Shai Tsabari recalls his mother Tzvia was responsible for preparing the family meals and the menu was fixed; every day of the week featured a distinct dish. His favorite of all the dishes was her copper-yellow chicken soup, though he can no longer remember on what day of the week it was usually served. She used to serve it with yellow rice cooked in the broth alongside fenugreek sauce and fresh pitas she baked herself.
Chicken was not as readily accessible in Yemen as it was in Israel, he recalls his family’s stories. On weekdays, they ate beef while poultry was reserved for festive events such as a births and wedding. Both his grandmothers who were born in Yemen used to say a delicious Yemenite chicken soup is made from all parts of the chicken – including throat, feet and even the comb.
Tsabari prepared the soup following his mother’s recipe, which can be prepared in one single pot or, alternatively, can be strained to a clear broth and cooked with your preferred chicken parts. The recipe calls for the use of Hawayej that can be store-bought or made from scratch. Hawayej is a general name for a Yemenite spice blend. Most often, a distinction is made between coffee Hawayej, which consists of cardamom, ginger and cinnamon, and soup Hawayej. Tsabari’s family calls the blend black Hawayej which, unlike the store-bought version that contains turmeric, the homemade blend is made up of only three spices – cumin seeds, black pepper corns and cardamom seeds ground whole in their pods.
Shai Tsabari (48) is a singer, creator and father of two sons residing in Bat Yam. He served this Yemenite chicken soup at Cafe Asif’s ‘House Pot project’, an event where every week a chef or home cook prepared a dish dear to their heart; you can also find chef Israel Aharoni’s recipe for meatballs in beet and pomegranate sauce and Hila Alpert’s recipe for miso black bean soup with chicken meatballs.
For the broth:
2 liters (2qt) water
1½ kg (3.3lb) whole chicken, broken down (or different chicken parts such as throat, thighs and back bones)
1 flat teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoon black Hawayej spice blend (or 1 tablespoon store-bought Hawayej – in which case omit the turmeric as the purchased blend contains both)
2 medium-sized onions, chopped
1 grated tomato
20 mint leaves
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
For the second step (optional):
4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and halved
1 kg (2.2lb) chicken thighs, cut into cubes
For the black Hawayej spice blend:
10 grams (1.7oz) cumin seeds
10 grams (1.7oz) black peppercorns
10 grams (1.7oz) cardamom pods
To serve (optional):
Yellow rice cooked in the broth (see below)
- Prepare the Hawayej spice blend: grind the spices together (the cardamom should be ground with the pods) and keep in a clean, tightly-sealed jar. Use as needed.
- Prepare the soup: bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the chicken parts and bring to a second boil. Using a spoon, skim off the scum.
- Season with turmeric and Hawayej prepared earlier (or 1 tablespoon store-bought Hawayej).
- Add onions, grated tomato and mint leaves and season with salt to taste. For a slightly spicier soup season with black pepper. Cook over medium heat until the chicken is tender and the soup is coppery yellow and delicious, about 1 hour. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste.
- At this point you can add the potatoes, cook until they are soft, about 20 minutes, and serve. Alternatively, continue to the next step.
- Strain the soup to a clear broth, transfer to a clean pot and bring to a boil. Add the chicken thighs, cover and bring to a second boil. Using a spoon, skim off the scum. Cook until the chicken is tender. Add the potatoes and cook until they are soft and cooked through. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste.
- Prepare the yellow rice: cook the rice according to the manufacturer’s instructions, replacing the water with the broth (for every cup of dry rice, use 1½ cups of broth).