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:
Have you ever realised you have lots of fresh and cooked vegetables in the fridge that you can’t keep for more than a couple of days? I’m sure you have! And so did I on the day that I made this yummy dish. It was basically my fridge-cleaning day in preparation for the weekly vegetable shopping.
The fridge-cleaning day pasta turned out so delicious and so light I had to write down the ingredients to make sure I would remember how to make it again.
There had been a bit of this and a bit of that in the fridge. I had opened a jar of artichokes in olive oil a couple of nights before and there was some steamed asparagus from another meal. There were also a few fresh red bell pepper and three portobello mushrooms that I had to use up.
My first thought was to make mixed rice but then I remembered that was what we had the night before. I didn’t have much time and needed to make something that didn’t require long preparation and cooking. Pasta is always among my top choices at these times. So pasta it was going to be!
I put the water on for cooking the pasta and began sautéing sliced red peppers and portobello mushrooms. Portobello is a large flat mushroom and quite meaty. I use it in the place of meat/chicken in many of my favourite dishes. If you don’t have them to hand the next best choice will be chestnut (brown) mushrooms but any kind of mushroom, as long as it is not too delicate, will work in this recipe.
My marinated artichoke and asparagus were already cooked. Both added lovely flavour and texture to the dish but you can skip one or even both. You can also substitute cooked whole green bean for the asparagus or use leftover broccoli. That’s the beauty of this dish, it can be made with nearly any vegetable mix and will be delicious as long as you use the right seasoning, spices and herbs.
I know you are thinking: “So what’s so special about this dish? It’s just a mixture of vegetables and pasta!” But there was a difference. I love the Italian way of making pasta dishes but whether I want it or not, very often I end up adding a Persian twist to whatever it is that I’m making.
My twist was to steam the pasta briefly after mixing it with the vegetables in the same way that we steam Persian rice over low heat. This allows the flavours of the ingredients to meld into the pasta.If the heat is very low and you steam the pasta long enough you may even get a crispy golden layer of pasta in the bottom of the pan that’s simply heavenly!
I know this is not the Italian way but dear Italians, please please forgive me if I’m messing up with your lovely recipes because I’m a Persian cook after all!
While the pasta was steaming I made a lovely lettuce salad and set the table. I think it took me about forty-five minutes from beginning to putting the dinner on the table. Dinner was much faster than I had hoped and so delicious I could have it for several days without getting bored!
To make this dish for four people you will need the following ingredients: