…I take raised eyebrows and a half-smile for a yes, so here I go – what is this food that may be considered the quintessence of the Western civilisation, spanning the invention of pottery making, which enabled boiling; passing through communal eating in the Middle Ages; representing togetherness in the age of increasing individualism that started during the Enlightenment and reaching the present day as a symbol of the halcyon, timeless days, when Mom or Grandma did all the cooking?
Answer: the Soup. 🙂
In particular, I will give you the recipe of an essential Bulgarian soup, that is in the collective memory of the Bulgarian nation as a comfort food everybody has eaten at home as a child, and has also enjoyed in innumerable school, university or office canteens, at summer camps and all-inclusive resorts, or as lunch menu at the nearby restaurant. 🙂
It’s meatball soup, or as it is fondly called in Bulgarian, супа топчета (supa topcheta ). 🙂
Under its current form and name, meatball soup has been created during communism, as part of the regime’s drive to streamline the preparation and raise the quality of canteen and restaurant cooking. The idea was that workers, both men and women, toiling to build the bright future, did not have time to cook and should not have spent time at home when they could have used their evenings to (mandatorily) attend political lectures and discussions.
The residential shortage that was the result of the mass migration from villages to cities also meant that many peasants-turned-proletariat lived in one room only and did not have hygienic, or any, kitchens, where to cook. Hence the ubiquitous presence of canteens and weekly kindergartens which spared the workers the need to take day-to-day care of their children.
In the mid-1960s, after some 20 years of communism, authorities realised that the forced industrialisation that had taken housewives out of their homes and had put them into the factories, had also resulted in declining birth rates. So, the regime shifted its focus to protecting women at the workplace and promoting maternity, by adopting generous provisions, many of which are still in force today.
Apart from labour law policies, these measures also included the publication of cookbooks directed at children (who perhaps would want or need to cook, while their mommies are at work), and raising the quality of cooking in the ubiquitous canteens, where every member of the family could eat freshly cooked food and buy more to take home.
So if you are already impatient to get to the soup cooking part, I’ll humor you, right now. 🙂
500 f of minced meat, I used 60/40 pork/beef, which is the classic Bulgarian minced meat;
A handful of rice
Onions, carrots and a slice or two of celery root
1-3 eggs (1 for meatballs and 1 or 2 for soup thickening)
2-3 tsp of Bulgarian yogurt
Filini or vermicelli or some other type of thin, thread-shaped pasta
Salt, chubritsa, ground black pepper, parsley
First, let’s make the topcheta, or tiny meatballs. Topcheta literally translates as balls by the way, and some cookbooks of the past, like the ones I’ve pictured, name a similar meatball soup A Men’s Soup, perhaps no pun intended :P.
This is optional but recommended – pre-boil the rice a bit, so that it is partially soft when you add it to the meat. Put in a metal bowl or something, cover with very little water and let boil for a while, so that the rice is semi-cooked. Cool and add to the meat, alongside an egg, salt and ground black pepper and possibly parsley. Mix thoroughly.
Make the meatballs. This maybe boring and a bit of a pain because the meatballs are so tiny. As you would have to boil them, I can suggest to make the meatballs when you are ready to boil and drop them in the boiling water directly. I made them beforehand and then had to pick them one by one to drop in the pot. They were soft, so by picking them, I ruined their shape and had to shape them again before dropping them into the water. So I did double work. Having your hands wet with cold water will help the shaping. When you tear a small amount of meat to make the meatball, it may be helpful to shake it in your palm like a game dice. This gives a round shape. You could roll the meatballs in flour before boiling them, but I don’t like that – I think this makes the bouillon opaque and slimy. 🙂
Back in the soup, 🙂
Bring water to boil, as much as you’d like your soup quantity to be. Put the meatballs inside and boil. Check for saltiness and further spice the bouillon with chubritsa and ground or whole black pepper. I did not use any other fat for the soup, only what was released from the meatballs, and it was enough for me. You can add oil to the boiling meatballs if you’d like. Wait for the bouillon to boil and remove any foam that will form on the surface.
Finely dice onions and grate coarsely the carrot (s) and the celery root with a grater. Add them to the bouillon and reduce the fire – you don’t want a rolling boil but a simmer. 🙂
When the vegetables are more or less boiled, add the filini or vermicelli. I used those, and I insert it for illustrative purposes, I am not affiliated with the brand. 🙂
OK, so now you are done with the bouillon. Check for seasonings, a thousand times if you have to 🙂 It should taste salty, piquant from the pepper, meaty, you should detect the celery and it should have a slightly acid, vinegary taste, which is essential and very pleasant. I am sure you’d know when the soup tastes right. 🙂
In the meantime, let’s busy ourselves with the thickener. Have the egg or eggs and the yogurt at room temperature. Temperature is vital when thickening a soup, as large discrepancies in temperature will cause the egg white to curdle. 🙂
I cooked the soup on Thursday evening but had it on Friday for dinner. This is what went along with it.
I think it was OK for a Friday night, given that I got home at 20.00. 🙂
I actually did my grocery shopping after work, and among the necessary household stuff, I bought a CD for the car – film music by Bulgarian composer Mitko Shterev. I have already posted one of his compositions, the Adaptation movie main theme, here.
So, I am now leaving you to a lazy and playful swing, a melody Shterev composed for another movie. The feeling I get from that is similar to what a cat might be feeling, purring in a quiet corner in the sunlight. 🙂
Purring and whatnot is great, but if you are hungry and like my hastily put-together dinner, come to the table first and dig in! 🙂