The Libyan Lamb soup is a simple and tasty soup that’s sure to be a welcome guest on your table. This is a tomato-based soup, with warming North African spices, lamb, chickpeas and orzo pasta. It’s a delicious one-pot meal.
If Ramadan had an official smell, this soup would be it!
Let me formally introduce you to the Sharba! Which means soup in the Libyan dialect. No other words are given to the name of this dish that I’m aware of. If you say sharba, it means this soup. It’s THE SOUP recipe of an entire country. Everyone knows it, loves it, and eats it.
This soup so famous and delicious that it is a traditional starter soup for the entire month of Ramadan in Libyan. Many families all across the country eat it almost every night for 30 days. You better believe it’s delicious and satisfying. The custom of serving this soup is to prepare many dishes such as briks, mini pizzas, Arab salad and a lot of fresh baguettes. Libyans love their bread, and only the freshest out of the oven will do.
This soup is so delicious that I have yet to serve this to anyone without them falling in love with this soup. Over the years, I’ve perfected and taught this soup to other women, always at their request causes it’s that GOOD. I also have a few variations up my sleeve, which I’ll be sharing some time in the future.
I can’t wait for you to try this soup! So let’s get busy and learn how to make #thesharbaofLibya.
What you’ll need to make Libyan lamb soup
- Olive Oil. A good quality olive oil is always recommended in the Meditteranean. This recipe is no exception. Some Libyans use corn or canola oil. I don’t recommend using these oils often and prefer to stay far away from them for my cooking.
- Onion. A good old brown onion is optimal for this dish. I don’t recommend other types of onions for this soup, but you can still use whatever you have on hand. That’s the way of the Mediterranean; they always use what they have on hand.
- Lamb. Surprisingly Lamb is not really popular in North America, it’s such a tasty meat, and it’s loaded with flavour. It could have a strong taste if it were an older lamb (i.e. it was closer to being a sheep than a lamb). If you find your lamb is really strong in taste, use cinnamon to balance out the flavour. For this recipe, I prefer to select a boneless cut of meat or use the leg cuts and cook the bone with it too. Regardless of which cut of lamb you choose, be sure to cut the meat in small pieces, the size of a chickpea.
- Harissa. You find good quality harissa in many well-stocked supermarkets. When I select a harissa product, I go to the Middle Eastern food store and purchase Harissa made in Tunisia or Libya. I’m not too fond of harissa with preserved lemon, so I tend to stay away from any harissa that has it in the product. Good harissa should have oil, red hot peppers, garlic, and spice (caraway, coriander, and salt). That’s it.
- Turmeric. A must! It’s an essential spice in almost all Libyan recipes.
- Cayenne. A little bit will do. If you don’t tolerate spicy food, you can swap out the cayenne for paprika. When using paprika, just add more of the spice.
- Tomato Paste. Libyans love tomato paste a lot! It’s the base for all their cooking. I’ve used two heaping tbsp in this recipe. Depending on the brand of tomato paste, you may need more or less if it’s super concentrated. I used the Kirkland brand for this recipe, and I used 2 heaping tablespoons.
- Chickpeas. You can use canned or dried. I prefer to use a can of chickpeas for quickness and convenience. I also like to remove the skin from the chickpea. Yes, it’s crazily time-consuming and not necessary. But I like to spoil my chickpeas 😅 , and it does give the soup a nice texture.
- Orzo pasta. Also known as risoni, it’s rice-shaped quick-cooking pasta. You don’t need much in the soup, about 1/4 cup.
- Caraway. This spice is a signature flavour in Libyan cooking. Most Libyan recipes will include caraway spice or Libyan Bharat, with Caraway being the main ingredient.
- Fresh Herbs. Many Libyan families will use a mixture of equal parts parsley, dill, and cilantro. In my home, I only use parsley and cilantro. Use whichever herb combo you wish or have on hand.
- Dried mint. This is NOT an optional ingredient in this soup! When I was told mint was in the soup, I made the classic nose scrunch look too. My husband insisted on me trying it. And here I am insisting that you must try it this way too.
How to make Libyan Lamb Soup.
- Saute. cook your onions until golden. Saute the spices and tomato paste.
- Simmer the lamb. Add the lamb to the onion mixture, then stir to coat the lamb in the spices and tomatoes. Add 1 cup of water and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add more water. Add the chickpeas, then pour 3 cups of water into the soup. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Add pasta & garlic. Time to add the pasta and the garlic and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir casually to ensure the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom.
- The final touch! Turn off the heat add the herbs and dried mint. Add a tbsp of mint to your hands and rub together allowing the mint to fall into the soup. cover and let the flavours mingle well the soup is cooling.
You can, but I strongly recommend that you add a good quality beef stock instead of water if you do. Beef won’t give this recipe a robust flavour that’s associated with this recipe. I would recommend making this soup with chicken instead of beef.
Of course! This soup is eaten almost everyday in Libya for an entire month. I would recommend cooking all of the recipe up to fifth step. Once you’ve added the chickpea and extra water simmer for 10 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool enough to add it to the fridge. Once you’re ready to serve bring to a boil add the pasta, garlic, and spices⏤cook for 10-15 minutes or until the orzo is cooked, then add the herbs, and mint.
Yes, my family in Libya will often add the dried chickpeas. I’m not a big fan of doing this as I find the chickpeas tend to keep their firmness due to the acid from the tomatoes. If using dried chickpeas, you need to soak 6-8 hours and add the chickpea simultaneously as the lamb.
In my opinion, this soup gets better the next day, and yes, the noodles get a little bloated, but I’m ok with that. You can store this in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days. After three days, the tomato starts to get sour.
This post was originally shared in 2019 but has since been updated.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 200g lamb meat, boneless, diced into small cubes
- 1 teaspoon harissa
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, freshly ground
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or paprika
- 2 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 14oz can of chickpeas
- 1/3 cup of orzo pasta
- 1 tsp ground caraway or Libyan baharat*
- 1/4 cup fresh herbs; parsley, dill, or cilantro
- 2 tablespoon dried mint
- Heat oil in a 3qts pot at medium-high heat. Add onions saute until golden.
- Once onions are golden, add turmeric, cayenne, harissa paste, salt and pepper. Give everything a good stir. Then add tomato paste and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes - At this point, the oil should turn red. That's the look we're going for here.
- Now stir in your lamb and ensure all of the spice mixture coats the meat. Lower the heat to low. You're looking for a soft simmer⏤the fat from the lamb will create liquid; don't add water yet. Just cover and forget about it for 5-7 minutes.
- After the meat has released its juices remove the lid and add 1 1/2 cups and bring to a rapid boil. Once the rapid boil has been achieved, reduce heat to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add in your cooked chickpeas along with 2 1/2 more cups of hot water—Cook for 15 minutes.
- Add in orzo pasta, garlic and caraway. cook for 5 -7 minutes. Once the pasta is cooked add the parsley or your fresh herb of choice.
- The last set to making this soup is the mint! Take 1 tablespoon of the dried mint place it in your hands and rub your hand together over the soup. They should fall into the soup as a fine powder. Allow the mint to cook for a few minutes.
- Serve the soup with lemon slices, baguettes, and salad.
Don't skip the mint⏤it's what gives the soup the classic flavour
If your using soaked dried chickpea add during step #3
I always peel my chickpeas for this recipe as it gives a better texture - But it's not necessary.
- 1 tablespoon caraway, ground
- 2 teaspoons coriander, ground
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon 7-spice
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 394Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 49mgSodium: 73mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 9gSugar: 7gProtein: 23g