Chorba Fassia is a bowl of pure goodness, Moroccan-style. This diced vegetable soup is fragrant, healthy and the perfect comfort food for a winter night. Plan to make it when you want to clean out your fridge and use the last of the veggies lingering from the weekly shopping.
The soup could be a sister or close parent to Minestrone, and I’m sure that there must be something similar (to some extent) in all cuisines from the Mediterranean Basin.
Chorba Fassia is a perfect one-pot supper, which is another reason why I like it. It has all the ingredients needed to consider it a complete meal: beef or lamb for proteins, pasta and potato for carbs, and the veggies of course make for a healthy cocktail of vitamins.
What Makes a Good Chorba Fassia
Chorba means soup in Arabic, while Fassia refers to the city of Fez. A good Chorba Fassia depends on the quality of the vegetables. The vegetables which we get in our European supermarkets lack flavor and sometimes we are better off with frozen ones. In Morocco, it’s about 24 hours from field to your kitchen and that makes a great difference.
Another important element is the braising step. It is important to give the vegetables the chance to render their liquids and intensify their flavor over low heat.
The turnip plays a vital role in this soup and in Morocco, the turnip family is quite rich. Any type will do.
All the vegetables in this soup should be finely chopped, no kidding! It’s actually what makes it a real Chorba Fassia. Some of my family members who are from Fez won’t touch their bowl if the vegetables are too chunky. I am more on the lazy side of the family so I serve it blended but without pasta, to my mother’s disappointment.
Chorba Fassia is equivalent to an Italian minestrone soup except that it's richer in flavors and has a wonderful broth, thanks to the addition of giblets or bones. It's perfect one-pot meal for winter nights.
For a vegetarian option, you can use a vegetable stock and omit all meat elements. Whichever way you go, make sure you braise the vegetables on low heat, covered, before topping with any liquid.
- 1 cup cubed lamb, beef or chicken (cut less than 1" thick, see notes)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium-size carrots, peeled and finally diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste (or 2 grated pulpy tomatoes, seeds and skin discarded)
- 1 celery stalk, finely diced (optional)
- 1 small turnip, finely diced
- 2 small courgettes (or 1 Italian courgette), finely diced
- 2 medium-size potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 cup sliced leeks, (optional)
- 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley and coriander
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp smen (or ghee or blue cheese, see notes)
- 1 cup broken vermicelli (or orzo or small macaroni)
- salt to taste
- 2 qt water (or ready made stock)
Place a deep pot over medium-low heat. Add the oil and smen then the meat and/or the bones, onions, vegetables, tomatoes or tomato paste, salt and turmeric. Stir to combine. Cover and braise, stirring every few minutes to allow the vegetables to render their liquid and intensify in flavor. This makes the base for the soup.
Once you see that the liquid has reduced, add the stock or water and simmer for 30 minutes. (At this point you can interrupt the cooking if necessary as it's best to wait to nearly serving time to continue to the next step.)
Shortly before serving, top the soup with more water and bring to a simmer. Add the broken vermicelli or any small pasta you prefer. Stir and continue cooking for a few minutes.
Add the herbs and the black pepper. Stir and continue simmering until the pasta is just about cooked (al dente). The pasta will absorb water quickly and will continue to absorb liquid later on. So to keep the chorba adequately soupy, adjust water accordingly and correct the seasoning for later serving.
If you are making a batch with potential leftover for the coming days, add the vermicelli to the quantity of soup you are planning to have the same day and leave the rest without pasta. You can still do the same the next day with your remaining soup.
Thin it as you go and according to your liking. I like a thick soup and my mother prefers much more liquid. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
- Smen is a traditional clarified cured and preserved butter, a bit like Indian ghee but with more flavor. Ideally, a farm butter is used. It's brought to a boiling point on a low heat, then skimmed and strained. It is kept in a clay jar called a khabia and it is salted (sometimes flavored with thyme and other herbs from the mountains). It needs time to age to develop its strong and cheesy taste. The older the smen, the stronger and better.
- You may replace smen by a small piece of blue cheese, mostly the white creamy part. The same tip can be used for couscous and any other recipe calling for smen. Otherwise, a good fragrant olive oil will do the trick as well.
- You could use small bones for a fragrant and concentrated bouillon but do adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- You can also replace meat with chicken wings and giblets which is another traditional version of this soup.