Desert winds, the call to prayer and a mysterious red soup
April 20, 2006 10:38 AM   Subscribe

When I was in Tunisia a few years ago I had this delicious red soup. What was it?

I remember it as being a thin, red soup, that had lots of finely minced herbs floating in it and usually a lamb/goat or chicken bone with only a little meat on it at the bottom of the bowl for flavor.

The soup was not tomato-ey tasting, nor do I remember it having any chickpeas. Usually I just ate the soup with bread, or maybe a little couscous. It was during Ramadan if that makes any difference at all.

Just a name would be great and a recipe would be fantastic!
posted by MasonDixon to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Probably borscht.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:56 AM on April 20, 2006

Tunisian Tomato Soup?
posted by cenoxo at 11:01 AM on April 20, 2006

Probably borscht. -- Nope.
posted by MasonDixon at 11:01 AM on April 20, 2006

I am going to go ahead and say it is probably not borscht.

How about Shorabit Addas? Some lentils will disintegrate like split peas do. Was the soup creamy or clear?
posted by mzurer at 11:13 AM on April 20, 2006

It sounds to me like some version of harira, the traditional Morrocan soup for breaking fast during the month of Ramadan. Harira usually has more stuff in it than you describe, but there are a lot of different recipes.
posted by OmieWise at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2006

Given the time, I'm going to guess harira. It's usually a bit thicker than you describe, but it's the right colour, and it's traditionally used to break fast during Ramadan. It's also absolutely freaking delicious.

As far as recipes go... variations abound, but I've had success with a version found on the Food Network. The cinnamon adds a nice roundness to the flavor.
posted by ZaphodB at 11:22 AM on April 20, 2006

Damnation! Well played, OmieWise, well played.
posted by ZaphodB at 11:23 AM on April 20, 2006

I emailed a friend who lived in Tunisia for a while to see if he could be more specific, if he gets back to me I'll let you know.
posted by OmieWise at 11:24 AM on April 20, 2006

Stick your tongue out: do any of these images of chorba look familiar?
posted by cenoxo at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2006

Yeah, it's almost certainly harira.

Borscht? Jesus Christ, use your head.
posted by languagehat at 11:39 AM on April 20, 2006

Compare the second image for chorba to the first for harira.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:52 AM on April 20, 2006

I think it pretty much has to be a version of Harira. The flavors in the different recipes have a family resemblance to the soup I remember. And I was eating at little dives and pensions (Hotel de la Liberte, anyone?), so it could have easily been a simpler version of the recipes posted here.

I would still very much appreciate it, Omiewise, if you let me know when you're Tunisian friend gets back to you.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:03 PM on April 20, 2006

Mr. Moonpie: that's fascinating! Do you think they both just used a stock (heh) photo of "red soup" or are the two soups the same thing?
posted by The Bellman at 12:19 PM on April 20, 2006

I don't think they are the same thing, Bellman, since one of the source sites lists both chorba and harira. MasonDixon, there are recipes at that site, though in French.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:43 PM on April 20, 2006

"chorba" means soup. So, Harira is a kind of "chorba"
posted by tuxster at 5:19 PM on April 20, 2006

It turns out that it's chorba, and that chorba may or may not be the generic word for soup, but certainly refers to the specfic soup you describe. Below it the email sent by my friend Francoise:
"your friend [MasonDixon] is describing the traditional Tunisian Ramadan soup, which is called Chorba (a noun derived from the verb "drink", charaba). It has nothing to do with the Moroccan Ramadan soup, Harira, which contains chick peas and
kasbour (cilantro). Moroccan food is very different from Tunisian food, and to my point far more subtle and varied.
So here is my recipe for chorba (which contains neither chick peas nor cilantro : Tunisians only use coriander grains).

Fry onions in a pot until soft and brown, using olive oil if you like the taste.
Add pieces of meat, preferably meat on bones, it'll make the soup tastier. I recommend lamb, cut up in small pieces. Beef or chicken can also be used. I don't know where your friend ate that soup with a meatless bone. Maybe he was an aid worker in a Tunisian shanty town.

(You can also make a fish chorba, in which case you only add the fish once the water / fish stock has beem poured in, you let it cook for a while, then fish it out, remove the fishbones and stick it in again. In a fish soup, you can use cumin).

Add about two tablespoons of tomato puree and harissa paste if you want your soup to be hot (if you have a nasty cold, a hot spicy chorba works wonders) and let it fry for a while over a medium heat, adding salt, pepper, ras-el-hanout (head of the shop = a mixture of spices) or any soup-friendly spice you may fancy, e.g. paprika, coriander...Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon.

Add water or meat stock, and let it simmer until the meat is cooked.

At this point, you have a problem if you are in the US of A : this is when you are supposed to add rice-grain-sized pasta which is not available here. It can be replaced by barley or whole wheat (you need some kind of starchy element to give the soup thickness, but it should remain runny, you don't want it to look like gruel). Do NOT use rice ! When the soup is ready, sprinkle with fresh flat-leaved parsley. If it is a fish soup, you can squeeze some lemon into it.

This is usually followed by bricks a l'oeuf during Ramadan. Want the recipe too ???
Bon appetit !"
I'm trying to get clarification as to whether couscous will work for the grain, but Francoise knows that couscous is easy to get here, so it may not work.

Email me through my profile if you like spicy and you want some harira and can't find it where you live. I know a good place to get it here in Baltimore for a buck a can, nothing else works quite as well for magrehbi dishes. I know you can order ras-el-hanout online, but here is a facsimile version from Paula Wolfert whose cookbooks of Moroccan cuisine are recommended.
posted by OmieWise at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2006 [3 favorites]

Orzo is a rice-grain-sized pasta. Maybe it'll work?
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:52 AM on April 21, 2006

MrMoonPie--Thanks for reminding me to get back to the thread. You could probably use orzo. What Francoise said in response to me was: "No, couscous doesn't work, you need bigger grains (rice-grain-sized) Maybe Israeli / Lebanese couscous would work." So it would appear that orzo would be perfect.
posted by OmieWise at 11:57 AM on April 21, 2006

Awesome, OmieWise, thanks so much for your (and Francoise's) generous efforts.

I live in Boston and know of a couple of Middle Eastern shops, so I'll have to check them for the orzo-esque pasta and some ras-el-hanout.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:48 PM on April 21, 2006

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