Make A Spicy Jewish Soup from North Africa

Bread bakers set aside a portion of yeasted dough to act as a starter for the next batch of bread. This starter is called a sponge, poolish, levain de boulanger in French, and biga in Italian. But in this medieval soup of the Jews of North Africa it is the foundation to a soup. The ethnologist Joëlle Bahloul tells us that this soup called hasū, although eaten by the population at large, was especially notable as a soup made by the Jews of Ain Beyda of the eastern Algerian steppe who made it during the winter, often in the morning in place of coffee when it is very cold or snowing. Hasū is rare, unknown by outsiders, and nearly forgotten among Jews of North African extraction themselves except for the elderly. It is a kind of piquant velouté, a soup made from semolina bread starter and spicy with harīsa, cayenne pepper, and caraway. Some of the starter is mixed with ground coriander seed and spoon-dropped into hot olive oil. These tiny fried beignets are used as a garnish. They are a little larger than hazelnuts and are called thumniyya or they are made as one makes the little pasta balls known as the couscous called muhammas. There is an old history to hasū as we know from the descriptions left by the great twelfth-century Arab geographer al-Idrīsī who seems to indicate that hasū means very soft boiled eggs that are almost liquid. It’s possible that eggs were once a prominent part of the dish or it might mean that the dish should resemble thickly beaten eggs. Another meaning to the word hasū derives from the word “to sip,” so we know it’s a soup. There is a recipe for hasū (or hasa) in the thirteenth-century Hispano-Muslim cookbook probably written in the Spanish province of Murcia by Ibn Razīn al-Tujībī called the Kitāb fadālat al-khiwān fī tayyibāt al-tcam wa’l-alwān which translates roughly as “The excellent table composed of the best foods and the best dishes.” But in that recipe there is no egg. Even though this soup has many steps and is complex, the resulting taste is very much worth the effort.

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
For the harisa called for in the recipe, check out my recipe at:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Algerian Jewish
Serves: 6 servings
  • For the starter
  • ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1cup plus 4 teaspoons water, at room temperature
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons ground coriander seed
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • For the soup
  • 1½ teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 6 large garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon harīsa
  • 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup dried mint
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the yeast and pour in ¼ cup warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water ¾ cup plus 4 teaspoons water and then the flour, 1 cup at a time.
  2. Attach the paddle to the mixer and run at the lowest speed for 2 minutes. (In a food processor, run until a sticky dough is formed in a few seconds).
  3. Transfer the starter dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 24 hours. The starter will triple in volume and still be wet and sticky when ready. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. You will need 200 grams, about 7 ounces or ¾ cup, of starter for this recipe. The remainder you can save for bread baking.
  4. In a bowl, knead together 3 ounces (about ¼ cup) of the starter with the ground coriander.
  5. In a skillet, heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat, then drop hazelnut-sized spoonfuls of starter into the oil and cook until light golden, about 2 minutes. Remove with a skimmer and set aside.
  6. In a mortar, pound the caraway and garlic together with a pestle until crushed. Add the tomato paste, harīsa, cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt and continue pounding and crushing until mushy.
  7. In a pot, heat ¾ cup olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the garlic-tomato mixture and stir and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 cup warm water and let it come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook 5 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, dissolve the remaining 4 ounces (about 6 to 8 tablespoons) starter in the same amount of water (about ½ cup) until homogeneous and smooth. Add to the soup pot. Add 6 cups warm water and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Mix well and cook 20 minutes.
  9. Place the dried mint in a spice grinder, food processor, or mortar and blend until very fine, almost a powder. Add to the soup, correct the seasoning, and serve.


Potato Gratin with Swiss Chard is for Wintertime

Potato gratin is one of those preparations that speaks to people.  When a gratin comes out of the oven it is one of the most inviting foods.  It’s also a dish perfect for winter. Swiss chard developed from the beet and was first mentioned in a book about plants published in Basel, Switzerland in 1596. Perhaps that’s why it’s called Swiss chard. No one really knows. Swiss chard keeps better than spinach, but should be treated the same way.  Look for crisp, dark green leaves without any wilting or blemishes.  Store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and use within two days.  Mediterranean cooks usually separate the leaves from the stems and cook them separately, too, for different preparations such as soups or purée into dips.

Potato Gratin with Swiss Chard
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This is a perfect winter dish made with thin slices of potato that form the bottom of a kind of pie filled with Swiss chard cooked with bacon and salt pork and then covered with another layer of sliced potatoes before being baked.
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: French
Serves: 4 to 6
  • 1½ pounds Swiss chard, leaves only
  • 1 ounce slab bacon, chopped
  • ½ ounce salt pork, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • One 1-pound baking potato, peeled and cut into ⅛-inch thick slices
  • 2 ounces Gruyère cheese or vacherin cheese, sliced
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the Swiss chard leaves until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and chop. Set aside in a bowl.
  2. Preheat to oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. In a large cast iron skillet, cook the bacon and salt pork over medium-low heat until beginning to get crispy, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it is sizzling then remove all to the bowl with the Swiss chard and season with salt.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet and once it melts arrange half of the sliced potatoes, slightly overlapped in a spiral covering the entire bottom of the skillet. Salt lightly. Spoon the Swiss chard on top of the potatoes, spreading it around to cover all the potatoes. Salt lightly. Arrange the remaining potatoes in an overlapped spiral covering the Swiss chard completely. Salt lightly. Arrange the cheese on top of the potatoes, dot with the remaining butter and pour the cream over everything.
  5. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes then cut into wedges for serving.


Cocido, the Quintessential Spanish Stew from Andalusia

Spiced sausage, cumin, saffron, black pepper, and garlic flavor this stew that some call the national dish of Spain. These spices had their culinary roots in Islamic Spain, but the trade in spices itself was coming through Lisbon to the great spice … [Continue reading]

Lentils and Sausage for Winter Dinners

There is a winter dish from the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy of cooked lentils topped with slices of boiled stuffed pig's trotter called zampone.  Decades ago I was lucky to live near an Italian deli that regularly carried a domestically-made … [Continue reading]

Slow-cooked Comfort Perfect For The Week After Christmas

The week separating Christmas from New Year’s can be a strange dead zone in culinary terms. We may be eating leftovers from Christmas dinner, but by the 27th we’re sick of those. New Year’s Eve tends to be more about partying and drinking than … [Continue reading]

Christmas Eve Risotto from Venice

This is a typical Christmas Eve dinner preparation and is unusual for two reasons: it is not cooked according to the risotto method even though it's called a risotto, and it combines cheese with fish. The dish probably evolved from a simple fish … [Continue reading]

Soul-satisfying Baked Rigatoni for a Cold, Blustery Day

On a cold blustery day, my kitchen beckons and I look forward to spending the day assembling this baked rigatoni dish. I imagine you’ve looked at the ingredient list and maybe thought “no way.” I suggest you think like a cook who sees the list and … [Continue reading]

Romanesco Cauliflower with Pasta …Studies on Mandelbrot Fractals

This preparation of the small ridged rigatoni called rigatoncello is meant to feed a large group of people.  It makes for an ideal party dish.  The romanesco cauliflower used in this pasta dish is one of those marvels of nature that once could only … [Continue reading]

Old French Recipe for Veal Rump Stew, A Cold Weather Delight

This nineteenth-century recipe is from Anjou, the capital of which, Angers, sits in the middle of fertile land and excellent vineyards in the Loire valley. The traditional home cooking of Anjou was simple and not ostentatious. This recipe is adapted … [Continue reading]

Mashed Butternut Squash, A Simple Thanksgiving Accompaniment

Thanksgiving side dishes can be a challenge for the host who wants to serve an impressive meal. It’s tempting to get carried away and choose something too complicated when a simple dish, such as a straightforward mashed butternut squash, can make a … [Continue reading]

Site maintained by StudioSJS