Ciorba – borsch soup with meatballs

If my recipe for borsch intrigued you, this is the first ‘ciorba’ that I am making using the sweet and sour ingredients.


Ciorba’ is a clear soup based on very good stock, rice, a few vegetables, herbs  and very good quality meat (unless you want it vegetarian).


The most popular in Romania is the meatball borsch. It is the prefect example of our diverse culinary heritage: rice from the Middle East, borsch from the Slavs, loveage from the Greeks. A famous Romanian food historian once said that only the water and the meat would be our ‘local’ touches.


You can use veal, beef, or pork, or all three including smoked meat for a more layered flavour. It is more about the ingredients that you like rather than a set in stone recipe. In terms of herbs, it is likely that you don’t have loveage, so use parsley or tarragon, dill is good too.


Ingredients, making 4-6 portions


For the meatballs


250g mince pork

150g smoked pancetta, diced

30g arborio rice

2 eggs

1 small onion – diced

half of bunch of parsley – finely chopped

half of bunch of dill – finely chopped


For the soup:


2 carrots – diced

1 onion – diced

175g chopped tomatoes

1 parsnip

1tsp oil (not olive oil)

500ml water

250ml pork or beef stock

1l borsch – like here (alternatively you can use 3-4 tbsp cider vinegar, but you need to increase the water quantity to 1.5l)


How to make it:


First make the meatballs: mix all the ingredients together until well combined. I use my hands to do this, because I get to feel the texture better, but you can use a wooden spoon. I wouldn’t try to use an electric mixer, it will turn everything into a paste.


Wet your hands and take a small quantity of meat, roll it into a golf ball size. Set aside on a plate. Repeat until you use the whole quantity.


Make the soup: in a soup pan big enough to accommodate all the liquid and 30% more (when you put the meatballs in, the level will rise), bring the water and the stock to a boil. Don’t add the borsch or the vinegar yet.


Turn down the heat to medium and add all the diced vegetables. Leave to soften for about 8-10 minutes stirring from time to time. Add the chopped tomatoes.


Keeping the pan on a medium heat, start adding the meatballs one by one to the broth. You know they are cooked when they raise to the surface (or around 15-20 minutes).


In the meantime, put the borsch in a small pan and simmer it but don’t boil. When the meatballs are cooked, add the borsch and turn the heat down.


If you are using vinegar, add it just after you turn off the heat.


Serve hot with a sprinkle of parsley.