Ciorbă is a distinctive type of Romanian soup that is soured with vinegar, sauerkraut juice or another sour agent. Sour meatball soup is among the most traditional of the sour soups, but cabbage ciorbă is also popular, and ciorbă de burtă (tripe soup) is considered the ultimate hangover food. Traditional versions use lovage, an herb infrequently found in the stores in North America, but which can be obtained at specialty shops or online. If you can't find it, celery leaves or parsley will do.
- For the Meatballs:
- 1 pound ground lean beef or pork (or a combination)
- 2 slices bread
- 1 small finely chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons uncooked rice
- 2 tablespoons water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- For the Soup:
- 1 small finely sliced onion
- 1 bunch lovage leaves or celery leaves or parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 1 peeled parsley root
- 1 peeled parsnip
- 4 peeled carrots
- 1 pound beef or veal with bones
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- Salt as needed
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar, or to taste
- Sour cream for garnish (optional)
- Hot pepper to taste (optional)
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add sliced onion, lovage, parsley root, parsnip and carrots. Add beef or veal with bone. Bring back to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface, reduce heat and simmer partially covered.
Meanwhile, make the meatballs by first soaking the bread in water or milk and then squeezing it dry. Mash the soaked bread in a large bowl. Add the ground meat, finely chopped onion, rice, water and salt and pepper. Wet hands slightly and make small meatballs. Set aside.
When the vegetables in the saucepan become tender, return it to a boil and carefully drop in the meatballs. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes. When the soup is almost done and the meatballs come to the surface, add the tomato paste and stir well.
Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the lovage and season with salt and vinegar. If desired, serve with a dollop of sour cream and a hot pepper on the side.