Armenian lamb and prune meatballs soup: rediscover real food

If you are a long-time reader of The Pickled Spruit., you might remember that “rediscover real food” used to be the blog’s tag line. My approach to writing and to the content I am putting forward has changed quite a bit, yet my desire to rediscover real food has stayed. And this is exactly what I did when I – as by chance- picked up Olia Hercules‘ first book, Mamuska. It is a story of cooking in Ukraine and beyond and I was immediately hooked. I found myself nodding when reading Olia’s advice (use only cucumbers in brine, vinegar cornichons just won’t do) and I was thrilled to find familiar
oliaingredients used in less familiar ways
. Given the somewhat similarity with Romanian cuisine, all thrown together in the cooking pot of Eastern European delights, I felt enough at ease to alter the recipes and adjust as I please. I also felt a strong connection to the people in the book, their traditions and cuisine. Later on, I picked up Kaukasis, Olia’s last book and the flood gates opened. For the past months, I’ve been cooking from the book heavily: qutabs, khachapouri, Ossetian pies, khingal, soups, condiments and preserves. And I don’t think I will stop very soon. For now, I am sharing this lamb meatballs soup from Mamuska, with some slight adaptations, driven by personal taste and- honestly- lack of some ingredients. 


What you need

For the stock
Some meaty bones (I had pork short-ribs)
One full large onion
One large carrot
Half parsnip
One bay leaf
For the soup
300 grams chickpeas (soaked overnight)
Cranberry paste (recipe calls for pomegranate molasses)
One small cinnamon stick
350 grams minced lamb
One finely chopped onion
Two tablespoons rice
Dry plums (recipe calls for fresh plums)
Salt and pepper
Dill and coriander to serve

How to make Armenian soup with lamb and prune meatballs

Start by making the stock: bring the meaty bones to a boil, drop in the pealed, whole onion, carrot, parsnip, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and soaked chickpeas after more or less half an hour. If using canned chickpeas, save them for later. Keep simmering for about one hour. In the meantime, make the dumplings. Heat a bit of sunflower oil in a pan and add the finely chopped onion. Season well with salt, as it will help soften the onion and brown it nicely. Keep the onion covered, on low fire for about 10-12 minutes, stirring once in a while. Please don’t hurry it, you want to get almost caramelized, sweet onion. In a large bawl mix the minced lamb, salt, pepper and the uncooked rice. Add the cooled down onions, don’t worry if a bit of oil sneaks in. Mix everything superwell with your hands. Now, the recipe calls for fresh plums, but I couldn’t find any (well, it’s not the season, after all) and I remember my grandma making a dumpling recipe with dried plums…which I had at home. If the plums are small, use a whole one, if not cut in half, lengthwise. Form oblong dumplings and squeeze the plum in the middle, make sure the plum doesn’t peak out. Your broth should be ready by now. Drain the liquid in another pot. Pick up any meat from the bones and chop some carrot- return them to the broth together with the cinnamon stick and chickpeas. The onion, rest of the carrot and parsnip go in the trash. If using canned chickpeas (which I would advise against), now it’s the time to add them. Dump the meatballs in the broth and cook for another 20 minutes. At the same time, add your pomegranate molasses if you have any. I didn’t, so I quickly whipped out a cranberry paste: dried cranberries, a bit of sugar and some lemon juice- all these mixed well in a mortar. Season well with salt and pepper…sugar/ fruity paste/ molasses/ lemon juice.
The soup should be rich, almost unctuous, sweetish-soury-fruity. Serve hot with chopped coriander and dill.


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