Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sudanese shorba

The thing I love the most about food blogging is that I get inspired to try things I normally never would. I love reading blogs from all over the world and enthusiastically absorb all I can from foreign cultures.

I know very little of is African cuisine. If you can actually even talk about a generalized African food culture as it ecompasses a great variety of foods. There are lots of African restaurants in Milan, with a preponderance of Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine due to the unfortunate recent historical link between Italy and these countries. I have tasted their food and liked it and I have travelled to Maghreb and enjoyed their cuisine, but that is where my knowledge ends. I know close to nothing about Sub-Saharan African food.

Recently this one recipe kept on popping up everywhere around me. I first watched it being made on a British food show and was intrigued by the ingredients. It stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, although I had no recollection of the name or country of origin of this dish. Then, following the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog, I came across the same recipe in Joan's Foodalogue. There were those familiar ingredients! I was intrigued all over again. The idea of making a hearty vegetable and lamb soup (I love lamb) and giving it an extra twist by adding peanut butter and lemon juice at the end to thicken it up was suddenly irresistible to me. This had to be our Saturday dinner.

Finding lamb bones last minute is not an easy task, so I ended up buying lamb shank steaks instead to make the broth. Little chunks of fall-apart tender meat in the soup sounded quite appealing. I also got home and realized I did not have any cabbage. For all I know, this is probably a fundamental ingredient to make this soup, so forgive me for skipping this step!

How did my shorba turn out?

Before reading, please keep in mind this is my first attempt ever at African cuisine and I have no terms of comparison. I would love comments and suggestions from African readers...anybody out there?

The shorba turned out good. Warm, rich, satisfying. A little too rich. I feel like I need to try this over again, tweeking the ingredients. First of all I put in way too much peanut butter. I added 4 heaping tbsp because there was so much liquid. I think 3 normal sized tbsp would have been more than enough. I used organic, unsweetened peanut butter. I wonder what they use in Sudan? My other mistake was the rice. I have a feeling I put in a little more than 100gr. Or perhaps I used the wrong grain (I couldn't find suggestions on what kind of rice to use). The combination of peanut butter and starchy, short-grained rice made for a really thick, stewy soup, while I was sort of looking forward to something a little more liquid and not quite as overpowering in creamy, peanut butter taste. The fact that we also had just come back from a childrens' birthday party and had stuffed our faces with cake, chips, sanwiches, nutella and spumante was probably also a decisive element in our general feeling of satiety and desire for a more soupy version. The next time  I will use half the amount of rice and take pictures later so I it doesn't turn out resembling an African inspired risotto! The soup was good, don't get me wrong, the vegetables absorbing wonderful flavor from the lamb and the meat turning out nice and tender. The peanut butter complemented the lamb and the acidity from the lemon juice cut through the richness of it. I know this can be an outstanding meal, if the elements are better balanced. So please try it, just go a little light on the PB and rice!

A few facts to read while the shorba is simmering away on your stove top: the word shorba seems to be of Turkish origin - çorba - and was spread throughout Eurasia during the Ottoman Empire, becoming the noun used for soup, stew or even broth in many cultures: ciorba in Romania, shurpa in Russian, sorpa in Kazak, shorpo in Kyrgyz, shurbo/shurpo in Tajik and shorba in African countries of Arabic culture (such as Lybia, Algeria and Sudan etc.) and India. These national recipes, of varying thickness, are often lamb-based or employ lentils or chick peas. The recipe I made can also be pureed, but I served it more as a stew.

1.5kg lamb bones
2 liters water
2 tsp salt
250g whole, peeled, onions (I only had one so I added some shallots)
250g carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
250g cabbage, chopped
250g string beans
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I only used one)
4 tbsp peanut butter
juice of 1 lemon
100g cooked rice

Add the lamb bones and salt to the water and bring to the boil, simmering it for 1 hour. Add the vegetables: carrots, cabbage, string beans and then the garlic. Simmer for another hour approximately. Mix the peanut butter and lemon juice together and add to the stew along with the rice. Remove the lamb bones and serve.

Have you ever tried making something totally foreign to you, without having tasted it beforehand? Have you ever tasted shorba? Any tips?


  1. What an interesting recipe! I've only really seen peanut butter used in satay for a savoury dish so it sounds really interesting! :)

  2. this sounds so yummy! i think that all the ingredients in this dish does go well together. great post!

  3. very interesting dish. Love to explore African dishes too...

  4. Thanks for dropping in at I Sicilian. I love your husband already! I too have never been exposed to African food unless Maroccan, Tunisian and Egyptian is included, somehow I think of these countries as the other side of Sicily. Anyway, Love your blog let's keep in touch, let me know what life is like in Italy these days.

  5. Sounds very exotic! I love peanut butter in recipes too...

  6. Lorraine - It certainly is something new to play around and experiment with. I looove satay
    Black book kitchen diaries - hi! glad you enjoyed. I had fun trying it out.
    Zoe - it is refreshing to try something totally new once in a while.
    I Sicilian - Ciao, benvenuta! Of course, Maghreb cuisine...I forgot to include that, must go and edit. I also sometimes tend to forget that area is Africa, it is almost a part of Sicily! In Trapani they make amazing fish couscous, have you ever had it?
    Nancy - if you try it out, would love to hear how yours turns out.

  7. I love cooking with peanuts as an ingredient too! I give you such credit for experimenting with such an exotic dish! I love that about food blogs too, it opens up your eyes to so much that's out there! You're inspiring me to step out of my comfort zone today!

  8. D,W&D - Thanks, all you bloggers out there inspire me daily too!

  9. I'm a complete newbie when it comes to cooking African food, so this dish is very exciting to read about. Loving satay my imagination is going overtime that I'd love these combinations, especially with lemon juice. I'm really interested to give this a go.

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