Hasu – A Spicy Soup of the Algerian Jews

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. A recipe for the harīsa can be found here.

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
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.


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