Romanian Meatball Soup | Ciorba de Perisoare

I give you here the recipe for one of the more popular soups in Romania. In fact, we don't even call it a soup: it is a 'ciorba' (pronounced /tch-ior-bah/), which is a group of soups that taste sour. We have a special ingredient for the sour flavor - we use borsch, but not the beet-based one that seems common in nearby Eastern-European countries. I give a simple alternative here to easily obtain the same great taste by using lemon juice instead. In addition to the sourness, I love this recipe for the texture and flavor of the meatballs.


Ingredients:
 - One yellow onion
 - One pound of lemons
 - Half a celery root
 - One yellow squash
 - One leek
 - One red bell pepper
 - One parsnip root
 - One large carrot
 - One pound ground meat
 - Four tablespoons fulls of uncooked rice
 - Four tablespoons of tomato paste
 - Two cups of chopped parsley (or dill, or both)
 - Spices: salt, pepper, paprika, chili pepper, bay leaves
 - For serving: a few leaves of fresh parsley, bread, sour cream (optional), hot peppers (pickled hot pepper would be more traditional)


Preparation:
 - Start by cooking the rice. Bring 3/4 cups of water to a boil, add the rice (rinsed separately), cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes. When done, remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and let cool on a flat plate for some 5-10 minutes.
 - Meanwhile, chop all vegetables and greens. Set aside half a cup of finely-chopped onions and the parsley. Fry the rest of the chopped veggies in a bit of olive oil on medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Transfer the veggies to a large pot, add three liters of water, four bay leaves, and spices to taste. Cover, bring to a boil, then keep on cooking for another half an hour. Use this time to prepare the meatballs (next step).
 - Mix the ground meat with half a cup of finely chopped onion, the cooked rice, half of the chopped parsley (about a cup), and a tablespoon each of salt, pepper, and paprika. When the mixture is uniform, grab about a tablespoon-full of the mix with wet hands, and roll into a ball. Repeat till uniform.
 - Once the broth has been boiling for half an hour, add the meatballs and the tomato paste, and cook for another half an hour. Use this time to squeeze the lemons and remove the seeds.
 - Mix in the lemon juice to the soup, a cup of chopped parsley, and salt, pepper, and chili pepper as desired. Serve hot.


Presentation:
 - Sprinkle some chopped parsley on top for extra color and aroma.
 - A lot of Romanians like to serve this with bread and sour cream: it adds richness and yumminess to the soup, and it helps cool it if it's too hot. Offer your guests this option by presenting sour cream in a bowl next to the soup.
 - Traditionally, we also serve pickled hot peppers next to the soup, to please the ones who like a to spicy it up a notch.

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