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Shorbet shi'iriyeh bil lahmeh (vermicelli and meat soup)

This soup is definitely a crowd-pleaser, loved by adults and children alike, no matter what time of year you have it!

Winter is upon us and that means its soup season. I am a lover of soup year-round and with Ramadan coming up soon, I am excited to keep soup season going well past this season. I often have just soup and something light on the side in Ramadan, and soups like this one, shorbet shi'iriyeh bil lahmeh are a popular choice because they are a meal on their own!

Versions of this soup are a Ramadan staple across the Middle East, and this variety is popular in the Levant. As with most Middle Eastern dishes, the name of the soup basically describes its main ingredients, as shi'iriyeh is Arabic for vermicelli and bil lahmeh means with meat. This dish could easily be made without the meatballs. The vegetarian version is often offered as a quick soup to make alongside a fuller Ramadan feast.

I absolutely love this soup because not only is it a delicious meal in itself, but it is also super quick to make. When making your meatballs, you want to make sure your onions are finely chopped so they easily mix into the meat. I like to cook a little of the minced meat in a small pan to taste and figure out if I need to adjust the seasoning. Don't make the meatballs too big, as they won't cook all the way through and aren't as easy to eat in the soup.

Browning the meat before cooking them in the soup ensures they don't come apart later, but don't worry about cooking your meatballs all the way through when browning them because they will continue to cook in the soup. You just want to make sure they get a nice colour on them. The rest of the soup is straightforward. I like to add a good amount of garlic to this soup because the garlicy tomato soup is perfectly balanced with the warm cinnamon and the sweet and tangy pomegranate molasses. If you don't have any on hand, a bit of sugar to balance the tomato's acidity and a squeeze of lemon to cut through the meat's fattiness will work well too.

I usually make large batches of this soup and keep it in the fridge, reheating as much as I need at a time. The vermicelli may absorb some of the soup's liquid as it sits in the fridge, so the best way to reheat it is to put it in a pot and add a bit of water. Once it begins to heat up, taste the seasoning and adjust if needed.

This soup is definitely a crowd-pleaser, loved by adults and children alike, no matter what time of year you have it!

Ingredients

Meatballs

300 g minced beef or lamb

2 tbsp onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

Salt

Pepper

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

½ tsp cardamom

Soup

4 tbsp olive oil

1.5 tbsp minced garlic

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 L water

2 tsp cinnamon

1 stock cube

Salt

Pepper

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 cup vermicelli

Chopped parsley to garnish

Instructions

  1. To make the meatballs, mix together all of the ingredients very well by hand and then form into small meatballs, roughly the size of a walnut. Set aside.
  2. In a large pot, preferably with a wide bottom, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. They don't need to fully cook through, as they will continue to cook in the soup. Once browned, set aside.
  3. Wipe your pot dry and add the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the minced garlic and sauté for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds, then add the water.
  4. Add the spices, pomegranate molasses and stock cube and stir well. Add the meatballs in and bring to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the vermicelli and make sure to stir to avoid the vermicelli sticking to the bottom of the pot. Taste and adjust seasoning, then lower the heat and cover. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the vermicelli is cooked through.
  6. Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and enjoy.
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