup with Vegetables
- 1 400g tin of chickpeas drained
- 1 ½ litres beef stock or 6 cups
- 150 g fine bulgur or 1 cup
- 500 g minced beef
- 3 onions 1 roughly chopped, 2 diced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp dried mint
- 2 cloves garlic finely diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste plus more to taste
- Juice of ½ lemon plus more to taste
- 2-3 small zucchini quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
- To make the meatballs, wash and drain the bulgur. Put one roughly chopped onion into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to dice. Add the beef, bulgur, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper and pulse to a paste. With moistened hands, shape the paste into meatballs the size of marbles.
- Heat half of the oil in a large pan and brown the meatballs. Set aside.
- In a large pot, saute the two diced onions in the rest of the vegetable oil with a sprinkle of salt, until soft and slightly browned. Add the mint, garlic, tomato paste, lemon juice and a generous grind of pepper. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the meatballs, chickpeas and beef stock to the pot and allow to come to a gentle simmer, until the meatballs are cooked through.
- Add the zucchini then cook for 10 minutes or longer – it’s personal preference if you prefer the zucchini tender or slightly crunchy (I like a bit of crunchy).
- Ladle into soup bowls and serve hot. This soup tastes even better the next day.
- The original recipe uses 2 cup dried chickpeas, which need to be soaked overnight before cooking. It’s worth it for the flavour but I’ve often substituted tinned chickpeas for ease – I often don’t plan to cook this soup in advance so tinned is more convenient.
- If you have the inclination, check out the link to the original recipe – soak for 4 hours or up to overnight, then cook in beef stock until tender (this can take upwards of an hour). If you have a pressure cooker, cook chickpeas with a generous amount of water or stock, and cook for 15 minutes on high after it reaches pressure. Allow to depressurise naturally.
- Pre-soaked chickpeas tend to mostly stay intact when they are pressure cooked, while unsoaked tend to split open. Both still delicious – one just more photo friendly.