It’s cold and ugly outside. Time for a hearty soup.
Shurpa is a general name for soup in the cuisines of Central Asia. In Europe, lamb soups are not very popular, yet in Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Turkmenistan and most importantly Uzbekistan, lamb soups are cooked to perfection.
Shurpa is not really a soup in the European sense, it’s rather a main course, like Vietnamese Pho. Shurpa is a very rich and mildly spicy stock with tender meat and vegetables.
Lamb – 0.7kg, mixed bones and meat
2 tomatoes, cut into big pieces – I know it’s winter! But try to get some good ones
2 bell peppers, cut into big pieces
4-5 whole, peeled potatoes – waxy and firm ones
1 whole bulb, unpeeled bulb of garlic – just peel off the most dry, outer layer
fresh basil – about 2-3 stems
whole cumin seeds – a generous pinch, crush it with your fingers a bit
I am no claiming that this is the ultimate and authentic recipe, it’s not. First of all, the lamb is absolutely different here. Secondly, the vegetables aren’t as ripe and sweet, especially in winter. And finally, experts would say that this dish, just like most other central Asian dishes, should be cooked in a big cauldron called qozon, over open fire. But were not in Samarkand, so we will be cooking it in a cast iron pot, on a stove.
The chillies must be absolutely intact, otherwise you’ll end up with a fiery hot soup. Those who want their soup to be spicier can always scrape out some of the cooked chilli into their bowl!
You might use powdered cumin instead of whole seeds, but seeds are preferable. If you don’t have any cumin cook something else, it’s absolutely and utterly necessary.
Experts on shurpa, plov, manty and other central Asian dishes know which part of the lamb is good for each dish. I will not go into details because I’m not one of those experts. Just take some part that has both, bones and meat and also some fat. You definitely do need bones and please, do not cook your shurpa with expensive stuff like sirloin, chops etc. Take meat from the leg or the shoulder.
Cooking is very simple. Put the meat into a pot and add about 2.5 litres of water, bring to boil and skim the foam that forms. Add the other ingredients, cover and simmer on low heat for about 3 hours. Check the soup occasionally and remove any foam that might form. Season with salt.
Shurpa should actually be served in two bowls, one with the stock and one with the meat and vegetables, I didn’t do that this time. Make sure every bowl contains all ingredients.
It’s a great pity that Central Asian cuisine is not known in Europe. Especially Uzbek cuisine is one of the most complex, unique, and sophisticated cuisines in the world. It’s a cuisine completely dedicated to meat and it makes the best out of it, combining it with spices and vegetables that have been grown in a land where the sun always shines. It takes great pride in perfect ingredients, but uses up every last nasty bit at the same time.