Plain and simple, this soup is usually a first course offered during Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast each day until sundown. The splash of lime juice makes all the difference, applied just before serving.
With a salad before or after, the soup works just fine as a summer main course.
Vermicelli, Meat and Tomato Soup
Makes about 9 3/4 cups (6 to 8 servings)
2 medium tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion
1 large rib celery
1 medium or 2 thin carrots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound lean (90-10) ground beef
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups no-salt-added chicken or beef broth
4 cups water
1 cup dried vermicelli or thin noodles (3 ounces)
Boil a kettle of water. Score an “X” on the underside of each tomato and place them in a deep bowl. Pour the water over the tomatoes to cover, and let them sit while you prep the vegetables.
Dice the onion and celery, then peel, trim and dice the carrots; heaping them all together is okay.
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the diced vegetables and stir to coat. Cook for about 6 minutes, until softened.
Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes. Peel them, discarding the skins, then seed them. Dice the remaining flesh.
Add the beef to the Dutch oven; cook for several minutes, until it loses its raw look, breaking it up with a spoon as needed. Stir in the allspice, cumin and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the tomatoes, broth and water. Increase the heat to high; once the mixture comes to a boil and produces foam on top, skim off and discard the foam until it’s gone. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes.
Uncover the Dutch oven and stir in the pasta. Cook uncovered just until the pasta is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. If the surface of the soup looks greasy, lay a paper towel on top just long enough for it to absorb the grease, then discard it.
Divide the soup among individual bowls. Cut the limes in half and squeeze equal amounts of juice into each portion. Serve warm.
Nutrition per serving (based on 8): 180 calories, 14 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar.