Published October 6, 2014 - Last Updated January 22, 2021
Learn to make Yemenite Soup with Chicken or Beef – traditional spicy soup recipe made with hawayej spicy blend. Warming, filling and full of flavor.
Nobody knows exactly how a group of several thousand Jews settled in Yemen. Oral Yemenite tradition suggests that a group of Jews left Jerusalem after hearing Jeremiah predict the destruction of the first Temple. Archaeological evidence shows that Jews have lived in Yemen since at least the 3rd century CE. Though it’s not exactly clear how or when they arrived in Yemen, the history of Yemenite Jews distinguishes them from all other Jewish populations. Because of their remote location and relative isolation, Yemenite Jewish tradition has remained largely unchanged throughout the centuries. They preserved many ancient Jewish religious customs that might otherwise have been lost to the passage of time. In fact, some researchers believe that the Yemenite Hebrew dialect is more closely related to Biblical Hebrew than any other dialect.
A family of Yemenite immigrants, 1948 or 49. Source: Wikimedia Commons
In the late 1800’s, the first in a series of mass migrations to Israel began. Facing increased persecution from Muslim communities in Yemen, most Yemenite Jews immigrated to Israel before 1962. As of 2013, less than 90 Jews still lived in Yemen.
Yemenites emigrate to Israel during “Operation Magic Carpet,” a secret operation conducted by the Israeli government to bring Yemenite Jews to safety. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Yemenite Jews are known for their complex spices and rich, flavorful dishes. I was introduced to Yemenite cuisine for the first time at a Los Angeles restaurant called Shula and Esther, owned by two Yemenite women. Their soup was my favorite; it was spicy, rich and delicious. Some days they featured lamb or beef Yemenite soup and some days chicken. Since then I’ve tasted many versions of Yemenite soup, including several in Israel where the majority of Yemenite Jews now live. When Shula and Esther closed (a tragic day for us), I had to figure out how to make the soup on my own. I learned the basic method and ingredients from my friend whose mother has Yemenite ancestry. Over time I’ve looked at various recipes and adjusted the seasonings until I honed in on the distinct flavor that we remember from Shula and Esther.
Yemenite soup is traditionally served as the entree of the Shabbat meal on Friday evening. The Jews of Yemen typically used chicken in their soup because meat was expensive and difficult to come by. The meat version has gained popularity throughout Israel. I’ve provided a recipe for each version in this blog. The broth of this soup is spiced with hawayej, a Yemenite spice blend that can be purchased at most Jewish markets. If you don’t have a market like that nearby, you can check out my recipe for hawayej by clicking here. It’s even better when made fresh and ground from whole spice seeds.
Every Yemenite family has a different recipe for this soup, but the basics remain the same– a meat or chicken broth, marrow bones, onions, potatoes, and hawayej. This soup is generally served with two Yemenite condiments, hilbeh and schug. Hilbeh is a gelatinous sauce made with fenugreek seeds; it takes 2-3 days to make and the process is quite involved. Schug is a sort of Yemenite salsa made from peppers, garlic, and spices. I have a green recipe for schug here and I plan to cover hilbeh in a future blog.
Note: these recipes have been retested, updated and rephotographed since they were originally posted.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Thanks for stopping by! I am fascinated by the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Read more...