Mains, Recipes, Soups & Stews

Ciorbă de Perisoare | Romanian Porcupine Meatballs Sour Soup

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This classic Romanian soup features hearty porcupine meatballs swimming in a creamy and flavourful broth dotted with diced veggies and fresh herbs like lovage, parsley and dill. Serve with hot pickled peppers and crusty bread for a perfect cold weather meal.

This classic Romanian soup features hearty porcupine meatballs simmered in a flavourful broth with diced veggies and potatoes then finished with sour cream and fresh herbs like lovage, parsley and dill. Serve with hot pickled peppers and crusty bread for a perfect cold weather meal.

Winter has officially arrived in the Netherlands. Over the past week I’ve noticed it getting progressively colder on our daily jaunts to the park with our doggo Oliver. Today it hit the lowest it’s been all season – 6 C (or 40 F for my American friends).

It’s funny how your perspective on cold shifts when you live in a (relatively) warmer climate. When we used to live in Canada and Michigan the winters were undeniably frigid. Amsterdam winters  feel like Ontario spring. But still, every winter we’re here I get more and more accustomed to the balmy Dutch weather and find myself less and less able to tolerate temperatures like today.

This classic Romanian soup features hearty porcupine meatballs swimming in a creamy and flavourful broth dotted with diced veggies and fresh herbs like lovage, parsley and dill. Serve with hot pickled peppers and crusty bread for a perfect cold weather meal.

No matter what climate I’m in though I appreciate warm soup when the temperature drops. I made a big pot of this this Romanian porcupine meatballs soup last Sunday and it kept us warm all week.

This soup is especially good once it gets cold outside but just like the Smoky Romanian Bean Stew I posted recently, we eat this throughout the year even in the summer. There’s so much to love about meatballs dotted with rice. The rice not only makes the meatballs less dense, it also adds heartiness. It’s pure comfort in a bite.

More Romanian recipes:

I didn’t know until recently that the Romanian style rice meatballs I grew up had a name in English! I learned about a year ago that they’re called porcupine meatballs. It’s a great name – much more creative than what I was calling them – meatballs with rice (laaame).

Like most dishes that come from humble peasant origins, this one is really versatile. You just need to have a few key ingredients to get the essential flavour profile:

  • Aromatics: I used finely diced onion, leek, and parsley as an aromatic base for this soup. Usually each Romanian cook will have their own preference for the base so it varies widely. It can be as simple as 2 large onions or you can add other aromatics to deeper the flavour. Another common aromatic used in Romanian cuisine is parsnip, which adds earthy sweetness.
  • Tomato: You can use both tomato paste and fresh tomatoes. Substitute approximately 1 medium tomato for every tablespoon of tomato paste.
  • Vegetables: I added finely shredded carrots and potatoes to make the soup heartier. You can omit both or add other vegetables as you prefer. I’ve also seen recipes with chopped summer squash, kohlrabi, red pepper, cauliflower and celery.
  • Porcupine meatballs: I made these meatballs with pork and short grain rice like arborio or carnaroli (basically the same rice used for risotto or paella). Where I grew up pork is the classic meat for ciorba de perisoare, but you can use any kind of meat – chicken and turkey are great options too.
  • Dried herbs and spices: The primary flavourings in this meatball soup are Romanian cimbru (aka summer savoury), smoked paprika, and black pepper. Cimbru is probably the defining herb of Romanian cuisine but if you can’t find any then you can substitute a mix of thyme, oregano and fenugreek as indicated in the recipe below.
  • Lovage & other fresh herbs: Lovage is an herb that’s almost always used to finish sour soups in Romania. The flavour is very strong, reminiscent of celery and parsley but with fresh citrus notes and pungent notes similar to dried fenugreek.
  • Sour cream and pickled chilli peppers: Maybe it sounds strange if you haven’t tried it I don’t know but the sour cream adds rich creaminess to the broth and the pickled chilli pepper is just how this meal is done right. You can find these specific pickled green peppers (known as ciusca in Romanian) at Romanian and Turkish shops. If you can’t find these exact peppers its nbd, you can substitute pickled jalapeños or even fresh chillies like Thai bird chillies.

What’s the deal with ‘sour’ soup?

Sour soup is a much beloved culinary treasure in Romania. The Romanian language has two words for soup. One is simply supa which refers to sweet soups like tomato soup, chicken soup, and semolina dumpling soup. The other word is ciorbă – which almost always refers to a sour soup like this one but also

I always thought the Romanian ciorbă was borrowed from the Turkish çorba, but as it turns out the word has deeper roots. According to Wikipedia, chorba “is one of various kinds of soup or stew found in national cuisines across the Balkans, North Africa, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.” Huh…the more you know.

In Romanian cuisine there are a lot of different ways of ‘souring’ a soup. The most common and most traditional is by using borș, or fermented wheat bran. You can usually find borș at Romanian or Polish stores.

Other good options are lemon juice, white vinegar, and citric acid. I used citric acid in this dish because I keep it around for this very purpose. It has a very sour taste and you only need about half a teaspoon so it tends to last forever.

The basic rule of thumb is that you make the soup as you normally would, adding slightly less salt than you would normally add. This is already factored into this recipe and I erred on the side of less salt so make sure to taste and adjust to your liking.

Personally I prefer my sour soups on the less sour side (don’t tell the other Romanians!) so I only add about 1/2 a teaspoon of citric acid to the soup. My husband will usually add more to his soup at the table. Likewise, you can  serve your souring agents on the side at the end – citric acid, vinegar, lemon juice or even borș.

This classic Romanian soup features hearty porcupine meatballs swimming in a creamy and flavourful broth dotted with diced veggies and fresh herbs like lovage, parsley and dill. Serve with hot pickled peppers and crusty bread for a perfect cold weather meal.

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Ciorba de Perisoare | Romanian Porcupine Meatballs Sour Soup

This classic Romanian soup features hearty porcupine meatballs swimming in a creamy and flavourful broth dotted with diced veggies and fresh herbs like lovage, parsley and dill. Serve with hot pickled peppers and crusty bread for a perfect cold weather meal.

This classic Romanian soup features hearty porcupine meatballs simmered in a flavourful broth with diced veggies and potatoes then finished with sour cream and fresh herbs like lovage, parsley and dill. Serve with hot pickled peppers and crusty bread for a perfect cold weather meal.

  • Author: Cristina
  • Prep Time: 30
  • Cook Time: 45
  • Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 servings 1x
  • Category: Soups and Stews
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Romanian
Scale

Ingredients

For the soup
  • 3 small-medium carrots, grated or cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 leek, finely diced
  • 1 medium sized onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup parsley, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons cimbru *
  • 2 tablespoons sweet or smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 chicken or veg bouillon cube
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon citric acid or 23 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2.5 – 3 liters water
  • 1/2 tablespoon flavourless oil
  • 2-3 medium sized potatoes cut into bite sized pieces (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons each of fresh finely chopped lovage, parsley, dill, and celery leaf.
  • 34 tablespoons of sour cream in the broth (or serve on the side)
For the meatballs
  • 500 grams ground meat (pork, beef, chicken or turkey)
  • 1/2 cup short grain rice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 small onion, very finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp cimbru
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cut and prepare all the vegetables and herbs.
  2. Mix the meatball ingredients together in a bowl and then form the meatballs.**
  3. Add oil to a large stockpot and saute the onion and leek on medium-high heat until translucent and just beginning to brown.
  4. Add the rest of the vegetables, tomato paste, salt, dried herbs and spices.
  5. Cover with about 2.5 liters of water and bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer covered over low heat for about 30 more minutes.
  6. After the soup has simmered covered for about 30 minutes, uncover and gently drop the meatballs into the still simmering broth. Cover and simmer another 10 minutes.
  7. Turn off heat and allow to cool at least 5 minutes.
  8. Add the chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice or citric acid if using.
  9. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Notes

* Cimbru is summer savoury. It has a distinctive flavour. If you can’t find any you can substitute 3/4 tablespoon thyme, 1/4 tablespoon oregano, and a pinch of fenugreek (if you have it).

** You can make the meatballs any size you like just remember the rice will inflate and make them inflate to about 1.5 times their original size. The meatballs pictured here are made with approximately 1 tablespoon of the mixture each.

Keywords: Romanian soup, Romanian meatball soup, meatballs, Romanian

Did you like this recipe?

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8 Comments

  1. What is going on with the translation here? Has the author ensured the recipe is accurate before uploading? Porcupine is NOT a type of meat traditionally eaten in Romania. This is just disgusting. Meatballs soup is generally made with pork, sometimes beef or turkey(which is mentioned in the recipe) . NEVER PORCUPINE.

    • Hahaha nooo 🤣it’s not made from porcupine meat! That’s just what some people call a meat and rice meatball in English. It’s a quirky nickname not a descriptive term!

      • ha…makes sense. thanks for letting me know. I have never heard this term before, although I live in an English speaking country. but I know it now.. haha..

  2. For best results add an oxtail or some kind of bones in the soup (either beef or pork) and let them boil for a couple hours before adding the meatballs or vegetables. It completely improves your soup.

  3. This is great. Thank you so much for posting this recipe 🙂

  4. Excellent soup recipe. We made this and it was delicious. The pickled peppers are a great addition. Great work!!!

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