Libyan soup also known as Shorba, which translates to “soup” is a national star. This soup is the makeup of what I love about food. It has history and stories embedded right into the recipe.
A little Libyan history…
Libya is beautiful coastal country tucked away in North Africa. Not a lot of people know too much about Libya and although my father lived and worked several years post doc in Libya, I too did not know much about the region, the people or its food.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, European countries divided and conquered parts of North Africa and the Middle East. Libya got caught in this game of war and was conquered by Italy. In 1911, after France took Tunisia, Algeria and had their eyes on Morocco, the English took Egypt, Italy decided to join in and take Libya, which is directly south of them. You can read more about the Italy-Libya invasion here. Because of the Italian occupation, Libyan food includes a lot of pasta and tomato. Although things have changed now and a lot of the region is not arable, my father remembers a time when Libya was rich in exotic fruits and vegetables being part of the fertile coastal region.
Back to the soup…
The Berbers, are the indigenous people of the North African region probably created this soup as you can find similar variations across Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. What makes this dish exceptional is the slow cooking process which means it is rich with flavor. It is heavy in spices such as cinnamon and cumin. It is traditionally made with lamb but some substitute the lamb with chicken or meat.
After moving to LA and meeting a lot of lovely Libyan women, some of which have become close friends I learned a lot about the region. For starters, they are very good at making delicious meals, including this soup. They are also very proud and rightfully so. They are tribal and it seems that there is a 2 degree of separation in the Libyan community, if that. They seem to all know each other and help and love each other no matter where in the world they are located.
This soup was taught to me by a dear Libyan friend and another non Libyan friend that learned and perfected it from her Libyan friend. We made two pots of this soup, one using Libyan spice and one without. Libyan spice is a ready mixed concoction of a variety of cinnamon, cumin, paprika and turmeric among other spices. The conversation went back and forth with comments like “this is not traditional, and this is…”, ” in east, they use this and in the west they do it this way”.
This soup holds a lot of history, love and pride to the Libyan community and making it the correct way is very important.
Traditionally a fresh baguette is served with it so you can dip and scoop in the soup. Most times it is made using orzo however, some add different kinds of pasta and others use couscous.
During the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, muslim Libyans make this soup every single night before feasting on a big meal. I am told that outside of Ramadan, it is not consumed in homes as much but restaurants will serve this as a starter to almost every meal.
No matter what part of Libya you are from, whether you add chickpeas or not, use lamb or settle on chicken, whether you use the Libyan spice or you dont, one thing all Libyans agree on is a ton of dried mint at the end is an absolute must.
A Libyan national favorite, this slow cooked tomato based soup is the ultimate comfort food.
- 1 lb chopped chicken or meat
- 1 chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1 tomato chopped
- 1 8 oz tomato paste
- 1 handful orzo
- 2 tsp dried mind half in the beginning half for the end
- 1 tsp Libyan spice optional
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/4 tsp tumeric
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/8 tsp red pepper optional
- 1-2 serrano chilli pepper
- 1 Tbsp oil
sautee onion and when brown add the meat
after the meat is cooked add all the ingredients except the orzo and sautee
add 2 cups of hot water and keep stirrring while sautéing
bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low medium
Keep adding water 1 cup at a time until the soup is the desired texture
last ten minutes add orzo
add dried mint at the end