Chicken soup, no matter the cuisine, is food for the soul. It can cure a cold or soothe you after a bad break-up (is there a good break-up?) I have made traditional Jewish chicken soup and Italian wedding soup and wonton soup and I love them all, but this time I wanted something with a bit more zing. I love well-seasoned foods but not overly spicy. This Yemenite soup has the ability to be very spicy, but you can also control the heat. The fresh herbs and spices smell so wonderful and while many of the individual pieces are familiar, when put together they make a dish that is surprising and incredibly satisfying. I have a good spice store near my house, but if you don’t, everything is available online. It is the spices that make this dish, so don’t skimp or substitute. And if you are into Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine as I am, you will use the spices in many other dishes. Don’t get scared off by the long list of ingredients. The dish itself is not complicated if you follow the steps. It is easiest if made over two days. There are no special techniques to learn or stressful timing. The result is incredibly delicious and totally satisfying. This is especially wonderful served with challah. Frances made this challah last night and Matthew sent me a a photo. One day, I may even share my recipe which I developed over about 5 years. For now, only Frances and I have it. Warmed pita or na’an would also go well.
Yemenite Chicken Soup adapted from Joan Nathan Yemenite Chicken Soup
Yield: 6-8 servings
One 4-4.5 pound chicken left whole and with giblets removed (you can use the gizzard, heart and neck if there is one, but save the liver for another use)
2-3 onions, peeled and coursely chopped
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 large tomato, cored and almost quartered but not cut all the way through at the bottom
3 stalks celery, cut in half
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt (yes, you read that correctly. It’s a big pot of soup.)
1-2 Tablespoons hawayij (see recipe below)
4-5 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds about 1/4 inch thick
3 medium potatoes like a red or Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into a medium dice
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 bunch dill, finely chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
z’hug or harissa to taste (I used red z’hug because I already had it, but there is also green z’hug, which is likely more what the Yemenites use. Moroccans use the red. This is the one place where I cheated!)
hilbe to taste (see recipe below) Start preparing the day before, but at least 3 hours before.
- Place the whole chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water by about 3 inches. Bring to a simmer and skim off the scum that rises to the top, cooking for about 30 minutes.
- Add the onions, garlic, tomato, celery, salt and hawayij. Simmer covered for another 45 minutes. In the meantime, you can make the hilbe.
- Add the carrots, cover and turn off the heat. Allow to cool.
- Once the pot is cool, remove the whole chicken, which should be falling apart as you lift it. Remove the skin and bones and return the chicken to the pot. For greatest ease, refrigerate overnight to allow the fat to rise to the top and solidify. You can then skim the fat and discard it. You can skim the soup without this step, but it is MUCH easier this way.
- Add the potatoes to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook covered for about 15 -20 minutes. Now add the parsely, dill and cilantro and mix through. Cook for a few more minutes uncovered just to warm the herbs. Serve as is or over plain cooked rice and season each bowl (or let your family or guests do it) with the z’hug and hilbe.
Yield: About 5 Tablespoons
2 Tablespoons black peppercorn
1 Tablespoon black caraway seed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of the seeds from green cardamom
2 teaspoons turmeric
pinch of saffron (optional)
Either pound the spices with a mortar and pestle or use a coffee/spice grinder. This can also be purchased online. I made mine.
Yield: About 3/4 cup
Hilbe is a creamy Yemenite sauce often added to soup. Fenugreek, which is mentioned in the Bible, is a medicial herb that the Yemenite Jews most likely learned to use from the Indians. Traditionally whole fenugreek seeds were ground with water into a paste. Fenugreek powder (also called “methi” is readily available and can easily be used here.) Hilbe can also be bought online but I made mine. Because I used a red z’hug, the hilbe is pinkish. With green z’hug, it will be green.
3 Tablespoons fenugreek powder
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 generous teaspoon z’hug
- Soak the fenugreek powder in the water for at least 3 hours or overnight.
- Add the z’hug, lemon juice and salt to the fenugreek mixture and using a wire whisk, beat until smooth. Adjust the seasonings, This should be fairly spicy since it is a condiment.