This meatballs and pasta soup recipe is probably very different from any you’ve ever tried so get yourself prepared for a whole new flavour combination! There is a lot of coriander, garlic and mint in the broth for this soup that give it it’s fabulous aroma and set it apart from other meatball and pasta soups.
This is my cheat’s version of a moreish soup called by a myriad of names all over Iran, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Each one of these soups is a bit different from the others but they are all made with pasta shaped like tortellini or ravioli. My version is close to one made in northwest Iran and the neighbouring Azerbaijan.
I learnt to make the original version of gushbara from my mother-in-law who is a fabulous cook. Her skill in making pasta dough, rolling the dough and filling small dumplings for the soup has always fascinated me. Hers is finger-licking delicious but takes a lot of time to prepare. But I loved this soup and had to find a way to make something that tasted similar but was easier to make so I came up with this recipe.
Herby soups are part and parcel of Persian cooking. No wonder the word for cook in Persian (ashpaz) is derived from the word for soup (ash, a is pronounced as in art). So a cook is one who makes soups! There are literally hundreds of types of soups with all kinds of flavours, from savoury to sweet and sour, completely vegetarian or with different kinds of meat. Some are thickened with flour, others with noodles, rice, whole grains like wheat and barley or bulgur.
There are also some soups that are made with pieces of pasta dough like the one from which I’ve taken the inspiration for my cheat’s gushbara. Gushbara translates to “earring” or “like ear lobes” in Persian, because of the shape of the tiny dumplings in the original version.
You may call my gushbara a “deconstructed” version of the real thing. I make it with shop-bought Italian pasta shapes like orecchiette, creste di gallo, farfalle or cappelletti but any kind of pasta shape or even little squares of homemade pasta dough can be used instead. Using dry pasta cuts the preparation time but flavour-wise the end result is quite similar to the original. Critic No 1 (my lovely son and my best food critic) approves of my cheat’s version and is always begging me to make it for him. He is quite a soup expert!
This curious pasta soup has a long and interesting history too. There are many versions known as gushbara, jushpara, jushbara, tushbera, dushbara and chuchvara in some regions of Iran, former soviet republics of Central Asia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Afghanistan. A friend from Jordan told me her grandmother made jushbara too but had no idea where it came from.
I’m not going to debate the origins of the dish. My best guess is that it was brought to Iran and all adjacent countries by nomadic Turkic tribes centuries ago and they may have adopted that from an earlier Chinese version. I found a recipe in a 16th century Persian cookbook but the book doesn’t say where the soup originated. It’s fascinating how the dish evolved over the centuries in all these places and how each nation now has claims to its origins.
Today many versions are enjoyed in various parts of Iran where the fillings and flavourings can vary hugely. In some places the pasta parcels are filled with lamb, in others with lentils. Some are made with broth, others with sauce, much like ravioli. I made one recently from eastern regions of Iran with spinach and walnut dumplings. If there could be a cheat’s version of that I’d make it all the time.
In our family gushbara is served with torshi (chopped vegetables pickled in vinegar and spices). When there isn’t any torshi we use lime/lemon juice or good wine vinegar flavoured with garlic paste.
To serve four persons you will need the following ingredients:
I’m really excited about this Persian-inspired bundt meatloaf recipe. I came up with the idea of making this dish last night and was lucky to have all the ingredients at home. I was a bit anxious about the way it was going to turn out. It would be a waste of time if it didn’t come out in one piece. It did come out in perfect shape and it was incredibly moist and scrumptious too.
There’s good reason for making food with a touch of glamour now. Many of us will be celebrating two occasions next week. There’s Christmas obviously, and Yalda, the ancient festival of Winter Solstice that Iranians celebrate on the evening of December 21st. Two celebrations in one week. Good to beat winter gloom, right? Food will be the centre of both occasions and what’s better than sharing food with loved ones in a festive environment?
We celebrate Yalda with company, food and drinks, candles, games and poetry. Pomegranates and watermelons are Yalda staples. I guess it’s because of the red colour of these fruits. Red is associated with fire and therefore with the sun and light. Yalda, the longest night of the year, is the night that the Sun goes to battle with the powers of darkness. It will win some ground on the first day of winter and gradually bring about more light and longer days and lead to the complete rebirth of nature on the day of the Spring Equinox (which we also celebrate, as our New Year).
Symbolism plays a huge role in the types of food eaten during Persian festivals. The food of New Year (Nowrouz) is usually green, like green rice, and there are plenty of growth and rebirth symbols around in the Nowrouz decorations too. According to some theories Christmas is related to ancient Winter Solstice festivals of the pagans and Mithras, the Sun God of the Romans. Whatever the origins of Christmas, it’s a great time to celebrate and be merry!
Back to my meatloaf: I make meatloaf only once in a while and try to make it a bit different every time but I had never made one with pomegranate sauce. This was my first time and I’m so glad I acted on what at first seemed like one of those crazy ideas that spring up to mind when one is too tired of doing the same things over and over again.
Inspiration for this dish came from a gorgeous huge pomegranate that had been sitting on the counter for a few days. The jewel-like seeds (arils) can be sweet, sour, sweet and sour and the colour may range from pinkish white to very dark red. Whatever the colour or flavour it’s always a great thing to cook with. It had to be pomegranates in one form or another this time.
My sauce has pomegranate molasses as well as seeds but I think the seeds were what made the dish one to remember. The scrumptious, slightly sweet and sour, pomegranate studded sauce was really wow! Drizzled on the meatloaf it made such huge change from the ordinary to the festive. Best meatloaf I’ve ever made, seen or had.
When I finally took the tin out of the oven and turned the meatloaf out I was surprised by how perfect it came out. No trouble at all. Cakes sometimes give me a hard time but this was as easy as pie! I had made the sauce while waiting for the meatloaf to bake so there was really no last minute work. I just drizzled the sauce on the meatloaf and TOOK PICTURES! I had to make the photography very quick so we could have our dinner before the meatloaf got cold. The rest is history.
This meatloaf will serve eight people. You can always divide the quantities in half and bake the meatloaf in a loaf tin which will also look stunning when sliced. Serve with some sort of bread and a crisp, green salad. Oh, by the way, this tastes great cold too so you may want to try it on a brunch menu.
PS: Do use lean beef mince (10 to 12%). There’s so much flavour going on in this meatloaf that you really don’t need the extra fat.
For layering and assembling the meatloaf:
For the mince mixture:
For the sauce and garnish:
Long ago I shared a recipe for an easy version of lubia polo. As I mentioned in that post that recipe was born out of necessity because I didn’t have the right ingredients at home that day. That very different lubia polo was voted a family favourite by critics No. 1 & 2 and I often make it for them now. But today I’m sharing a more authentic version. Today’s recipe comes with the bonus instructions for saffron tahdig, a crunchy golden crust to die for.
Green beans taste quite different when sautéed in oil. The flavour of beans in this lubia polo recipe is not same as simply boiled green beans so don’t skip the frying stage
My version of Lubia polo (also spelled as loobia polo) which is very similar to what my mum makes is perfumed with cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and saffron and is really comforting whatever the season. The spices and the two-stage cooking method that involves parboiling the rice and steaming afterwards make all the difference. This one is very fluffy and aromatic.
I’ve often wondered if there’s a historical link between Persian layered rice dishes like lubia polo and Indian biryanis. They are prepared in the same way but Indian biryanis are usually quite spicy whereas ours are not. The tiny amounts of black pepper and chilli powder that we use in our dishes goes nowhere near the amount in the mildest of Indian dishes.
There’s no mention of meat in the name of lubia polo (green bean rice) but that’s not surprising. Like many other Persian dishes this one takes its name from the vegetable in it. The real authentic and original lubia polo is made with lamb (or mutton). Using chicken breasts is my twist to cut the cooking time almost in half but I must confess, lamb is tastier so I make it with lamb whenever I have time. The rest of the recipe is as authentic as it gets.
Sometimes I’m too hungry or too tired after work to follow all the stages of the recipe for lubia polo, that is boil the rice, layer with prepared green beans mix and steam for perfect fluffy rice. On such days I kind of cheat and just make the chicken and green beans mix, add a few chunks of tomato and water and let it simmer away while I’m making rice by the absorption method (kateh) in my Persian rice cooker. Those rice cookers are real life-savers for us Iranians!
Making kateh is much quicker and easier than the more elaborate method of parboiling and steaming (chelo) although the result is not as perfect. But who cares about perfection when everybody’s HUN-GAR-Y?
On occasions like that while the rice is cooking I stew the chicken and green beans and serve as a khoresht (stew eaten with rice). If cooked separately like this it will be khoresht-e lubia which is a real khoresht. So two recipes in one here!
Lubia polo (layered rice) and khoresht-e lubia are both especially nice with chopped lemony tomato and cucumber salad and the rest of the usual things we serve with most meals, like small bowls of pickles (torshi), fresh herbs and radishes (sabzi khordan) and yoghurt. Can a meal get any healthier (and more satisfying) than that?
I often make a big pot of this and save some for later in the week. No one has ever complained about having to eat the same thing twice in a week, at least in my house. Lubia polo is always welcomed and enjoyed even two days in a row. The following recipe will feed four hungry people.
For the rice and tahdig
For layering with rice