Feasting at Home : Arabic Meatball Soup with Spinach and Lime

January 29, 2014

Arabic Meatball Soup with Spinach and Lime

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.
Walk to the well.
Turn as the earth and the moon turn,
circling what they love.
Whatever circles comes from the center.
This flavorful meatball soup recipe is one of my all-time favorites. Made with Midddle Eastern spiced  "kofta", or meatballs, the warming broth is infused with turmeric, onion, garlic. The meatballs, surprisingly tender, are seasoned with mint and garlic. For a burst of nutrients and color, fresh chopped spinach is added to the pot a few minutes before serving and the whole thing is garnished with lime and cilantro.  The meatballs can be made with lean ground turkey,  beef, or lamb. If you enjoy the flavor, ground lamb gives it a beautiful luxuriousness and richness, which I really love in winter. But for a lighter meal, try it with ground turkey. This soulful gluten free soup, is seriously, the best, and I hope you give it a try.

Kofta, sometimes called Köfte,  Kufta or even Koofteh- is popular throughout the Middle East in countries like Lebenan, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and Morocco- all with their own variation, depending on the region. It's usually prepared by mixing or pounding ground meat (beef, lamb, mutton, chicken) with onion, garlic, herbs and spices, and forming into balls or longer tube shapes, and threaded onto kabobs and then grilled. 

Sometimes these flavorful little meatballs are plopped into soup. The secret to getting the meatballs so utterly tender is kneading the meat until it almost becomes a paste. I actually place the meatball mixture into my food processor. You can also ask your butcher to "double grind" your meat. 

After mixing the meat with the spices and mint, refrigerate the mix for 15-20 minutes to let it firm up a bit, and then with wet hands, form into tiny tiny meatballs, the size of a walnut.  

While the meat is resting in the fridge, make the broth.
Saute onion and garlic until tender, add ground turmeric. Then add the chicken stock.
Bring to a boil, and let simmer on med low, uncovered for 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.

Bring the stock to a boil and drop the little meatballs into the pot and give a very gentle stir, letting them simmer on medium or medium low, for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the meatballs are cooking, chop 2-3 cups fresh spinach ( or arugula or kale).
Chop cilantro and scallions for the garnish.

Once the meatballs have simmered 12 minutes, they will begin to float. Add the chopped spinach, and simmer 2 more minutes. Then add ½ the cilantro and scallions. Squeeze the juice from a small lime, and adjust salt. 

Serve and scatter a cilantro and scallions over top.

In the end, you'll have a steaming bowl of meatball spinach soup, low in carbs, high in protein and nutrients, and completely gluten free. It takes about 45 minutes to make including the refrigeration time. To save time, you could mix the ground beef ahead, and let it rest overnight in the fridge, whipping up the soup in about 20 minutes, the next day.

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Kofta Soup
Middle Eastern spiced Meatball and Spinach soup
Serves 4 
Meatballs (makes 20- 24)
1 lb ground beef, lamb, turkey or a combination
1 small onion- diced
4 garlic cloves- minced
⅓ C fresh mint leaves or 2 tsp dried
1  teaspoon ground turmeric
¾  teaspoon kosher salt
¾  teaspoon cracked pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil


10 Cups flavorful Chicken Stock
1 Small onion- finely diced

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 lime
2-3 C finely shredded spinach ( or arugula or kale)
½ C chopped fresh cilantro
½ C chopped scallions
Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix the meat. In a food processor add the garlic onion and mint, and pulse until finely ground. Add ground meat, spices, salt and olive oil and process, scraping down sides several times, until all fully incorporated into a paste like consistancy. Alternately, mix all the the ingredients in a bowl using your hand, kneading, until it is paste like,  for several minutes. Place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.

Make the Broth. In a large heavy bottom pot, sauté onion in olive oil over medium heat, stirring until tender and translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Turn heat to medium low, add garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add turmeric and pepper , sauté 2 more minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Salt to taste.

Prep spinach, cilantro and scallions.

Using wet hands, form walnut sized meatballs ( 1 to 1 ½  inches in diameter) and set aside on a platter. You should end up with 20 to 24 small meatballs.

Bring broth back to a vigorous boil and gently drop meatballs into the pot,  a few at a time, stirring gently. Turn heat down so soup is simmering gently ( medium or medium low heat). Simmer for 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, and skimming any impurities that rise to the surface. Meatballs will start to rise when done. After 12 minutes, add the spinach and cook for 2 minutes ( a little longer for kale). Add ½ of the scallions and ½ the cilantro and squeeze the lime.
Taste for salt and acid. You really want to be able to taste the lime juice a little bit,  so depending on the size of your lime and juiciness, you may need to add more. ( If,  at this point the broth tastes "bland" to you, my guess is-- it may need more salt - especially if you used a low sodium broth. Salt really brings out the other flavors. )

Serve in bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro and scallions. Enjoy!!
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4-6


  1. This soup is so pretty! I love the recipe!

  2. This looks so good, I want to make it right now - and I'm still on my first cup of coffee :) Can't wait to try it!

  3. Oh this looks incredible! I have some kofte spice I purchased in Turkey this summer and I can't wait to try this recipe with it!

  4. This is such a beautiful blog. I love the way you take photos of the food. So lovely really!!

  5. SO I made this and it was absolutely delicious! Thank-you

    1. Im so glad you liked it…it is one of my favorite soups!

  6. I have been longing and Instagram-stalking for soup w/ meat balls for weeks now - and this one drives me over the edge. It looks so delicious and fresh yet cozy. Done. I'm making a version for the blog these days. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Made this and it was a hit with my family! Thank you!!!

  8. Thank you very much for this recipe! I just made this for dinner and it was a great success with my housemates, everyone went back for seconds!

    1. Thanks, I'm glad it was a success! I really love this soup too.