If I had to make a sweeping statement about Middle-Eastern culinary taste, I’d say ” You’ve got to love yogurt!”. Yogurt is an intrinsic part of our food. When I was a kid growing up in Beirut, we’d get our weekly supply of yogurt delivered by a man wearing a sherwal (traditional trousers) and wearing a villager’s hat. He brought it in a clay pot (like the one in the picture) and it was covered with a layer of thick yellowish cream. He also brought a straw basket of eggs. These days are long gone, now people go to the supermarket to get these eggs called baladi (country-style).
The traditional yogurt soups here have some meat-filled dumplings in them (called sheesh barak) or kibbeh balls; the good news is that these are available in supermarkets frozen; if one lives abroad however, then one has to make them and they are time-consuming. Instead, I used boxed pasta and meatballs for a speedy version.
INGREDIENTS: 4 servings
- 1/4 lb ground meat
- meat bones, as much as you like
- 1 lb yogurt
- 1 quart water
- 3 cloves garlic, mashed in a mortar
- 1 egg or 1 egg white
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- salt, black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup small-shell pasta or orrechiette
- 1 tbsp dry mint or fresh chopped cilantro (if using cilantro, increase the quantity to half a bunch) + 2 tbsp olive oil or butter
- oil, as needed
- Heat a tiny bit of oil in a soup pot and brown the bones; add the water and bring to a simmer, skimming the froth as it appears, for 45 minutes; remove the bones (give to your dog) and drop the pasta in the broth and simmer till al dente.
- Meanwhile, shape the ground meat into meatballs, adding spices to the mixture. Place them on a baking sheet and bake in a medium hot oven for 10 minutes. Transfer to the pot with the pasta. Prepare the yogurt sauce: Dilute the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of water; pour the yogurt in a saucepan and add the cornstarch and the egg, stirring constantly for 10 minutes until a bit thickened. Transfer the yogurt to the soup pot and keep stirring for a few minutes till all is combined. Right before serving, mash the garlic, heat a bit of olive oil in a tiny skillet and fry the garlic and mint (or chopped cilantro) for 5 seconds until fragrant; transfer the pesto to the soup pot, stir to combine and serve immediately.