One of the positive effects of the creation of the state of Israel, and the ensuing “import” of Jews from so many exotic places on the planet back into their original homeland, is the culinary richness we now enjoy in the country. Every family brought unique and exquisite recipes from their host country, and some of them have opened little food shops that dispense their special outlook on what recipe “X” should really be like.
One of my own personal favorites is the Yemenite soup and the accompaniments, and for me it’s no longer just about the soup but also about the ritual 😉
The soup is served in a deep dish along with “S’khoog” (A special, very spicy condiment), Lemon Halves, “Hil’bé” (I will explain later), and some kind of bread (The Yemenite use, in order of preference: “La’khoukh”, “Kubané”, or a simple Khala bread). If chicken is used, and it contains bones, a special bowl is placed in the middle of the table where the bones can be properly disposed of.
I want to explain this part, before I list the ingredients. If you ask a Yemen cook what they put in their soup, the answers will vary. I have therefor used my own observations and guesses from the many Yemenite soups I had (and I had plenty), to put together the following list of ingredients. While it may not be accurate, the result is so close to the original that I can not personally tell the difference, and this makes me feel confident enough about this list. If you think I have skipped something, do let me know!
- Pressure Cooker, or a large pot with a good lid
- Wooden Spoon, Sharp Knife
- 1 medium sized onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4 medium ~ large potatos
- 4 tomatoes
- 6 medium sized carrots
- Canola oil
- Meat (select one of the following):
- 6 chicken <– My favorite
- 1 kilogram of beef <– Most popular
- 2 cow legs <– Most original
- Salt & Pepper
- Beef or Chicken Stock (Cubes or Powder)
Vegetables: Grind the tomatoes and dispose of the skin. Grind 4 of the Carrots into the same container with the ground tomatoes. Cut the remaining 2 carrots into pieces of ~2cm each. Peel the potatoes (I know the potato skin is very healthy, but we are doing this for two reasons: 1) it is the traditional way; 2) this way the spices can infiltrate the potato easily and you get a nice, delicious yellow cooked potato). Keep this on the side for now, we will add this to the soup later.
Meat: Throw finely chopped onion and garlic into the pot, along with 3 spoons of Canola Oil, and fry until slightly golden. Put the meat along with 4 generous spoons of Ha’wa’yég in the pot and stir slightly, so that the meat touches the bottom of the pot. The idea is to “close” the meat by frying it slightly from all sides. Add Salt & Pepper.
(While this is frying, put 2 litters of water to boil).
Once the meat is lightly cooked on all sides, carefully pour the boiling water into the pot, and stir. Now add the vegetables we prepared earlier (including the carrots and potatoes). Bring it once to boiling point, then lower the fire and let cook for: 1) Pressure Cooker: 45 minutes 2) Regular Pot: 90 minutes.
Your soup is now ready!
Optional: I add two tea spoons of S’khoog along with the vegetables. It makes the soup interesting 🙂
This is a very interesting, and some say very healthy bitter grain which “jellies” when it comes in contact with water. You add two spoons of this powder in a bowl (do not use a metal bowl), juice from half a lemon, a bit of salt, and half a tea spoon of S’khoog. Here’s the tricky part: How much water you add depends on how finely your grain was ground. I suggest you start with 5 spoons of water (in addition to the lemon juice). The solution will be very watery at first, but give it a few minutes and it will start to Jel. If it becomes too solid, add two more spoons of water and stir. The end result should feel like a light pudding. The enzimes in the grain produce small air bubbles, giving this condiment a unique, airy texture.
Ahh… We have come to the most revered and sensitive of condiments for Yemenits. A true Yemen will eat everything together with S’khoog. The recipe varies like the stars in the sky. Each family has her own technique and unique blend, different amounts of ingredients, different philosophies of cutting the ingredients, and in short, if you find a specific kind of S’khoog that you like, you will have to keep going to the same family/restaurant to get it exactly right, and even that may not happen, since the primary ingredient of S’khoog is green peppers and they are different every season.
There are generally two types of S’khoog: Red & Green. Explaining how to make S’khoog is not within the scope of this article, and I will skip it altogether. I would also like to say that preparing S’khoog is not for the faint of heart. I have seen many red hands in my past, to know how painful it can be to prepare this condiment without gloves, for example.
Finale / how to eat it
Of course, there are no rules here. Personally, I start by putting a teaspoon of Hil’bé and a teaspoon of S’khoog in the soup, along with a teaspoon of Lemon. You can also throw bread into the soup to soak it up, very delicious. It’s supposed to be spicy, and your nose will be runny by the time you finish eating this soup. If you had the Flu, kiss it goodbye.