Shifteh Berenji (Persian Soup with Prune-Stuffed Meatballs)

Ayala Hodak

3½ hours, plus overnight soaking

10-12 Servings

Persian meatballs made with rice in large dutch oven with chunks of carrots, onions, and prunes
Photo by Jewish Food Society.

When Ayala Hodak, the co-owner of Israeli restaurant Taboon in New York, moved to the U.S. more than 20 years ago, her friends became her adopted local family. She regularly hosts them for Yom Kippur break fast, preparing a menu centered around one dish: shifteh berenji, a meatball-laden soup made tangy with dried Persian limes. Inside each meatball, she tucks a prune as a surprise for her guests. Follow Ayala’s lead and serve the soup with challah and faloodeh, a cold drink made with apples and rosewater. 

Make ahead: This soup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To serve it, bring the broth to a simmer over medium-low heat and add as many meatballs as desired. Continue to cook until the meatballs are heated through, about 20 minutes. 

Read more about Ayala’s family on the Jewish Food Society.



  • For the soup:
  • 1 cup dried small white beans, soaked in 4 cups of water overnight
  • 1 pound beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 10 dried black Persian limes, halved 
  • 6 chicken necks or backs (or 1½ pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks)
  • 2 small whole yellow onions, peeled
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into 2-inch by ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • For the meatballs:
  • 1 pound ground white meat chicken
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced 
  • 1½ cups jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1½ cups finely chopped cilantro (1 bunch)
  • 1¼ cups finely chopped parsley (1 bunch)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces pitted prunes (1¼ cup)


  1. Place the beef stew meat in a large Dutch oven and cover it with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming any foam from the surface. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour, skimming occasionally. 
  2. Place the dried Persian limes in a medium heat-proof bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Let sit until ready to use.
  3. Meanwhile, make the meatballs: Combine the ground chicken, ground beef, onion, rice, herbs, tomato paste, cumin, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and mix evenly. 
  4. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Pinch off ¼ cup of the meat mixture and roll it into a large ball. Make an indentation in the center of the ball with your thumb and press a prune into the indentation. Fold the meat mixture over the prune and reshape it into a ball. Place it on the prepared tray and repeat with the remaining meat mixture and two-thirds of the prunes. Cover with a damp towel and set aside.
  5. Drain the soaked beans and add them to the pot with 8 cups of water. Increase the heat to high and bring the beef and bean mixture to a boil over high heat. Skim any foam off the top and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the chicken necks and simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Drain the Persian limes, reserving 1 cup of soaking liquid, and add them to the pot along with their reserved liquid. Cover and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the whole onions, carrots, celery, celery root, tomato paste, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper.
  7. Working in 2 or 3 batches, gently slide the meatballs into the soup, adding more water to cover them if needed. Cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the cooked meatballs to a large resealable container and let them cool completely before refrigerating. 
  8. Add the remaining prunes to the pot and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have melded, 15 to 20 minutes. Reseason the soup with salt and pepper, to taste.
  9. To serve, place one meatball in a shallow bowl and top with some of the vegetables, beef, beans, prunes, and broth.

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