Ciorba de Vacuta (pronounced: ch-orba de vah-kutsa) literally translates to Beef Soup in Romanian. It is one of the classic dishes you will find served all over Romania and happens to be my personal favourite Romanian soup.
If you have the opportunity to visit Romania, you will likely come to realize three things:
- Almost every restaurant serves a Romanian soup, regardless of the type of restaurant.
- Romanians eat soup year ’round, regardless of the weather.
- Everyone claims that their mother and/or grandmother make the best soup, regardless of the soup.
If you follow me on Instagram you know that I’m currently on holiday in Romania and have made it my mission to eat as much Ciorba as humanly possible. I’m fuelled by a desire to savour everything this country has to offer and at the same time am in search of recipes my wife grew up with. Catalina was born and raised in Brasov, a beautiful city nestled in the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania.
In addition to my beloved Ciorba de Vacuta, I’ve also been dipping into such delicacies as Ciorba de Burta (tripe soup), Ciorba de Fasole (bean soup), Ciorba de Pesti (fish soup) and even Ciorba de Salata (lettuce soup) – the last is something I hope to share a recipe for very soon!
My hope is that with enough R&D, I can figure out how to recreate my favourite dishes in Whole30 and Paleo friendly ways. If you’re looking for something similar, you can check out my Ciorba de Perisoare recipe, adapted from my mother-in-law.
The first thing I’ve come to realize from my extensive research is that while you can get a fairly decent Ciorba de Vacuta in local restaurants, it never comes close to homemade versions.
Come to think of it, I must be drinking the Kool-Aid because I truly believe that my mother-in-law is the undisputed queen of Romanian ciorba. Even my father-in-law, a true champion in the kitchen, concedes to her authority when it comes to making soup. I suppose he just doesn’t have the patience required. Most Romanian soups take a considerable amount of time to prepare and rushing the process is not advised because you don’t develop the same amount of flavour.
I’ve spent the past few days taking a crash course from the master herself. Let’s just say three soups in three days and I’ve barely gotten my feet wet.
So far, some of the takeaways have been that:
- Romanian ciorba are actually all very similar to one another. There are a few differences when it comes to the meat and vegetables used but aside from that, they follow a similar technique.
- There are 3 key ingredients in almost every ciorba: borsch (or lemon juice as a substitute), leustean (lovage), and sour cream.
- Borsch is a sour liquid made from fermented wheat germ. It is added to give a characteristic sour flavour to some soups. Luckily, a similar flavour can be achieved by using fresh lemon juice.
- Leustean, or lovage, is a wonderful herb that resembles parsley in appearance but packs twice the punch. It has notes of celery, anise and parsley. If you can’t find it fresh, try to find a package of the dried herb at an Eastern European grocer. If you still have no luck, use regular, flat leaf parsley.
- Last but not least, you will almost always be served a Romanian ciorba with a side of sour cream meant to be spooned into the soup before eating. The sour cream adds a beautiful, creamy, rich texture and imparts delicious flavour. However, it is almost always optional and I happen to think that Ciorba de Vacuta actually tastes better without sour cream.
I’m sure I will learn more secrets along the way but for now I’m very excited to share this recipe with you.
This recipe for Ciorba de Vacuta comes courtesy of my in-laws and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to share it with you here. If you would like to see a step-by-step video of the recipe, you can catch it on my Instagram stories @primal_gourmet.
I should mention that I used ox tail as the meat in this ciorba de vacuta because I found it at the farmer’s market and it looked great! Though ox tail imparts an amazing amount of flavour, it is not necessarily the recommended cut of meat for this soup. It takes at least 3 hours to cook before it becomes tender enough to eat. Instead, my mother-in-law recommends using short rib or any cubed stewing beef of choice. Short rib is just as flavourful as ox tail but takes a bit less time to cook. Cubed stewing beef will cook in approximately half the time but doesn’t have as much flavour.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you when it comes to which cut of meat you’d like to use. If you have some time on you hands and can source some ox tail, I say go for it! Otherwise, grab some stewing beef and dinner will be ready in a little over hour.
As always, if you make this at home and share it o social media, be sure to tag @primal_gourmet so that I can follow along!
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!
Whole30 Ciorba de Vacuta (Romanian Beef Soup)
- 1 lbs cubed stewing beef of choice or substitute ox tail or short rib
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 white onion diced
- 1 red bell or shepherd pepper diced
- 6-7 new potatoes diced
- 2 parsley roots or substitute parsnips
- 1/4 cup lovage roughly chopped (or substitute parsley) - plus extra for garnish
- 1 tomato
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 lemon juiced
- finely sliced red onion for garnish
- Add beef to a 4qt stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a steady simmer over med-high heat. Use a spoon to skim as much foam from the surface as possible. Cook approximately 1 hour or until meat is fork tender.
- Add carrots, onion, red pepper and potatoes to the pot. If required, add more water so that it comes almost to the top of the pot. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and bring liquid to a steady simmer.
- Using a sharp knife, score an 'X' into the bottom of the tomato. Add tomato to the soup and cook 60 seconds. Remove tomato and run it under cold water. Peel and discard the skin then dice the tomato. Add diced tomato back to the soup and cook vegetables until potatoes are fork tender (approx. 20min).
- Add tomato paste to a ladle filled with some of the broth. Stir well to combine before adding the mixture into the soup. Cook 5 min.
- Add lovage and lemon juice, stir everything to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt or lemon as required. The soup should be slightly sour.
- Serve in individual bowls and garnish with chopped lovage and sliced red onion (optional).