Libyan soup (Shorba Libya)

A painting by the Libyan artist Awad Abeida (

A painting by the Libyan artist Awad Abeida (

If everyone on Earth should have the same consumption as an average citizen of Libya, we would need 1.8 planets to live on (if you compare to Norway the figure is 2.3, USA 5 Source: – 01.01.2012)

I’ll present you this recipe for libyan soup, but first some background information. 

Some history & info

 Libya is a country in North Africa. It is located with the Mediterranean coast in the north and bordered by Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. Libya, with its 1.8 million km² is Africa’s fourth largest country in terms of area, and the 16th largest in the world. Out of Libya’s 5.7 million inhabitants, 1.7 million live in the capital Tripoli. The country is traditionally divided into Tripoli Tania, Fezzan and Kyrenaika. Libya is amongst the richest countries in Africa. An important reason for this is the country’s large oil reserves and low population numbers.

Italy adopted the name “Libya” (used by the Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of the colony (a colony that was composed of the three provinces Kyrenaika, Tripoli Tania and Fezzan).
The Norwegian word “kolonial” (‘kolonial-shops’ was an old term used for small grocery stores) has its origin from the word colony – that is an area that another state has dominion over. ‘Kolonial’ means that much of the assortment in the shops, such as coffee, tea, sugar, syrup, flour, rice and tobacco, came from the colonies. In addition, grocery stores sold soft drinks, canned food, magazines, crackers, or what they call ‘dry goods’.

Spices from a market in Jerusalem

Spices from a market in Jerusalem

  Libya is culturally similar to its neighbors in the Maghreb region. Libyans consider themselves largely to be a part of a larger Arab community. The Libyan government shows that they want to strengthen this feeling by the introduction and maintenance of Arabic as sole official language, and by forbidding the teaching of, and even the use of the Berber language. Libyan Arabs have inherited the traditions associated with the nomadic Bedouins, and associate themselves with a particular Bedouin tribe. (Wikipedia).

Like the other states in the Arab world, Libya is an artificial creation. The borders were outlined by the European colonial powers in the postwar period, when they would establish a “new order” in Africa. These processes did not take into considerations the long-established cultural boundaries in either Libya or the other states. Unfortunately in Libya, as in most other Muslim countries, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion is limited, independent human rights organizations are not allowed, in addition to ethnic minorities and minority tribes being discriminated against.

Milk based coffee is popular

Milk based coffee is popular

Libya’s kitchen
Libya’s kitchen has over the years been influenced by the immigration to the country, something you see in mikyaata – a milk-based coffee that is a holdover of Libya’s career as an Italian colony. Today there are still Libyans who speak Italian. Mikyaata was introduced by the Italians who occupied Libya between 1911 and 1943. The Italian name for coffee is macchiato. Libya is the only Arab country where it is popular to make milk-coffee.
Tea is also a popular drink

The dish I will describe has, as far as I know, originated from one of Libya’s berber tribes. Previously these people called themselves Imaziraan, which means “free” or “noble” men.
Today this soup has almost become a kind of national soup in Libya. The soup is often eaten between meals, as a main dish or for lunch. It is served warm with bread or rice.
I separate most of the lamb-meat from the bones of the animal and I use the meat for the soup and the bones for the stock.

The soup and stock

Shorba (shaarba / shorbet) Libya (ingredients):

  • 2-300 grams lamb cut into small pieces.
  • 1 large onion, cut into suitable pieces.
  • Some vegetable oil for frying.
  • 3 tomatoes, finely chopped.
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree.
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper or ½ teaspoon chili powder.
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
  • 400 grams (1 can) chick peas, or cooked chickpeas (some people in the US call this garbanzo beans).
  • 2-3 handfuls of parsley.
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried mint.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • 1 lemon and a little lemon juice.
This will provide a tasty stock for your soup!

This will provide a tasty stock for your soup!

Stock (ingredients):

  • Leg of lamb (to give the stock flavour)
  • 1 large carrot.
  • 3 branches of parsley.
  • 1 small leek.
  • 1 large onion.

How to make the stock:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC
  2. Roughly chop the carrot, parsley, onions and leeks. Chuck it all in a metal or ceramic form (see photo above).
  3. Heat it all together with the lamb bones in the oven for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes you take it all out and place it in a sauce pan or pot. Pour a splash of white wine over it.
  5. Add 1 ½ – 2 liters of water and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 1 ½ hours.
  7. Strain the stock through a sieve.

How to make soup:

  1. Rub some ground pepper into the meat. Sear the meat in a pan with some oil and chopped onions.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, tomato puree, red pepper (or chili powder), turmeric and cinnamon.
  3. Add the strained stock. Let it boil and cook until the meat is tender.
  4. Reduce heat and add the chickpeas (garbanzos), parsley and mint.
  5. Let it cook for a few minutes.
  6. Season with salt and pepper (if necessary).
  7. Add lemon juice if desired.

Serve with lemon quarters, and bread or rice.

The Flavours of Arabia: Cookery and food in the Middle East.

14 thoughts on “Libyan soup (Shorba Libya)

  1. Excellent recipe! All we need is some fresh hot peppers and it will be ready. 🙂
    ♥Happy ♥New ♥Year ♥ & TY for stopping by! 🙂

    • It’s very delicious and I love this soup, but to tell you the truth I forgot about this post (and recipe), but with your comment it reappeared in my memory and I decided to make it again this week.

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