Heartwarming Lebanese Shank & Vegetables Soup
Recipe by Sonia Bejjani
My mum grew up in a little village in the south of Lebanon. She then moved to Beirut, which is where I grew up. My dad, Sami, and the rest of my family are also Lebanese. My parents emigrated from Lebanon to New Zealand in 1989 where they opened Sami’s Café, which specialises in homemade Middle Eastern dishes.
Mum’s mother and grandmother taught her how to cook, including this shank and vegetable soup. This is quite a traditional, heartwarming Lebanese recipe. It’s a classic dish, as in Lebanon we tend to eat a lot of lamb. Since it’s a winter soup, it’s all about using shanks, which take a while to cook to become tender.
The soup is also a typical Lebanese recipe, as the culture’s cuisine is quite simple and often made from inexpensive ingredients. Like other Lebanese dishes, the soup is not very strong or spicy, even though spices are used. Instead, the flavours of the meat and vegetables shine through with the help of slow cooking.
The soup isn’t served on any specific occasion; it’s just an everyday winter warmer. The dish evokes strong memories of my childhood, when mum cooked amazing dishes, and the smells that wafted from the kitchen. I used to help her cook; for example, I’d cut the veggies. When I visit my family in New Zealand and mum cooks, the distinctive scents of her creations bring back memories of my childhood. Her food is just delicious.
You can cook this faster if you have a pressure cooker. Or if you are in a hurry, you can use another type of meat that would cook faster than shanks.
1 lamb shank (approx 500g)
2 zucchini, cubed
2 medium carrots, cubed
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 cup cubed pumpkin
1 medium sweet potato (red kumara), cubed
1 medium onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups small vermicelli pieces or noodles
1) Put meat in a large pot, cover with water and add salt. Bring to the boil and skim all the scum that forms on the surface until there is none and the stock is clear.
2) Add vegetables and the remaining ingredients in addition to the bay leaves, peppercorns and cinnamon. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours or until meat is tender (you can add more water if you feel the mixture is too thick). Remove the shank and allow to cool slightly. Tear the meat into bite-sized chunks and return to soup.
3) Once it’s nearly ready, break vermicelli into small pieces and add to the soup, cook for another five minutes. Season with salt to taste. PS: remove bay leaves and cinnamon before serving.
For more on Hayssam’s story and recipe, see our feature story here