Chorba frik is a wonderfully comforting Algerian soup, with a tomato base and frik/freekeh, meat and chickpeas that give it a bit of bulk. Seasoned with warm spices and cilantro, it's packed with flavor, light yet filling and incredibly tasty.
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One of the things I love making during the colder months is soups. They're perfect to have on hand for a quick and easy lunch, or really as any meal either as they are or with a few additions.
It's also a category that has so much variety, from smooth soups like broccoli and Stilton soup and white asparagus soup to more broth-based with additions like sopa de lima (Mexican lime soup) and tom yum soup. Not to mention all the flavors.
This is a traditional Algerian soup that's relatively simple yet has a fantastic mix of flavors. It's commonly enjoyed during Ramadan as part of the iftar meal. Many also enjoy it in colder weather, and it's easy to see why it's popular.
What is the origin of chorba?
"Chorba" or "shorba", as well as a number of variations on the name, is a group of soups and stews that you'll find across North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. The names all derive from the Persian šōrbā. This is a compound of the words for "salty" and "stew" or "gruel", though in modern Persian it simply means stew or broth.
Much of the spread in it's popularity in the region was through the Ottoman empire. Over time, the dish has evolved into different forms in different countries.
While chorba has lots of variations, each is generally broth-based with various vegetable, meat and/or grain additions. They are different from other soups and stews of the region where the base is thickened, as is the case in harira.
Chorba frik variations
Chorba frik is a popular form of chorba that you'll find in Algeria. Neighboring Tunisia has "chourbat el frik" which is much the same, too. As with many traditional recipes, you will find a number of variations in the recipes used in different areas and households.
Lamb is generally considered the traditional meat, but some use chicken, others make little meatballs. Some have more dried spices, some more fresh herbs, others less. But the essential elements of a light tomato-based broth, some meat and frik/freekeh are much the same.
Ingredients in chorba frik
Here I use the following which try to find a balance of traditional as well as flavorful:
- Onion - this forms the aromatic base of the soup, so you soften it first before adding the meat.
- Lamb - you can find other meats, but lamb is the most common. This adds a little bulk and also flavors the broth.
- Grated tomatoes - this adds both color and flavor. You can also use ready pureed tomatoes (eg passata) but I like the brighter flavor of fresh.
- Paprika, coriander, cinnamon, dried mint - the exact dry spices can vary but these are all common. Each adds a lovely flavor to the broth. I've found dried mint can be strangely tricky to find in the US (I found it more easily in the UK) so you may need to try a specialist store or online. You can skip it, but it does add a nice dimension to the flavors.
- Tomato paste - (tomato puree in UK) adds a little extra tomato flavor.
- Cilantro (coriander) - this adds a lovely freshness that compliments the other flavors.
- Water - since there's already meat, spices and tomato, you generally just add water rather than stock. You leave all of the above to cook until the meat is tender, which helps the flavors to mingle, too.
- Frik/freekeh - I talk more about it below but this adds bulk to the dish. You add it in after the lamb is tender so you cook it just enough. If you can't find it, you could substitute bulgar wheat, though use a little less.
- Chickpeas - not all versions include this, but it's nice for some additional bulk and texture. You can either soak dried overnight and add earlier to cook, or add canned chickpeas towards the end.
While this may seem a few ingredients, most of them take very little preparation. You only have a short amount of hands-on cooking, then you can leave it to simmer away, before adding a couple ingredients and leaving it again.
What is frik?
Frik also goes by the name freekeh or farik and is made from green durum wheat. It's roasted and rubbed which gives it a slightly smokey flavor. You can use it much like other grains like bulgar wheat or barley. It's in a number of soups around the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean to give them a bit more bulk.
While it might be a little trickier to find, you will certainly find it in Arabic supermarkets and some health food stores. And I have found it in Wholefoods in the US, beside other grains and pulses, as well as being available online, too.
How to serve this soup
To serve, it's great with a little extra fresh cilantro to add that little more fresh brightness. Try it with some bread on the side, which might traditionally be bourek, to help soak up all the flavor. Though really it's great no matter what.
The soup also reheats well, so it's great for making extra and enjoying over a couple days, as needed. Just store in the fridge up to three days, and reheat the amount you need on the stove or in the microwave.
Chorba frik is a classic Algerian soup with simple, bright flavors of tomato and warm spices, as well as delicious chunks of meat and freekeh in each spoonful. It's a delicious, comforting mix. It's well loved in our household, and I hope you'll find the same in yours, too.
Try these other tasty soups from around the world:
- Tom kha gai (Thai coconut soup)
- Lablabi (Tunisian chickpea soup/stew)
- Sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup)
- Plus get more North African recipes and winter recipes in the archives.
- ¼ cup freekeh aka frik
- 1 small onion
- 6 oz lamb diced
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 handful cilantro coriander
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- ½ teaspoon salt (can adjust later to taste)
- ½ teaspoon pepper (can adjust later to taste)
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 4 cups water
- ½ cup chickpeas canned/soaked volume/weight
- Rinse the freekeh/frik in cold water and remove any dark pieces that look like they may not be grains. Drain and set aside.
- Finely chop the onion and chop the lamb into small bite-sized chunks. Halve the tomatoes and grate the inside over a bowl/dish so that you collect all of the pulp. Discard the skin and any tough core. Chop the cilantro/coriander relatively finely.
- Warm the oil in a medium pot/saucepan over a medium heat then add the onion. Cook for a few minutes to soften the onion then add the lamb and gently brown all over.
- Add the dry spices (paprika, coriander, cinnamon, mint, salt, pepper and dry mint) and mix through. Cook for a minute then add the cilantro, tomato paste and grated tomato. Mix through then add the water. If using uncooked, soaked chickpeas, add them at this point.
- Cover and bring the pot to a simmer then reduce the heat to keep at a simmer rather than boiling. Cook for around 45 minutes to an hour until the lamb is tender.
- Add the freekeh/frik and chickpeas, if using canned (pre-cooked). Cover and cook for another 15 minutes until the freekeh is just tender.
- Serve topped with a little extra chopped cilantro/coriander.
I've drawn on a number of recipes for this, including this Petit Panière recipe.
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