When I get a taste of something delicious, I need to know how to make it and can be dogged in my pursuit of a recipe. Such was the case with this soup. I first tried it at a school potluck where it was drawing raves at the buffet line. Two bowls in and I was positively smitten. I’d never eaten anything quite like it before and had to know how to make it.
After a few inquiries, I was introduced to Humaira, the cook behind the soup, who told me aush, as it’s called, is from her native Afghanistan. Having been born and largely raised there, she said the soup is as common in her home country as chicken noodle is in mine. A few days later the recipe arrived in my email inbox. I’ve been making aush and swapping recipes with Humaira ever since; she’s become one of my closest friends. Now that’s some soup!
What’s special about aush is how it brings together fairly humble ingredients in an unusual way with excellent flavors. Noodles float in a chicken broth base punctuated by chick peas and kidney beans. A savory, nearly caramelized ground lamb is spooned on top, the rich flavors bleeding into the broth. The bowl is finished with a generous spoonful of yogurt, resulting in a creamy, tangy, “want to lick the bowl clean” soup.
I prefer ground lamb in aush, although beef is more traditional. Whatever variety you choose, it’s essential to cook the meat long enough for the flavors to develop and the color to reach a deep, dark brown. There is nothing remotely Afghan about the addition of leafy greens here, that’s my own riff on the original (it’s nearly impossible for me to pass up an opportunity to work chard or kale into a meal).
Although aush may sound sort of exotic, it gets a universal thumbs up around my house. It also fills the bill for some pretty conventional American occasions: It makes a superb one-pot supper when feeding a crowd, is a good alternative to lasagne when delivering a meal to a friend with a new baby or ailing family member, and of course, it’s perfect for a class pot luck. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself a new friend with this recipe, it’s just that sort of soup.
Afghan Noodle Soup with Ground Lamb and Yogurt
This soup has three components: noodley broth, seasoned ground lamb, and yogurt. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated, or spicy. The ingredients get assembled in individual serving bowls just before you set them on the table. Stir in the yogurt and tuck right in.
• 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1 pound ground lamb (or ground beef or turkey)
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
• 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 2 tablespoons water
• 7 ounces uncooked spaghetti (doesn’t need to be exact)
• 10 cups chicken broth (low-sodium if store-bought)
• One 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and strained
• One 15-ounce can chick peas, rinsed and strained
• 1 large bunch swiss chard or kale, stems removed, roughly chopped
• 1 pint plain, low-fat yogurt
Saute the onion in olive oil in a medium skillet on medium-low heat until tender and golden. Add the garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the ground lamb and use a spoon to break it up as it cooks so it is small, loose, and separated (like taco meat). If the cooked lamb produces a lot of oil, drain it off.
Once the meat is browned add the coriander, paprika, salt, pepper, tomato paste, and water. Mix everything well, drop heat to low, and continue to cook for 15 to 20 minutes until it is a deep, reddish brown and infused with flavor.
While the meat is cooking, pour the chicken broth into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and boil for 5 minutes. Add the beans and chard/kale to the broth and continue to cook until the pasta is done.
To assemble, put two ladles of noodles and broth into each serving bowl. Top with 2 spoonfuls of lamb. Finish with 1 or 2 spoonfuls of yogurt.
To eat, give each bowl a stir and enjoy.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.