Armenian Cuisine — Kololik: Meatball Soup

Soups play an important role in Armenian cuisine.  Armenian winters, high in the Caucasus Mountains, are long and cold, and hot, heartwarming soups and stews are served almost daily in the Armenian home.

More Armenian dishes on The World Cup of Food:

Meatballs are of similar importance to soup in Armenian cuisine.  Keufteh, meatballs with bulgur wheat, are common to the Middle East and Caucasus region.  Armenians will even go as far as to create two different meat mixtures, stuffing one inside the other for dishes like Harput keufteh. Armenian meatballs can be eaten fried, baked, skewered and grilled, in soups like kololik (recipe follows), or even raw like a steak tartare.

Our kololik is based mostly on that which appears in the highly recommended The Cuisine of Armenia by Sonia Uvezian, with some further insight gained from Soviet Kitchen, an archive of recipes from all regions of the former Soviet Union.  Using beaten eggs to thicken the soup at the last minute seems common, but we stuck with the most basic version here.  Also, we realized at the last minute that we were out of eggs.


adapted from The Cuisine of Armenia by Sonia Uvezian and from Soviet Kitchen


For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 Tbs uncooked long grain rice
  • ½ medium yellow onion, diced finely
  • 2 Tbs minced parsley
  • salt and pepper

For the soup:

  • ½ medium yellow onion, diced finely
  • 1 Tbs oil
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • ½ cup uncooked long grain rice
  • ¼ cup minced tarragon

First we made the meatballs.  Armenian meatballs are made similarly to the Swedish meatballs köttbullar in that they are kneaded vigorously before shaping to create a smoother, finer texture in contrast to more granular Italian-style meatballs.  So, like we did with our köttbullar when we featured Swedish cuisine, we decided to save ourselves some labor and use the mixer, loading it with all the meatball ingredients:


The mixer was run with the paddle attachment at low speed:


After five minutes, the meat had been broken down into a smooth paste, but our onions and rice remained intact:


We found an excellent tip from The Armenian Kitchen for hand-shaping meatballs that we incorporated for this dish.  A bowl of warm water kept near the meatball-forming station allowed us to rinse the sticky meat residue off of our hands when needed, preventing the meatballs from sticking when we shaped them.  With this setup we were able to form the entire batch of one-inch meatballs in a matter of just a few minutes:


The meatballs were set aside for just a few minutes while we worked on the soup base.  If desired, the meatballs could be made in advance and refrigerated until ready to go into the soup.

For the soup, we heated the oil on medium heat in a five-quart stockpot (large enough to accommodate the finished soup), then added the onions:


The onions were sautéed, stirring very frequently, until brown:


The beef stock was added to the pot next, and the heat turned up to medium-high until the stock was simmering:


Next the rice and tarragon were added, and the meatballs were carefully dropped into the soup on at a time.  Once the soup was simmering again, the heat was reduced to medium-low and the kololik was covered.  Half an hour later, the meatballs were done and the rice was tender and we had a finished soup:


The meatballs had a tender but still springy texture, with the pieces of onion and rice adding contrast:


Our kololik was ladled into soup bowls and we were ready for an Armenian dinner:


Variations of kololik abound, and every Armenian cook likely has his or her own version.  Ours used a beef-based broth rather than lamb, and we were satisfied with the result.  The lamb meatballs added plenty of gamy, meaty lamb flavor to the soup while staying in balance with the tarragon and parsley.  More lamby goodness may have been too much.  Starch from the rice gave the broth a little extra body, and the fried onion helped make a rich, dark broth.

For an inexpensive alternative, we might try substituting ground beef or pork for the pricey lamb.  This soup was very easy and quick to make (taking less than an hour from start to finish), making it a good choice for a weeknight dinner.  The leftovers made for an excellent lunch the next day.


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