Magic Carpet is also the name of a Yemenite restaurant in Los Angeles (which unfortunately closed 5 years ago) that introduced me to the rich cuisine of this country 15 years ago. It was there that I first tasted malawachs, these flatbreads that are so fat and therefore so good… But I also discovered the spices and flavors so typical to Yemen.
Fortunately, an Israeli restaurant called Haifa , not far from where Magic Carpet was, helped me satisfy some of my cravings, such as marak temani or Yemenite soup in Hebrew. Today’s recipe, although 100% Yemenite was made famous by Yemenite Jews who have made it an institution in Israel. Yemenite Jews used to serve this spicy soup on Friday night for Shabbat dinner.
It is not a secret for anyone, I’m definitely not a fan of soup… And that is an understatement. I personally think that too few soups are really tasty, spicy, fat and rich enough for a carnivore like me. This Yemenite soup meets all my expectations and even more. This has long been the only soup that I do not hesitate to eat. The only other exception might be onion soup.
Marak temani has two main versions, one with chicken and one with beef. The beef version, richer, is the one that has been popularized in Israel. In Yemen, the less wealthy Jewish families, used chicken which was cheaper.
This soup owes its flavor and spiciness to a spice blend typical of this country called hawaij, which has nothing to do with the 50th U.S. state ! This spice blend is used not only in this soup but serves as a basic condiment found in many dishes in this country of the Arabian Peninsula. There are several recipes for that spice blend also called hawayej or hawayij but the spices common to most recipes include cumin, black peppercorns, cardamom and turmeric. In my version, I added coriander, clove and nutmeg .
The soup is already spiced (not too hot) but to make it spicier, most Yemenites add s’hug (pronounce the h in Arabic). This chili pepper based condiment is a bit to Yemen what mustard is in France. There are green pepper and red pepper based versions. I did not try to make s’hug myself, but will probably make it next time. It doesn’t look more complicated than harissa that my mother used to make. Harissa is a Tunisian condiment, also made with chili pepper and garlic, but typically not as hot as s’hug .
This Yemenite soup is also eaten with another typical condiment: hilbeh (fenugreek in Yemenite). I had never tasted this soup with this condiment… So obviously, the adventurer that I am had to try to make it. You will need a couple days to prepare hilbeh. Its main ingredient is fenugreek seed. I provided the recipe below for the adventurous like me. For everyone else, do not bother and just stick to the soup garnished with s’hug . Let’s just say it is not my most favorite condiment in the whole world…
Marak temani is a Judeo-Yemenite dish, a dish prepared by the Jewish community similarly to Tunisian pkaila or even some versions of Morocco-Algerian couscous au beurre. The Jewish people, as many migratory people have left their mark on the cuisine of several countries, including countries like Suriname. In fact, I posted a recipe from Suriname pom, which against all odds was a Jewish dish.
This Yemenite soup was a big hit with the whole family, which was not a surprise since everyone loves soups at home except me. What is more surprising is to see me eat soup. This soup is almost more akin to a stew than a soup as it is rich and can be served as an entree instead of an appetizer. Also, even if hawaij is rather spicy by itself, it is perfectly suited to the palate of children when cooked, so no worries, you can definitely serve this soup (without s’hug obviously) to your little brats.
And even if marak temani is rich, it remains a soup, so it is perfectly suited to the diet plans and resolutions of the beginning of the year…
- 2 lb beef stew , cubed
- 3 tablespoons hawaij (recipe below)
- 2 onions , thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic , halved
- 1 marrow bone
- 4 tomatoes
- 1 bunch cilantro , tied into a "bouquet garni"
- 2½ quarts beef broth
- 4 potatoes , peeled and cut into chunks
- ½ bunch cilantro , chopped (for garnish)
- 5 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 5 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 4 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 2 teaspoons nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons turmeric
- 8 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
- 4 cups water
- 1 tomato
- 4 garlic cloves
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon s'hug (optional)
Place meat at the bottom of a large pot . Sprinkle the meat with hawaij.
- Brown meat over medium heat, stirring often, until the meat is evenly browned and seasoned on all sides.
- Turn off the heat, transfer the meat in a bowl and set aside.
- Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and add the chopped onions and garlic.
Sauté the onions and garlic over medium heat. Stir constantly and scrape the bottom of the pan for 5 to 6 minutes.
- Add the meat and the bone marrow into the pot .
- Make three deep incisions in the tomatoes (while keeping them whole) so that they can release their flavor in the broth.
- Add the tomatoes and cilantro into the pot.
- Cover the ingredients with 2 to 3 quarts of broth until the ingredients are almost fully covered.
- Bring soup to a boil then reduce heat to medium.
Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to low and cover the pot.
- Simmer the soup for 2h30 .
- Add potatoes to the broth.
Simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes until the broth thickens and the meat is tender.
- Before serving, remove the tomatoes, marrow bone and cilantro.
- Serve in individual bowls. Garnish each bowl with chopped fresh cilantro.
Toast the whole spices (coriander, cumin, black peppercorns, cardamom and cloves) in a skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Once the spices have cooled, grind them until getting a powder.
- Stir in nutmeg and turmeric.
- This spice blend can be made in advance and kept in a jar or plastic bag.
- Put fenugreek seeds in a deep bowl.
- Cover with 4 cups of water.
- Let stand overnight or at least 4-5 hours.
- The fenugreek seeds will absorb a lot of water and swell considerably.
- The next day, get rid of the soaking water as it is bitter.
Grind the fenugreek seeds for 1 to 2 minutes in a food processor.
- Add remaining ingredients and blend until reaching a homogeneous texture.