AP – After sunset during Ramadhan, the daily fast customarily ends by eating dates. Then the iftar meal begins with some kind of soup, satisfying hunger and quenching thirst at the same time.
Among the soups served, one of the most common in northern Africa is chorba frik, a meaty chickpea soup richly spiced with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and more. It inspired this recipe from our book Tuesday Nights Mediterranean, which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region.
Chorba frik typically simmers chunks of beef or lamb with chickpeas and freekeh, a type of green wheat that has been roasted and cracked. For our simple weeknight version, we use canned chickpeas, coarse bulgur, which is easier to source than freekeh, and quick-cooking ground lamb that has been formed into small meatballs.
We season the lamb with ras el hanout, an aromatic Moroccan blend that typically includes at least seven spices. Look for it in well-stocked supermarkets, spice shops or Middle Eastern grocery stores.
Normally, we prefer the richer flavour of concentrated tomato paste, the type often packaged in tubes. But in this recipe its potent flavour would overwhelm the other ingredients. While the bulgur and meatballs simmer, don’t forget to stir occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
This savoury soup is a meal in itself, but warm, crusty bread is a perfect paring.
NORTH AFRICAN LAMB, CHICKPEA AND BULGUR SOUP
– One tablespoon ras el hanout
– Four teaspoons dried mint
– Salt and ground black pepper
– 12 ounces ground lamb
– Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– One bunch scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens reserved separately
– One celery stalk, including leaves if present, finely chopped
– Six medium garlic cloves, chopped
– A quarter cup tomato paste
– 15-and-a-half-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
– Three-quarter cup coarse bulgur
– Two medium ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
In a medium bowl, stir together the ras el hanout, mint, half teaspoon salt and a-quarter teaspoon pepper.
Add the lamb and three tablespoons water, then mix with your hands until well combined; set aside. In a large pot over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the scallion whites, the celery, garlic and half teaspoon salt.
Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened, about two minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the paste is well browned, about three minutes.
Add the chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas are completely coated with tomato paste, two to three minutes. Add six cups water, scraping up any browned bits.
Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high, then stir in the bulgur.
Using your fingers, break off grape-sized chunks of the lamb mixture, dropping them into the pot as you go.
Stir, cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce to medium and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, until the bulgur is tender and the meatballs are no longer pink at the center, about 12 minutes. Off heat, stir in the scallion greens and the tomatoes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.