yemeni oxtail soup

happy new year and welcome to 2016! life in frankfurt is very grey at the moment – i have neither blue skies nor fresh white snow to distract me, so i am looking to add sunshine and magic into my cooking instead.

i’ve been waiting to make this ottolenghi oxtail recipe for absolutely ages – the combination of rich and meltingly tender oxtail combined with the fresh fiery flavour of zhoug (a spiced coriander paste) seemed too good to miss – but we haven’t had the cold weather that i think it deserves.

never mind, i decided to ignore that and i think you should too, as it really is delicious and deserves to be made just so you can enjoy its exotic flavours.

inevitably it’s a dish that takes time – the oxtail bubbles away for a couple of hours so that it becomes tender. herbs are then added – parsley, bay and coriander – to add depth to the stock. the spice mix (cumin, coriander, a little turmeric and wonderful fragrant cardamom) and vegetables come next. at this point i paused and let everything cool overnight, so i could skim off the little bits of fat that solidified at the top of the broth and let the flavours meld.

reheated with a spritz of lemon to freshen everything up, this was served with the fiery green zhoug on top. i’m chasing a cold away, so added a bit of chilli sauce as well. the suggestion of having it with plenty of crusty white bread (and butter) was also perfect.

i particularly love the lightness that the cardamom adds to this. i also like that the soup itself is quite mildly flavoured so can probably be enjoyed by everyone; it’s the addition of the yemeni zhoug that packs the punch.

ottolenghi’s yemeni oxtail soup (serves 4-6)

1.5kg oxtail, cut up on the bone (ideally pieces with a fair amount of meat)

salt and black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 bay leaves

40g parsley

40g coriander

90g tomato paste (i didn’t have any so used turkish red pepper paste instead)

2 teaspoons each ground coriander, cumin and cardamom

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

400g chopped tomatoes (tinned or fresh)

20 garlic cloves, peeled

2 large waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 5cm chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into 5cm wedges

3 large sticks celery, trimmed and sliced into 5cm chunks

1 teaspoon caster sugar

3 tablespoon lemon juice

to serve:

zhoug or bought chilli sauce (see below)

1 lemon, cut into wedges

mix the oxtail pieces in a medium bowl with half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. put an extra-large saucepan (for which you have a lid) on a medium-high heat and add two tablespoons of the oil. once hot, add the oxtail in batches, searing it for four to five minutes and turning often, so it gets nicely coloured all over. remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining oxtail. once all the meat is browned, return all the oxtail to the pan, along with any cooking juices, and pour over 1.8 litres of water. cover, lower the heat to medium and simmer for an hour and a half, skimming any impurities off the surface.

tie together the bay leaves, parsley and coriander with string and add to the stew. cover again and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring every now and then.

put a small frying pan on a medium-high heat with the remaining tablespoon of oil and, once hot, add the tomato paste and spices. cook for two minutes, stirring constantly, then add to the soup with the tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, carrots, onion, celery, sugar, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. cover and simmer for a final hour, stirring once in a while, until the meat is falling apart and the vegetables are soft; the soup needn’t be very thick, just flavoursome and hearty. lift out and discard the herb bundle and stir in the lemon juice. serve at once with a good teaspoon of zhoug sprinkled over each portion and a wedge of lemon alongside.

for the zhoug: this is the fiery national chilli paste of israel, even though it originates in yemen. you can make your own by blitzing 45g picked coriander with two hot green chillies, half a teaspoon of ground cumin, a quarter-teaspoon each of ground cardamom and cloves, a pinch of salt, a crushed garlic clove and two tablespoons each of olive oil and water – this will give you enough for one small jar.