After sunset during Ramadan, 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 flavor of concentrated tomato paste, the type often packaged in tubes. But in this recipe its potent flavor 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 savory soup is a meal in itself, but warm, crusty bread is a perfect paring.
North African Lamb, Chickpea and Bulgur Soup
Start to finish: 45 minutes. Servings: 4
1 tablespoon ras el hanout (see headnote)
4 teaspoons dried mint
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
12 ounces ground lamb
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens reserved separately
1 celery stalk, including leaves if present, finely chopped
6 medium garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup tomato paste
15½-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
¾ cup coarse bulgur
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
In a medium bowl, stir together the ras el hanout, mint, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the lamb and 3 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 ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the paste is well browned, about 3 minutes. Add the chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas are completely coated with tomato paste, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add 6 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.