Until recently, few had tasted Libya’s national dish — called, imaginatively enough, Libyan Soup — outside its home country, but today, the rich concoction, which pairs lamb broth with pasta, vegetables and spices, appears high on the list of starters at any international or North African restaurant.
Growing up in Libya, I was raised on this healthy dish, which happens to include items from most of the food groups. Although very rich and really quite filling, in Libya it is eaten as a precursor to the country’s other national dish, couscous (the savory kind prepared in a three-tier steamer where lamb is placed at the bottom, the steam from which cooks the couscous above which in turn cooks the vegetables).
We make it frequently, although it’s not to everyone’s taste, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find it appearing on many an iftar table of late, albeit called by many harira soup (which is actually the Moroccan version). Virtually a meal in itself, especially if paired with crusty French baguettes, it is as colorful as it is delicious. Tips for the cook: This soup takes quite some time to prepare, includes a lot of ingredients you may have to go shopping for and, more importantly, it takes quite some time to cook as it is traditionally made with lamb, so don’t leave it till last minute like you would some other soups.
The soup keeps well in the fridge without tasting stale. For the guests, if it’s your first time, be forewarned: Authentic Libyan soup is very, very hot.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
Black pepper (to taste)
Chili (to taste)
Ground turmeric (to taste)
300 g lamb, cut into small cubes
4 tbsp whole hummus (chickpeas)
1 bunch parsley, chopped
2 large tomatoes, diced
1-2 pints water
1/3 cup lessan asfour (orzo) or any small pasta shapes
Salt, to taste
2 tbsp dried mint leaves, powdered
Heat olive oil and fry onions and spices until golden. Add meat and hummus and leave to simmer. Add diced tomatoes and stir until paste-like. Pour in enough water to give a liquid consistency and bring to a boil. Add pasta and leave on low heat until cooked through. Add more water if the liquid is reduced too much. Add salt to taste, and just before serving stir in dried mint and parsley.