Spicy meat soups

When it's cold outside, clear your nose and fill your belly with a zesty Yemenite stew.

spicy soup 88 (photo credit: )
spicy soup 88
(photo credit: )
When it's cold outside, nothing has greater appeal than a big bowl of steaming hot soup. And, many say, a soup with a healthy dose of spice will warm you even more. What spice and how much to add is entirely a matter of taste. Palates vary greatly in their perception of what constitutes pleasantly spicy and what is so fiery that it's inedible. Even the common black pepper found in everyone's spice cabinet can add a pleasing piquancy or can turn the broth blazing hot if you are too generous when adding it. Spices are worth getting to know because they expand your repertoire of flavors to vary your soup recipes. Besides, many have healthful properties. You might think a spice is too pungent for your taste, but if you try a little, you might like it. When my Polish-born mother tasted my Yemen-born mother-in-law's chicken soup flavored with cumin, turmeric and plenty of black pepper, she found it too spicy. But eventually she grew to like the spices and used them in her own soups, but with a light hand. And when my husband first tasted the horseradish that my mother liked with her gefilte fish, he found it very sharp. After a while, he got used to it. The same thing happened to me with his mother's s'hug (Yemenite hot pepper-garlic relish). Add spices to your soups in little pinches. When you're shaking them from a jar, it's easy to add too much. Spices' effects are accentuated in soups, because liquid carries the seasonings efficiently. Half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper will have a much greater effect in four cups of soup than in a similar volume of pasta. Cooks in different regions of the world use different spicing formulas in their hearty winter soups. A classic Russian meat soup called selianka "is a necessary item on the menu of any self- respecting Russian restaurant," wrote Anne Volokh in The Art of Russian Cuisine. With its surprising combination of olives, diced pickles, marinated mushrooms, capers, smoked meats and sausages, she notes that it is sometimes called "liquid hors d'oeuvre." To make hers spicy, she adds black peppercorns and allspice berries. George Lang, author of The Cuisine of Hungary, recommends hot cherry peppers to make beef goulash soup very spicy, along with paprika, garlic and caraway seeds; the other elements in this enticing soup are sauteed onions, green peppers, potatoes and little dumplings. According to Lang, mutton goulash is very pungent, with a full tablespoon of hot paprika for six servings. Many of us use fresh horseradish root only as the bitter hazeret at the Passover seder, but Bulgarians use it to wake up the flavor of their meat soup, according to Atanas Slavov, author of Traditional Bulgarian Cooking. With his beef soup with potatoes and carrots, flavored with black peppercorns, onion, celery and parsley root, he recommends serving a dish of grated fresh horseradish mixed with vinegar, for adding to each bowl at the table. In Egypt meat soup is cooked with cardamom pods, a gentle spice that will still catch your attention if you're not used to it. Algerian meat soups are often flavored with black and red pepper, and sometimes cinnamon as well. For certain spicy meat soups, dried hot red peppers are added, as well as harissa, North Africa's equivalent of s'hug. To make a hearty red soup, for example, mutton simmers with chickpeas, potatoes, onions, carrots, zucchini and noodles and is seasoned with black pepper, paprika, cinnamon, harissa, fresh coriander and mint. The first time I tasted Thai chicken soup with galangal (a relative of ginger), chilies, shallots and lemongrass, I found it delicious but very spicy, although the spices were mellowed by coconut milk. Unlike the Thai diners at the restaurant, I needed to spoon generous amounts of rice into my bowl in order to eat the soup. Indeed, serving a bowl of cooked rice with soup is a great solution if your soup turns out spicier than you intended. If you don't have time to cook rice, add canned beans or corn to the soup to absorb the extra spice; cooked lentils or potatoes also work well, if you happen to have some, or even croutons of dried or toasted bread. YEMENITE BEEF SOUP WITH CURRY SPICES AND POTATOES When acquaintances hear that my in-laws are Yemenite, one of their first questions often is, "Do you know how to make Yemenite meat soup?" Actually, it's easy to make. I learned it from my mother-in-law, Rachel Levy, who made it just about every week. Use any cut of meat that requires long simmering and include plenty of bones. The secret to the soup's aroma is the spice blend. Some people buy it from spice shops, but my mother-in-law preferred to blend her own. Whenever I joined her in preparing the spice mixture, she and I pounded cumin seeds in her copper mortar and pestle as we sat on the floor, which turned out to be a most comfortable way to do this. We then mixed them with turmeric and black pepper that she also ground. She used the spice blend with a liberal hand. Most people put everything in the pot at once and let the soup simmer slowly for about six hours, but I cook the bones first when I have time and add the remaining ingredients later. Many leave the fat in the broth, but I skim it off. Some thicken their soup just before serving with a few tablespoons of flour blended with a little water. You can add a few zucchini, cut in thick slices, for the last 30 minutes of cooking. The Yemenite way to serve the soup is with plenty of good, fresh pita for dunking in the soup, and a small bowl of s'hug. 450-500 gr. beef soup bones about 2 liters water 1 to 1.4 kg. beef shank slices or 700 to 800 gr. beef for stew 1 to 2 tbsp. ground cumin 1 to 2 tsp. turmeric 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper, or more to taste salt to taste 1 large onion, peeled, whole 3 large ripe tomatoes, whole 6 small or medium-size boiling potatoes 2 tbsp. flour (optional) Put the bones in a large heavy saucepan or soup pot and add one liter water or enough to cover. Bring to a simmer. Skim off the foam from the surface of the soup. Cover and cook over very low heat for two hours. Remove bones, reserving them, and pour broth into a bowl. Cut beef in five-cm. chunks. Mix cumin, turmeric and black pepper. Put beef in the saucepan and sprinkle it with salt and with the spice mixture on all sides. Heat it over low heat, turning pieces occasionally, for about seven minutes, so pieces are well coated with spices. Return bones to pan and add onion and tomatoes. Slowly pour in hot broth near side of pan so most of spice stays on the meat. Add more hot water to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil. Skim foam from surface. Cover and cook over low heat for one hour. Peel potatoes and add to the pan. Simmer over very low heat for 11⁄2 to two hours or until meat is very tender and soup is well flavored. Skim off excess fat. To thicken the soup, mix flour with 1⁄4 cup water in a small bowl until smooth. Slowly pour it into the soup, stirring the liquid constantly. Return the soup to a simmer, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Simmer for five minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, in shallow bowls. Makes 4 to 6 main-course servings. The writer is the author of Feast from the Mideast.