Soapwort meringue (Natef)
April 23, 2012 • Category: Dessert
Congratulations to those of you who knew what these roots were!
Called shilsh al-halawa or soapwort or Bois de Panama roots , these are used to make natef. Natef is a type of meringue, similar in texture to marshmallow fluff, that is served alongside a semolina and pistachio pastry called karabij.
These roots are also used to clean Persian rugs here in Lebanon (of course, the method is different than for natef!). If you care to know more about these roots, click here.
Their uses and benefits are numerous!
Seek them out in the US at Middle-Eastern grocers or health food stores or Chinese herbal shops. Another option is to plant them yourself!
The method that I followed was simple; first, soak the roots in water overnight; dump the water and cover the roots with more fresh water. Bring the mixture to a boil and dump the water. Add more fresh water and this time boil the roots for a while until the liquid has evaporated save for a pint. The liquid will have taken on a reddish tint. Cool and drain, placing the liquid in a mixing bowl.
Prepare a sugar syrup and while the syrup is cooking, start beating the soapwort liquid in a mixer at high speed; it will start to froth immediately. Add the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream. The meringue will form within minutes. Add some rose water or another flavoring if you wish. Serve.
NOTE: I will provide an exact recipe once I am done experimenting with it. It will be included in an upcoming cookbook I am working on. If you would like a recipe, I have found one on Anissa‘s blog.
Please note that this meringue does not contain any egg white. There are recipes for natef using egg white (uncooked) but I prefer to avoid them.
45 Comments • Comments Feed
Belinda @zomppa says:
Loving this treat! How sweet it is….
On April 23, 2012 at 6:42 am
Wow, that is such an interesting recipe and speciality! Wonderful.
On April 23, 2012 at 6:49 am
I’ve seen soapwart in my local middle eastern market but never knew what it was used for- I’ll have to try this! Merci pour toutes vos recettes delicieuses et bonne continuation! 🙂
On April 23, 2012 at 7:05 am
Eva Nicoletatos says:
Love your work.
I am looking for a recipe for loukoum but the kind that is white, stuffed with nuts and rolled into a log shape.
On January 2, 2021 at 6:54 am
the indolent cook says:
This is really something new to me! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your recipe.
On April 23, 2012 at 7:10 am
Culinaire Amoula says:
C’est vraiment quelque chose de nouveau pour moi! Merci pour le partage.
On April 23, 2012 at 11:16 am
Wow this is chemistry at its best!
Would love to try experimenting with it!
On April 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm
Comme un nuage gourmand…léger, léger…
On April 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm
where did you get that Joumana from Dabbous????
oh I cannot wait to be there…. yalla wait for me
On April 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm
@Arlette: I got it from Haj Naji in Aishe Bakkar, a store that says on its banner “We are the original Dabbous!”
@Sophia: I heard that too, so you may not be far from the truth!
@Magda: Actually soapwort is native to Europe and Asia (acc. to Wikipedia!), so I am sure it could be found (I would head to the Middle-Eastern stores first). I even read that the Greeks used it.
@Melissa: I think that honey would be fine to use, as long as it is hot when you pour it.
@Malcolm: Yes, it is also known as Bois de Panama and I have included this name as well just now.
On April 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm
Wow how intriguing! I had no idea what those roots were, though I was tempted to say it’s the roots used in Chinese medicine…haha.
On April 23, 2012 at 11:26 pm
What an amazing ingredient, Joumana. And that meringue looks so fluffy.
I don’t think I’ll be able to find that root in Europe though…
On April 24, 2012 at 9:32 am
Ruth Shaw says:
Soapwort is common plant here in Britain, it was used to make soap and still grows often by rivers. Also for the salycilic acid extract to make aspirin.
Anyway. I have it because the flowers cope with quite deep shade, and it takes over so I’m very grateful for a use for the roots! I’m going to try it- and also the natef to make halva.
On June 9, 2018 at 10:33 am
A really fun and interesting ‘meringue’ recipe!
Gotta to find some soapwort roots to try too!
On April 24, 2012 at 10:47 am
Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) says:
Interesting meringue! I will now be on the watch for these roots. Congrats on a cookbook. Will look forward to hearing more.
On April 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm
Would it be possible to make the recipe using honey? Perhaps a diluted honey so it wouldn’t be too thick a syrup? I am trying to avoid refined sugar. Love all that you post, Joumana!
On April 25, 2012 at 4:48 am
5 Star Foodie says:
I didn’t know about soapwart, so great to learn about this ingredient and the meringue with it, is gorgeous!
On April 25, 2012 at 10:56 am
Ann Hill says:
I love that there is no egg in this yummy sounding dessert, can’t wait for the recipe. I’ve heard of soapwort but only as a cleaner. I will definitely have to find some to experiment with now.
On April 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm
Nuts about food says:
I had never heard of soapwart roots in my life! Thanks for the info
On April 26, 2012 at 8:27 am
Hi, I knew this as bois de Panama. Is it one and the same?
On April 26, 2012 at 3:26 pm
Quelle est la différence entre les karabijs et les maamouls?
On May 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm
@Halim: les karabij sont plus délicats parce que la proportion de semoule fine y est plus grande; en plus les karabij n’ont pas d’eau parfumée dans la pâte.
On May 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm
Joumana – I have something called “shikakai”, is it the same thing?
On May 10, 2012 at 9:56 am
@Linda: Can you give me more details, where did you get it, what does it look like, etc?
On May 10, 2012 at 10:07 am
E. Nassar says:
Have you by any chance finalized a recipe for this with proportions? I would love to give it a shot this weekend. I brought some Soapwort roots from Beirut when I visited this past June but have not found a reliable recipe.
On November 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm
@E.Nassar: I have been so busy working on the Iraqi cookbook; today is the deadline for the manuscript and finally now I can concentrate on the Lebanese one. However, start with a couple of twigs, boil them once (soak them overnight) and then dump the water and start over. It will froth quickly and then you add to it a sugar syrup. Start with small quantities, 1 cup of syrup in one cup of natef liquid; I will have more details for you later on, of wait for my cookbook! 🙂
On November 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm
E. Nassar says:
Looking forward to your Lebanese book Joumana. I’ll make sure to pick it up when it’s out! I might try the natif this weekend with Karabij for a dinner for friends. I’ll let you know how it turned out.
On November 8, 2012 at 8:45 am
@Elie: Good luck! 🙂
On November 8, 2012 at 10:53 am
E. Nassar says:
I whipped the Natef right before serving the Karabij and it worked very well using a cup of syrup per cup of boiled soapwort liquid. Within 10 minutes or so it separated into a foam layer and a syrup layer. I had served everyone by then though and they all enjoyed the texture and flavor.
On November 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm
@E. Nassar: That’s great! This is one of the stumbling blocks with the natef; mine started separating after 12 hours. Still I would like to make it really stiff and creamy for at least a couple of days! 🙂
On November 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm
Lara M says:
I made Natef many times, it separated at the beginning, butt then I was told to whip it exactly 15 minutes, which I did. so, now it doesn’t separate anymore
On June 26, 2015 at 9:32 pm
Joumana, could you write a more precise amounts of water and root for the preparation of the extract? I want to try, if I do not find where to buy a ready extract.
On April 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm
@Elena: This is on my list. Will let you know when I do.
On April 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm
Hi Joumana, can I use ceam of marshmallow instead?
On July 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm
never mind, just read your comment on the other page that we can use marshmallow fluff at the mean time.
On July 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm
could you tell me how i would make natef using powdered soapwort? thank you
On March 15, 2019 at 3:06 pm
Joumana Accad says:
@Pym I have never made it with powdered soapwort, but I imagine the same way, by soaking first.
On July 2, 2019 at 4:17 pm
Hello Joumana. Great recipe. How long can you keep it before consume it? Does it have to be kept in the fridge? Thank you.
On September 24, 2020 at 2:32 pm
I made natef for the first time on my own, and it had a bitter aftertaste. It looked beautiful, and the texture was perfect, but the taste was off. I\’d appreciate any ideas on what might have caused this. Here is what I did:
– I used pieces of soapwort root that I bought on amazon, (Natural Biokoma Soapwort Dried Root – Herbal Tea in Resealable Pack Moisture Proof Pouch)
– I rinsed the soapwort, then boiled it in water. Boiled/simmered for about 15 minutes.
– I strained and used the liquid and beat it up; then added the sugar syrup.
Should I have boiled or just soaked? Was it perhaps too concentrated a liquid? Should I have rinsed the root for longer? Is it the brand or type of soapwort root? Thank you!
On December 26, 2021 at 7:22 pm
Joumana Accad says:
@Mona, hello I replied directly via e-mail.
On December 27, 2021 at 3:29 pm
I would live the answer to @Mona also. I’ve been experimenting with soapwort roots, natef and halva, but so far very bitter acrid taste that is harsh on mouth and throat. Did you ever hear of ways to diminish bitter taste? And did you write your cookbook?
On April 3, 2022 at 3:58 am
….”love” the answer…. spellcheck. Thanks!
On April 3, 2022 at 4:00 am
Joumana Accad says:
@Skyflower Hello, and since I have not had that experience with the roots I bought in Lebanon, I decided that the easiest thing was to re-test it and see. I did not get any bitter or acrid taste in mine, so it could be the type of root. Once I re-test it (in the next couple of weeks) I will re-post the recipe and share my results. And, yes, the cookbook was published in 2014 and sold over Amazon. It is out of print now, and I will get a new one done, hopefully in the next couple of years (these things are long-term). It is still available on Amazon, but with weird prices (the first one) with the title Taste of Beirut.
Will let you know about the roots, promise!
On April 4, 2022 at 12:18 pm