Bob Chorba

Bob Chorba, garnished with parsley.

Bob chorba (Bulgarianбоб чорба) is a chorba, a national Bulgarian dish. The name translates to “bean soup”. It is a soup made from dry beansonionstomatoeschubritza or dzhodzhen (spearmint) and carrots.

The word chorba, or some variation thereof, means soup or stew in a lot of languages over a wide swath of eastern and central Europe, the middle east, north Africa, and even as far as India. This one happens to be the national dish of Bulgaria.

The ingredient that sets this soup apart from all the other bean and tomato soups is spearmint. We don’t use mint very much in this country. Especially in soups. It seems to be largely relegated to toothpaste, tea, candy, and sauce for lamb. Years ago I dated a girl who was half Persian. Early in our relationship she made a soup that contained lots of dried mint, and sunflower seeds, and then had eggs poached in it. I don’t remember what else went into it, but I remember being highly skeptical when I heard the ingredients, and then being blown away by how tasty it was. The mint in the bob chorba gives it an equally delicious and unexpected flavor.

There are, of course, many variations on this soup. The most common version is called “monastery style”. It is vegetarian and has lots of tomato and other vegetables. Non-monastery versions often include meat, and sometimes omit the tomato. I used chicken broth in my recipe, but otherwise followed the monastery template. Feel free to substitute vegetable stock or water for a truly vegetarian version. Or add a ham hock for some meaty goodness.

Some of the recipes I looked at called for both summer savory and mint. Others said you should never use the savory, because that’s the herb that makes a different soup special. I used both.

Bob Chorba

Prep: 20 minuts
Cook: 1 hour 25 minutes
Total: 1 hour 55 minutes plus soaking.

1 ¾ cups dried white beans
7 cups water
10 teaspoons sunflower oil
1 ½ onions, diced
2 ½ carrots, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup celery, diced
5 teaspoons paprika
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
⅔ teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 chili pepper, minced
5 cups chicken broth (vegetable stock or water could be substituted)
1 ½ green bell oepper, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
½ cup fresh spearmint, chopped
1 ¼ teaspoon dried spearmint
4 Tablespoons fresh savory, chopped
⅔ bunch parsley, minced

Optional additions or substitutions:
5 teaspoons olive oil (for half of sunflower oil)
1 med ham hock
2 wedges celery root
2 14 oz cans peeled tomatoes in juice
2 ¼ Tablesoons flour*

Soak beans overnight.  Drain and place in a pot with 7 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 1 hour.

Heat oil in a soup pot. Saute onion, carrot, garlic and celery until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add spices and sauté briefly, until fragrant. Don’t burn the paprika though. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add cooked beans, with their cooking liquid, bell pepper and tomatoes and simmer about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add mint and Savory. Let sit 2 minutes. Blend or mash a couple ladle fulls of soup and return to pot.

Serve, garnished with parsley. 

* If using the optional flour: Before adding the mint and savory, remove 4-6 Tablespoons of broth from the pot and mix it with the flour to form a smooth paste. Return to the pot and simmer another 5 minutes or so to cook the flour. Proceed with adding the herbs, but skip the blending step.

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