Persian Wishing Soup

7 Mar

I first tried Persian Wishing Soup as a student in Glasgow, Scotland, back in the 90s. I was at a mid-winter Lebanese-themed party at a bunch of friends’ gorgeously high-ceilinged and impossibly hard-to-heat tenement flat. We dressed up in desert attire (make that sheet robes, flip flops, tea-towel headgear and shades) and sat on a large IKEA rug eating deep-fried falafel, garlicky hummus, goat-cheese stuffed dates, and this fragrant meatball soup, in an attempt to magic-carpet ourselves away from the howling wind and sleet battering against the windows outside.

I was excited to make Persian Wishing Soup again fifteen years later for my friend Deborah’s Arab World vs. South Asia potluck throwdown. As well as bringing back fond memories, it amazes me by bringing so many diverse flavours together so harmoniously: steaming chicken broth, sweet apricots, grassy parsley, sweet spices, chickpeas, rice and juicy lamb meatballs with onions and toasted pinenuts. Oh, and lots of fresh mint too. For extra Middle Eastern magic, I served the 2013 batch with Fresh Thyme Stars–warm and herby bread rolls.

Soup
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 tsp (1 mL) turmeric
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (125 mL) uncooked rice
1/4 lb (115 g) dried apricots, cut into thin strips
1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped, fresh parsley
8 cups (2 L) + 1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock
1 cup cooked chickpeas
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Lamb balls
1/2 lb (225 g) ground lamb
1/2 cup (125 mL) pine nuts, toasted
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon
1/4  tsp (1 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper

1. To make the lamb balls, mix all ingredients until well combined. Form into walnut-size balls and set aside.

2. To make the soup, in a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion over low heat until golden, about 6 minutes. Stir in turmeric, cinnamon, and rice.

3. Cook rice until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add apricots, preserved lemon, parsley and stock. Bring to a boil and add half the lamb balls. (Meanwhile, cook the other half in boiling water with a cup of chicken stock, then drain off liquid. Add these cooked meatballs to the soup at the end, so that the lamb flavour and fattiness doesn’t overpower the chicken broth.) Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Add chick peas and cook another 5 minutes. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve garnished with mint leaves.

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