WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Sharba is the iconic dish of Libya used to break the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan. This intensely flavored soup relies on lamb, mint, chickpeas, and often orzo. It traditionally employs baharat , a spice mix consisting of sometimes more than 12 ingredients. We wanted to develop a soup reminiscent of this Libyan staple dish without emptying the entire spice cabinet. We started by cooking ground lamb meat with a soup base built on onion, tomatoes, dried mint, and a pared-down blend of spices, finishing the soup with chopped fresh mint. We found the ground lamb a bit dry and chili-like, and the soup lacked any real depth or body. Moreover, the chopped mint proved overpowering, drowning out the other spices. We decided to try braising bigger chunks of seared shoulder meat and then shredding them. Searing the meat produced a significantly more flavorful soup base, and the shredded meat was perfect in texture. But we still needed a more nuanced way of reinforcing mint flavor without making the soup taste like peppermint. We tried varying amounts of dried mint in the soup base, but each version tasted about the same, even when we used up to a full tablespoon. We then reserved some crumbled dried mint that we steeped just at the end. This technique proved successful: The soup took on a subtle but refreshing mint aroma that did not overpower the warmer flavors of the broth. Now we had a comforting, aromatic soup that could stand up to Libyan tradition.
1 pound lamb shoulder chops (blade or round bone), 1 to 1½ inches thick, trimmed and halved
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
4 plum tomatoes, cored and cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1½ teaspoons dried mint, crumbled
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
10 cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
1 cup orzo
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat lamb dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown lamb, about 4 minutes per side; transfer to plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot.
- Add onion to fat left in pot and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cook until softened and juice has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, 1 teaspoon mint, turmeric, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil.
- Stir in chickpeas, then nestle lamb into pot along with any accumulated juices. Cover, place pot in oven, and cook until fork slips easily in and out of lamb, about 1 hour.
- Transfer lamb to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces using 2 forks, discarding excess fat and bones. Meanwhile, stir orzo into soup, bring to simmer over medium heat, and cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Stir in shredded lamb and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in remaining ½ teaspoon mint and let sit until fragrant, about 1 minute.