Ekor sop (or sup ekor in Malay) is what the richness of a good meat-based Sri Lankan soup with the sweet fire of spices, is all about. These spices and hot peppers warm the heart and soul, the oxtail meat nourishes the body and the cilantro and lime refresh the spirit! Carrots, potatoes and tomatoes make it a bit more familiar.
Soup is in essence a comforting dish. One of those who bring warmth, for the richest and the poorest. It is restorative and generous. A soup is a dish that we share with family, but also with those in need. It is the dish that makes you healthier when you are sick, the one that gives strength and courage for work, that comforts you when coming home at night. When it is as fragrant as the ekor sop from Sri Lanka, you can be sure it will be a success. Young and old will appreciate its richness of flavors and its originality.
The fact is that the island of Ceylon (that also had the names of Taprobane, Tambapanni, Serendib), which eventually became Sri Lanka, is a melting pot of cultures. Like many islands, Sri Lanka is a place of cultural blend, a place of conquest for a number of people including the Indians, Asians, Portuguese, Dutch and English. The British, after their victory against the last king of Kandy, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, promoted Tamil emigration to the center of the island of Ceylon to work in the plantations. After unsuccessful coffee cultivation, tea growing became the central focus of the Sri Lankan economy.
It is probably the Malay community from Sri Lanka, who imported this oxtail soup recipe from Southeast Asia. Even today, Indonesian recipes for this soup, called sop buntut over there, are very similar to the Sri Lankan version. These emigrants, descendants of Javanese exiles, were not very fortunate and as we know, in all the culinary traditions over the world, offal is the prerogative of those who have few means. These unfortunate people have always been full of inventiveness and creativity to sublimate these cuts of meat considered by others as less noble.
Ekor means tail, and it indeed refers to oxtail. A very tasty piece and particularly suitable for making broths, soups or stews. The gelatin naturally contained in this piece forms a layer of fat that helps keep the ekor sop longer.
All over the world, oxtail is accommodated in many ways and often in soup. In Indonesia, China, Korea, France and so many other countries. In the eighteenth century, Alexis Soyer, the most famous French cook of England made oxtail soup the specialty of its soup kitchens for the poor people coming from Ireland. This soup seems to have comforted the hearts of Dublin exiles like those of ancient Java.
Ekor sop is so generous. Generous in its scents where star anise, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, all coming from a local heritage that help sublimate the most common ingredients. So many added flavors that will stimulate the eyes and the palate of those who prepare and taste ekor sop. A soup with which we like to burn ourselves a little to feel better alive. A soup that brings together generations and provokes the enthusiasm of those who, like us, discover it for the first time. Ekor sop is the link between all cultures because from Colombo to Rome or Paris, we find the same intention, with the vegetables, garlic, herbs and spices. The oxtail may be grilled or poached, and it will take a beautiful color from the start and will probably offer more fragrances. It is a delicious dish that is healthy and invigorating.
We loved preparing ekor sop, especially since we usually cook this piece in a red wine sauce. It is exciting to immerse yourself in Sri Lankan cuisine, a cuisine that deserves more exposure. It is impossible to summarize the profusion of ideas it contains in a simple curry accompanied by rice. This soup is the evidence of that, and even if the Parisian latitudes are not the same as the one of this enchanting island, what better way to warm up after wandering through the Sri Lankan markets in Paris? What’s more appetizing than the simmering of the soup under the lid and the scent that fills the kitchen while we are busy setting the table?
- 1½ lb oxtail , cut into 1-inch thick slices
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 5 oz. red onions , cut into small cubes
- 4 oz. potatoes , cut into large pieces
- 3 oz. carrots , cut into thick slices
- 1 oz. ginger , grated
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 6 cups boiling water
- 3 Thai chili peppers , cut in half lengthwise
- 3 stems cilantro , with leaves
- 3 oz. tomatoes , peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 5 whole cloves
- 6 pods cardamom
- 10 star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- Juice of a lime
- 3 shallots , thinly sliced and fried
- ½ bunch cilantro
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oxtail and sauté it until both sides turn slightly brown.
- Add the onion, ginger, garlic and sauté everything together for a minute.
- Add the boiling water. Ensure there is enough water to cover all the ingredients (add if necessary).
- Place the coriander seeds, cloves, cardamom, and star anise in the center of a piece of cheese cloth and tie firmly to form a kind of bouquet garni.
- Stir in cilantro leaves, ground cumin, cinnamon stick, bouquet garni and chili peppers.
- Bring to boil on high, then reduce to medium heat and cook for 2 to 3 hours or until the oxtail is tender.
- Using a skimmer, regularly remove any impurities, foam or grease that would accumulate on the surface.
- Add the tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add black pepper and sugar. Add salt to taste.
- At time of serving, squeeze the lime on the soup. Pour the soup into individual bowls and garnish with crispy fried shallots and cilantro leaves.