I spent 10 years living in Jerusalem. One of the joys of living in Israel’s capital is the abundance of small “workers’ restaurants” (misadot poalim) where you can get an inexpensive, filling meal of a range of very local dishes at midday. One of these dishes, available in most of these eateries, was kube soup. Kube (pronounced koo-beh), with its origins in Iraq,is a dough ball made of semolina or ground bulgar wheat, filled with mince meat and either fried or cooked in soup. There are two versions of the soup – one is a red or beet soup and the other is called “chamousta” or a sour lemon soup. The red kube soup is my favorite. Not only is it delicious, but one bowl with three kube balls fills you up for the day. It’s a dough that has staying power.
When we moved from Jerusalem to the Sharon region 13 years ago, I was disappointed to discover that kube soup didn’t appear on any local menus. I really missed this wonderful food and several years ago, I had a go at making it myself, with a recipe I had begged off a co-worker. It wasn’t great – the kube were too hard and heavy and this spoiled the dish. I ditched all further efforts, as making kube is quite a labor intensive process and I didn’t feel like another failure. A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to take up the challenge again. I found a recipe by local celebrity chef Haim Cohen that cuts out one of the stages of cooking and made the complicated ball stuffing stage a lot easier. The secret is in making small balls out of the minced meat and freezing them, and then wrapping the frozen balls with the dough. This not only eliminates the stage of cooking the meat, but also means you don’t have to stuff the crumbly mince into the kube dough, which isn’t simple.
I tested this soup on my Shabbat guests, and overall, it was a success, which is why I’m so excited about it and delighted to be sharing it with you. The recipe I used needed some tweaking as by the time I served the soup, the kube had absorbed a lot of the broth, and I wasn’t left with much to serve. So my recipe takes this into account, and adds a few of my own extras. By making a very large pot of soup and setting one liter of broth aside, you will ensure that there’s enough soup to go around.
While this dish does require some effort, the results speak for themselves – it’s a filling, tasty dish that’s perfect for any occasion and is a real taste of Israel.
RED (BEET) KUBE SOUP
Mince Meat Filling
600g (1.3 lb) minced meat
1 medium onion finely grated
3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 fresh mint leaves finely chopped
4 celery leaves finely chopped
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 teaspoon baharat spice*
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup olive oil
2 medium chopped red onions
6 cloves of garlic chopped or crushed
3 large beets peeled and cut into small chunks
½ kg (1 lb) pumpkin peeling and chopped into cubes
4 carrots peeled and sliced
2 zucchinis quartered and sliced
3 celery stalks sliced
Leaves of the celery washed and tied with string
Juice of two lemons
200 g tomato paste
1 teaspoon baharat spice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
4 liters water
500g (1 lb) semolina flour
300g (10 oz) ground bulgar wheat (in Israel, ask for J’rish at a spice store)
Note: If you can’t get j’rish, you can also make this with only semolina flour using 800 g.
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baharat spice
1 cup of the soup broth (no vegetables)
How to do it
Firstly, don’t be intimidated! Secondly, plan ahead.
The meat filling
1.Place all meat filling ingredients in a bowl and mix together thoroughly.
2. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Make small balls out of the meat mixture of about one heaped teaspoon each and place them on the tray. Cover and freeze until solid (at least 2 hours).
1. In a very large pot, heat the olive oil and saute the red onions until just soft. Add the garlic and stir for a minute
2.Add the beets and carrots and saute for another few minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables and the water and cook for 5 minutes. Then take one cup of the liquid and set it aside to use in the dough.
3. Add the lemon juice, baharat spice, salt, sugar and celery leaves to the pot. Bring to the boil and lower the heat, simmering for 20 minutes. Taste and add seasoning if required.
4. Decant about 1 liter of the soup into a separate bowl and set aside – you will add this back into the soup before serving.
Note: You can make the soup ahead of time and refrigerate.
1. In a large bowl, mix the semolina, j’rish, baharat spice and salt till combined.
2. Add the soup broth and mix until you have an soft but elastic dough. If required, add a little water until you get to a dough that is workable.
3. Allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes covered.
1. Remove the meat balls from the freezer.
2. Take about a tablespoon of the dough in your hands and flatten the dough so that it’s about 2-3 mm thick (1/10 inch).
3. Place a meat ball in the middle of your piece of dough and wrap the dough around the ball, closing it up and pinching off any excess dough. Make sure there are no gaps between the dough and the meat or the balls will open up when cooking. Seal any ragged edged with a few drops of water and smooth the surface. If the dough gets too dry, you can knead in some extra water. (This should yield about 30 balls)
4. Bring the soup in the pot (without the liter you’ve decanted) to the boil. Carefully drop the kube balls into the soup. Once all the balls are in the pot, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for an hour.
5. If you are serving the soup immediately, then add the extra broth just before you serve and heat it in the pot. If you are preparing the soup ahead of time, then keep the extra broth separate until you are ready to reheat the soup. Reheat the soup till hot in a covered pot, and then add the decanted broth and reheat it. The kube absorbs a lot of the liquid during the cooking process.
*Baharat is a spice mix used in Middle Eastern cuisine to season meat and soups. In Israel, you can buy it at any spice store. Outside of Israel, you may be able to find it in specialty stores. If not, you can make your own baharat mix from the following: 4 parts black pepper; 3 parts coriander seeds; 3 parts cinnamon; 3 parts cloves; 4 parts cumin seeds; 1 part cardamom pods; 3 parts nutmeg; 6 parts paprika