"" What's She Eating Now?: Soup's On: Ciorbă de Perisoare

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Soup's On: Ciorbă de Perisoare

I recently returned from a trip to Romania, a country whose culinary tradition can perhaps best be described as an Eastern European fusion of sorts. Heavily influenced by neighbors and historical conquerors, one can detect distinct hints of the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Russia, Austria, Greece and Turkey in the food. And one thing I particularly enjoy about Romanian cuisine is its emphasis on soups, my favorite being a meatball soup called ciorbă de perisoare (pronounced chore-ba de perry-shwar-eh).

Romanians separate soups into two main categories: supă and ciorbă, the latter referring to recipes that have a distinct sour flavor to them, a taste they acquired along the way from Russia. Craving such a soup when I returned to New York, Dan and I reached out to his mom for her version of ciorbă de perisoare. After receiving her recipe—in Romanian—Dan and I embarked on the linguistic and culinary challenge of trying to replicate it. As it turns out, the hardest part was the translation!

Dan’s mom doesn’t use a proper recipe to make her soup, she pretty much has a list of ingredients that she then combines by feel, so that is what we did too:

  • Cut up carrots, celery and peppers for use in the soup and set aside
  • Dice two onions. Take the pot you are going to use for the soup, heat a small amount of vegetable oil and sautée the onions until they just begin to turn translucent (you can also reserve some for use in the meatballs if you’d like) 
  • Add as much water as you want to make soup, throw in the vegetables and turn to high heat. Also at this point add vegetable bullion, curly parsley and some sprigs of fresh oregano. Cover and bring to a boil.

While our pot was turning water and vegetables into soup, we made the perisoare, or meatballs, Turkey’s contribution to the dish:
  • Beat 2 eggs
  • Wet a piece of bread and then wring out the water
  • Combine eggs and bread with ground turkey, uncooked white rice, some finely chopped parsley and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper
  • Mix ingredients together manually, then with slightly damp hands make all the meatballs in one batch but then re-form them as you drop them in the pot (they tend to flatten out when they sit). The raw meatballs should be about the size of ping pong balls, they’ll expand as they cook.
  • Once your soup is at a vigorous boil lower the meatballs in one by one, reduce the heat slightly and cover for around 25 minutes.

Traditionally, once the meatballs are done, one would add either borş (fermented wheat bran) or sauerkraut juice to create the desired sourness but I find lemon juice is a good substitute. After stirring lemon juice into the pot, the soup should taste decidedly sour; if not add some more. The tang complements the meatballs nicely and makes the dish oddly addictive. 

Now you’re ready to eat! Perisoare should be garnished with fresh parsley and served at the table with some sour cream and a slightly hot green pepper. Difficult to find Romanian sauvignon blanc pairing optional. Pofta Buna!

Ingredient List:
  • Onions
  • Carrots (I used both regular orange carrots as well as red carrots which added a little more earth to the flavor. You can also use celery or parsley root if you can find it)
  • Celery (in addition to the stalks I recommend using the leaves, which people often discard, in the soup for flavor)
  • Peppers (I used red, orange and yellow. Consider color, however. If you use red peppers your soup will come out reddish, if that matters to you)
  • Fresh Oregano
  • Fresh curly Parsley
  • Vegetable bullion
  • Lemons
Note: The traditional recipe calls for Loveage which is very hard to find in the US. Celery leaves and lemon together get close to approximating the flavor.

Meatballs (makes approximately 2 dozen):
  • Eggs, 2
  • Bread, 1 slice
  • White Rice, ~25 ounces
  • Parsely, finely diced (Dill can also be used in addition)
  • Onions, finely diced (optional)
  • Ground Turkey, 1 pound (I prefer turkey for perisoare as its leanness prevents the soup from getting greasy but it is more common to find it with pork, as the Romanian saying goes: Cea mai buna leguma e carnea de pui si cea mai buna carne de pui e carnea de porc or, the best vegetable is the chicken meat and the best chicken meat is the pork)
  • Salt and pepper

Garnish and accompaniments:
  • Fresh curly parsley
  • Sour cream
  • Hot green peppers (cut up into pieces)


  1. This soup is delicious! It's also very easy to make, gets even better as leftovers and is a great hangover cure.

  2. The saying actually is "cea mai buna leguma e porcul" which means "the best vegetable is pork" and "ciorba de perisoare" is usually made with beef not pork, but you are right, the turkey is lean.