Saturday, January 8, 2011

Yemenite Chicken Soup

This is the Yemenite version of chicken-in-a-pot, which is the Ashkenazi comfort food of bland boiled chicken in rich broth with complementary carbohydrates:  kasha, noodles, matzo balls, and sometimes potatoes.  Instead of the multiple carbs, the Yemenite variant adds flavor.  I first had this at my cousin Susan's house, when her friend Tamar brought over this soup (and a basket of homemade laffa, a kind of Yemenite naan, which was a soft as a baby's bottom, but that is another matter) after her mother, the legendary and incomparable Aunt Birdie,  died a few years ago.  Tamar explained how to make it, and I played around with the recipe a bit, and here is how we do it:

Yemenite chicken soup

  • 1 chicken, about 3 pounds, cut up into 4-10 pieces and skinned
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed well
  • 6 cloves garlic, paper removed but unpeeled
  • 1 tablespoon Osem pareve chicken soup powder (this is for the authentic flavor;  if you must, you can use chicken stock or just water)
  • 2 tablespoon Pereg spices for soup (hawaji)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks, more if you want
  • 1 large russet potato, scrubbed well and cut into eights (you can peel it if you want but I find that the peel adds flavor to the broth and helps to keep the potato from falling apart
  • 1 - 2 cups winter squash, like butternut, peeled and cut into 1 inch dice (optional, and you can use zucchini instead, just add it with the green beans)
  • 8 ounces to 1 pound green beans, trimmed 

  1. Put the chicken in a 4-5 quart pot and pour the boiling water over it. (A 4 quart pot will be tight but will add some drama to cooking and serving;  5 quarts will give you plenty of room.)
  2. Bring to the boil, turn heat down to a simmer, and skim off the scum that rises to the surface. (This will take about 10-15 minutes).
  3. Add garlic cloves, soup powder, and spices.  Tuck the cilantro into a corner of the pot. (You can tie it with some kitchen string to make it easier to remove, but I don't. )
  4. Simmer for 10 minutes and add the onion.
  5. Simmer for another 10 minutes and add the potato and carrot.
  6. Simmer chicken for another 20 minutes, and add the squash.
  7. Simmer for 5 minutes and add the green beans and simmer until they are tender, for another 5-10 minutes.  Total cooking time is about 50 minutes to an hour.  Taste the broth for salt if you didn't use the soup powder, otherwise it will be plenty salty. Fish out the bunch of cilantro if you can.
  8. We usually serve the soup as a first course, and the chicken and vegetables on a plate next, along with harissa or zchug. You can serve it all together in big bowls if you want.  In either case, serve it with middle eastern bread, preferably laffa, which is now available commercially, or thick Israeli-style pita.
  9. Serves 4. 
Hawaji:  This is a Yemenite spice powder used for soup. It is much easier,  if you can find it,  to use bought Yemenite spices for soup.  Pereg is the brand I use.  Otherwise, mix together 1 tablespoon each  of finely ground black pepper and cumin, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, one teaspoon each ground cardamom and turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves.  You can play with this as you like, especially the proportions of  cardamom and cloves, and you can leave out the coriander if you want.  This amount will make enough for 2 pots of soup.

Soup powder:  Usually I only use pareve soup powder to keep a recipe vegetarian or dairy.  But Tamar swore by using a bit of Osem, which is a pareve soup powder that contains all sorts of horrible ingredients. Israelis use it all the time,  and it gives this soup an "authentic" taste, and if you don't overdo it, it is quite good.  I had a long discussion today about  Osem with Ruby, an Israeli of Persian extraction, who said that Osem powder is a good way of adding umami to all kinds of dishes. He even suggested that I use it in the lamb shank ragu that I described to him.  Maybe next time.  Umami is the "fifth flavor,"  associated with deep savory protein flavors from things like meat broth, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, anchovies and soy sauce.  A posting about lamb shanks and umami will follow shortly.

Matzo balls:  Though rarely served this way, matzo balls are a great addition to this soup.  Serve them separately with the broth first.  They soak up the spice flavoring beautifully.

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