Make it. Eat it. Love it.
Walking around the Old City of Beer Sheva, its easy to pass by the many small and inconspicuous restaurants that dot the streets and small alleyways of this old Ottoman city. Many are worth passing up while others are hidden gems that are worth a second glance. So is true for Ha’bayit Ha’Temani (The house of Yemen), a small Yemenite restaurant that sits on one of the main streets leading into the old city.
Ha’bayit Ha’Temani has no menus and serves up two traditional Yemeni dishes; Marak Temani (Yemenite beef stew) and beef with rice. At first bite of their stew I found a new comfort food that has become one of my favorites. The stew is served with freshly baked saluf (Yemenite flatbread) and is filled with a delicious spice blend, potatoes, vegetables and beef so tender it melts in your mouth and a delicious zhug (a Yemeni hot sauce) and hilbeh (a fenugreek based condiment) on the side. So. Good.
Every Yemenite family has their own unique way of making this traditional dish that is usually served on Erev Shabbot. But, the one ingredient that makes all Yemenite stews come together, is the spice blend hawaij. Hawaij is an aromatic and intense spice blend made up of cumin, coriander, peppercorns, and turmeric. More exotic blends may have saffron or cardamom. Hawaij has become a favored spice used in my house as it makes the perfect rub for meats and poultry as well as fish and vegetable dishes. You can find hawaij in your local Middle Eastern grocer or spice store.
As the winter months draw closer, rainy season begins and the occasional sandstorm makes it impossible to leave the house, hearty and comforting soups and stews like this are a must have. I decided to make my own version of marak Temani using a lot of hawaij, potatoes, pumpkin and zucchini as they are in season. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you wish.
I made my own zhug as well to make the stew even more spicy. Zhug is a Yemeni hot sauce that has become wildly popular in Israel usually found topping falafel, hummus or smeared on sandwiches. Here it is served to mix into an already spicy dish for even more of a kick. Sure to clear up any stuffy nose! It is made up of hot pepers, coriander, garlic and cumin. Traditionally made using two stones, one as a work surface and one for crushing the ingredients, you can also use a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Zhug is not for the faint of heart. It is VERY spicy, so use caution.
Yemenite beef stew is a great spicy alternative to matzah ball soup while combating cold and flu season and a great comfort food for those blistering cold days.