Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yemenite Soup

Six months into married life with a Yemenite Israeli, I have enjoyed kitniyot on passover and a henna engagement party. None of these feats, however, truly initiated me as a real Yemenite, at least in my husband's eyes, till his mother taught me how to make what is known in Israel simply as "marak timani," Yemenite soup.

Yemenite soup needs no introduction in Israel, but for the rest of us, it is basically the Yemenite version of chicken soup. My grandma's recipe features salt and pepper; Assaf's grandma's features hawaij. Other differences from your standard ashkenazi fare: the heavy use of cilantro and the fact that entire chicken pieces get served alongside the soup; I have seen a Persian chicken soup do this too, so maybe it is a middle eastern thing (As an ashkenazi side note, my family usually uses the cooked chicken in chicken salad; my grandpa used to take the chicken fat that rose to the top and smear it on bread). With the chicken, the soup becomes a healthy, delicious entire meal, perfect for shabbat dinner, or friday lunch even in the summer. We like it anytime.

I was surprised how simple the soup was to make, though these are often famous last words. Assaf's mom said that every family's soup was a little bit different; her mom's was very basic, and she got the idea to add potatoes from Assaf's paternal grandmother.

For the future (i.e. this Friday), I think I will add extra potatoes, which I love, and cut the carrot into bigger chunks the way my grandma does sometimes. I will keep the green onions in, which are particularly delicious in Israel, and a homage of sorts to the leeks that are part of my grandma's soup.

So, without further adieu, how you, too, can make this surprisingly simple, thoroughly tasty soup. Pictures to come.

(As a note, learning to cook from Assaf's mom was a lot like learning from my Italian host mother; a lot of effortless "oh, I just put this in here"s. Proportions were flexible, as were all of the ingredients besides hawaij and chicken, and possibly cilantro. It all happened so fast!)


1 Onion, peeled and cut length- and width wise almost till the end (it should still be whole), if you fancy

Carrots, peeled and sliced about half an inch thin, we used just one

Potatoes, pealed, small ones kept whole, larger ones cut in half lengthwise, as many as you want (we used 3)

2-3 cloves of garlic, cut fine

1 Tomato, grated (you can use a cheese grater)

Very liberal handful of cilantro (no formal measurements were given), chopped fine, with or without the stems

1 1/2 Tbs. Hawaij Marak (i.e. for soup--there is also for coffee/tea and apparently for baking), or to taste. We bought ours from the shuk, but Assaf's aunt makes it at home. Assaf's mother said her mother sometimes would just add the various spices separately into the soup.

Chicken pieces with the bone, as many as you want, skin and fat removed (we used two breasts and two drumsticks)

Celery (we did not use this)
Instant soup powder (we did not use this; can be used instead of salt)
1 Green Onion (whole) with the root and any old ends removed
Parsley chopped fine without stems.

Tip from Assaf's mom: the celery and parsley, and possibly the cilantro, can be blitzed together and pureed, and then added to the soup.

1. Boil water and add it to your pot till it comes to about half way high. Regarding choosing your pot, for four pieces of chicken we used a smallish pot, not the pot I generally use when making my grandmother's chicken soup

2. Add onion, carrots, potatoes, herbs, the tomato, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons hawaij (or to taste), a teaspoon of salt (taste the soup later on to check if it needs more), and green onion and cook on medium. I think at this point you should cover it. You can add the ingredients as they are ready, and the order itself seems flexible, but I would suggest added the potatoes first so they have time to cook.

Add the onion first, if you like. Notice how it is divided into quarters but not cut all the way through
Add those carrots

Add the potatoes

Add the herbs and green onion if using, as well as the hawaij

3. In the meanwhile, place the cleaned, skinless chicken in a dish in the sink and pour boiling water on it. I forget why, but this is important.

Burn, baby, burn

4. When the potato is soft, add the chicken. You do not want to cook the chicken till the potato is soft and yields to a toothpick, as apparently the potato will absorb the chicken's flavor. Place the chicken on the bottom of the pot, covered with soup. You can add more boiled water if you want more broth.

It should look something like this
5. Cover partially and cook till chicken is very tender, about 30-60 minutes. I didn't stir, and I don't think you are supposed to.

Serving Suggestions:
Yemenite pita (Saluf) or regular oversized pita, hilbeh sauce, schug on the side, as desired.

Place broth and whatever veggies (not everyone loves the onion, but I do) you want in a soup bowl, and add a piece of chicken. Yemenite soup is eaten with the entire piece (a whole drumstick, for example), but since the chicken is so tender from all of the cooking time, it comes easily off the bone with the spoon.


  1. I'm just sitting in my cubicle, wiping drool off of my face.


  2. eww!! but maybe i will make you some if you are lucky! it is very, very tasty :)

  3. ps wait till you see the pics!!!