Cooking in the real world

So here we are in the throes of the new economy.   Bye Bye beef, Hello beans. But do not despair. Today I made the most delicious Persian inspired yogurt soup called ashe maste which has chickpeas, lentils, basmati rice,  little tiny meatballs and green onions, parley and mint. It will feed me for a few days and it only used $3.00 of ground beef.  This is the new economy and I will eat well. So can you.  This recipe is in my book Solo Suppers and it’ s a keeper.

The Mediterranean is loaded with such creative and yummy meals in a bowl. Moroccan harira, bean soups with greens from Southern Italy. We need to think differently. Forget the giant piece of meat at the center of the plate.  Use protein for a hint of flavor and let vegetables, and grains and beans do the heavy lifting.

Persian Meatball Soup  From Solo Suppers  about 3 bowlsful  YUM!


When I am in the mood to cook, I enjoy preparing meatballs as a mildly meditative activity. I usually make a double batch, use some for a pan sauté, and save some for a soup supper, or maybe for pasta. Certainly the guazzetto of white beans with greens (page xx) would welcome meatballs instead of seafood. My favorite meatball soup, however, is Persian. It has a yogurt base bound with an egg and flour and must not boil, or the yogurt will curdle. Just keep stirring. The soup is a lovely pale yellow, which is set off by the green of the mint and green onions and the brown of the meatballs. When pomegranates are in season I sprinkle a few of the jewel-like red seeds on top.  


1/4 cup dried chickpeas

1/4 cup green or black lentils

1/3 pound ground beef

3 tablespoons grated yellow onion

1 egg, lightly beaten and then divided in two

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup low- fat plain yogurt

1 teaspoon flour

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons basmati rice

3 cups chicken stock or water

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped green onions, including the tender green tops

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 clove garlic, very finely minced

Pomegranate seeds garnish (optional)


Pick over the dried chickpeas and remove any stones or debris. Rinse well, put in a saucepan and cover with 1 cup cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 1 hour. Drain the beans and return them to the saucepan with cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, add salt, cover and simmer until beans are tender, about 40 to 50 minutes. Drain and reserve.

Pick over the lentils and remove any stones or debris. Rinse well, put the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until firm‑tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and reserve.

In a bowl combine the ground beef, grated onion, half of the egg, salt, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Mix well with your hands. Fry a tiny patty of the mixture to see if it is seasoned to your taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary, then form the beef mixture into tiny meatballs, about the size of a nickel, or smaller if you have the patience. Refrigerate.

To make the soup base, spoon the yogurt into a medium saucepan. Whisk in the remaining half egg, the flour, the turmeric and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Add the rice, the reserved lentils and two cups of the stock.  Place over low heat and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add the reserved chickpeas, the parsley, green onions, and most of the chopped mint. Simmer for 10 minutes more, then add the meatballs and simmer 10 minutes longer. Add the remaining stock if needed.

In a small sauté pan, melt the butter. Add the garlic and sauté until soft but not colored, about 2 minutes. Add to the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour into a warmed soup bowl and sprinkle with remaining mint and pomegranate seeds, if using. .


Note:  You can double the meat mixture and cook the remaining half of the seasoned meat mixture as a pan-fried burger, top it with yogurt seasoned with garlic, and serve it in a pita bread. Or, you can form the rest of the meat mixture into meatballs, sauté them in butter or oil until browned, simmer them in tomato sauce, and then serve over rice with a drizzle of garlicky yogurt.


One thought on “Cooking in the real world

  1. Yesterday I read your book, Solo Suppers, cover to cover. This is one of the best cook books I have ever read. Last night I prepared your Poached Salmon. It was delicious. Thank your for the fresh new ideas.


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