Hawaij – Yemeni Spice Mix

Hawaij is a Yemeni spice mix very central in Yemeni cuisine. It is used abundantly in Yemen, obviously, for soups, stews and other dishes, but is also used a lot in Israel where there is a large Jewish Yemenite community. In fact, Israelis took this spice mix and started using it to spice other non-Yemeni dishes, creating new and interesting flavors to old dishes.

To be more accurate, there are two different Hawaij mixes, one for soups, stews, etc., and one to spice coffee and sweets. We use both spice mixes on a regular basis. This is part of my Yemenite heritage. My Persian father fell in love with the mixes, so my mother made sure we used them at home in many dishes, including some of the Persian dishes she learned to cook from my paternal grandma. And as funny as it sounds, living so many years in America, every time my parents come visit, my mother brings with her (to my request) bags of these spice mixes that we love so much. We keep them in the freezer for freshness. When we run out, though, we make them ourselves…

Both mixes are shown here. To get the freshest flavor, it is better to use whole spices, toast them in a hot pan for 2-3 minutes while stirring constantly to prevent burning. Then remove from the heat and chill. Place all spices (except the turmeric) in a coffee grinder or use a mortar and pestle to grind the seeds and mix in the turmeric.

The lazy version is to get all spices already ground and just mix them all together.

Hawaij for Soup Spice Mix
4 tbs whole cumin seeds (3 tbs ground)
1 ½ tbs coriander seeds (2 tsp ground)
4 tbs black peppercorns (1 tbs ground)
1 tbs green cardamom pods (1 tsp ground)
1 ½ tsp whole cloves (½ tsp ground)
3 ½ tbs ground turmeric
Ground fenugreek was added to the mix in some regions in Yemen, and is an interesting addition to the mix. If you choose to add it, add 1 tsp of ground fenugreek seeds and make sure you toast them first to remove their bitterness.

Use this hawaij to spice up meat, fish or vegetables grilled , baked or stews, or in the soups such as Yemenite Chicken Soup or Shefteh

Hawaij for Coffee Spice Mix
1 tbs green cardamom pods (1 tsp ground)
¾ tbs whole cloves (¼ tsp ground)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbs ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

There is no need to pre-roast the spices for the coffee hawaij.

When using hawaij in coffee, use about 1/8 to a ¼ tsp for a small cup of coffee. You can also use it to spice tea to make chai. We love to use this coffee hawaij mix in cakes and cookies as well. And we add it to our Yemenite charosset on Passover.

Easy Rice Pilaf Tex-Mex

Sometimes you want to eat well but you don’t feel like thinking too much or spending time and effort in the kitchen. This is when this dish comes in handy. Not to mention that it is really delicious, so you don’t really need excuses to make it. I like to eat it as is, but it is a great side dish for grilled meats and chicken.

Ingredients:
3 tbs oil
2 cups rice
1 cup canned corn
1 cup salsa
2 cups water
Salt
Black pepper

Preparation:
In a medium pot, heat the oil. Add the rice and sauté it for a few minutes until the rice starts smelling nutty.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, lower the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes.

Yemenite Chicken Soup

One of the most precious memories of my childhood is Shabbat at my grandparents’ home, in Tel Aviv. After spending the afternoon together, preparing for Shabbat, grandma lit the Shabbat candles and we prepared the table for Friday night dinner. Everything was very simple and modest. The dishes were simple dishes, and the table wasn’t dressed. But it felt very much like Shabbat. The Challah was covered with a special cover, and the Kiddush wine and cup were ready for grandpa to recite the blessing. Dinner was very modest too and included Yemenite chicken or beef soup that was meant to last for both Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch, white rice, Hilbah (fenugreek), Zhoug and Challah.

For years, my mother used to make her own version of the Yemenite chicken soup for lunch on Fridays, a reminiscent from her parents’ home. Up until today, Yemenite soup is one of my favorite Friday night dinners, though we don’t make it often enough.

This recipe, which calls for chicken, is my grandmother’s version on this yummy soup. Or more accurately, my grandpa’s. After my grandparents got married, grandpa realized that grandma, who was not Yemenite, did not know how to cook Yemenite food, so he taught her what he knew. Grandpa made the soup sometimes with beef and sometimes with chicken.

Ingredients:
4 chicken thighs skin on
6 chicken drumsticks skin on
4 medium potatoes peeled and sliced into 1” slices
2 medium tomatoes diced
1 medium onion quartered
1 tbs tomato paste
2 heaping tbs Hawaij spice for soup (found online)
1 tbs chicken soup powder
salt and pepper
small bunch cilantro, washed and cleaned

Preparation:
In a large pot, place the chicken and cover in water. Bring to a boil. Discard of the water and rinse the chicken lightly to rid of the blood and protein foam which result from the boiling.

Put the chicken back in the pot, cover with water again and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, potatoes, tomatoes, tomato paste, and the spices. Cook covered for about an hour. Add the cilantro at the end and turn off the heat.

If you rather make the soup with beef, use 2lb of beef shank meat cut into large pieces.

If you prefer the chicken version, you can use any part of the chicken, except for the breast.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is a plant believed to be originated in the Middle East. It is used as a fresh or dried herb and also as a spice, using the seeds. Fenugreek seeds are rich in protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins, manganese, and iron. In their raw state, the seeds are very bitter and need to be roasted or soaked in water for an hour to remove most of the bitterness. The smell and the flavor of fenugreek seeds are pungent and dominant, and for most Westerners it is an acquired taste. You either love the flavor and the smell, or you can’t stand them. When eating large amount of fenugreek, the odor may be secreted in perspiration (I’m talking from personal experience), so make sure that you or people around you don’t mind the smell 🙂

Some people may be allergic to fenugreek, so please make sure you are not susceptible before attempting to experiment with this great plant.

The plant in all its forms is widely used in the Indian subcontinent. The leaves are used in curries and are also served as fresh herbs in salads. The seeds are used ground in spice mixes, pickles and chutneys.

In Persian cuisine, the leaves are called Shambalileh and this is probably the name you’ll find them under when looking for them in Middle Eastern stores. They are used in khoresh Sabzi, kukus (quiches), and fresh as part of sabzi (fresh greens served on the table).

Fenugreek seeds are used in Yemenite cuisine ground in spice mixes (Hawaij) and in Samnah – the Yemenite version of ghee. The seeds are also used to prepare a condiment eaten by Yemenite Jews called Hilbah (see recipe below) which is served with soups and stews. Hilbah is considered very healthy as it is believed to strengthen the heart and lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

Ethiopian cuisine also uses fenugreek, called Abesh. The seeds are incorporated in various dishes and are also used as a natural herbal medicine to treat diabetes.

Georgian cuisine is another cuisine that enjoys fenugreek in its dishes. They use a slightly different type of fenugreek, known as blue fenugreek.

I’m sure there may be other cultures using fenugreek in various degrees in their cuisines, and I apologize in advance to all of those I unknowingly omitted.

At home we use both the leaves (we can only find them in their dry form) when we cook Persian dishes, and we use the ground seeds in spice mixes and to make Hilbah which goes great with Yemenite soup.

Hilbah
Hilbah is a frothy condiment with a slightly slimy texture. When whisked with lemon and water, the seeds change their color from yellow to creamy white. Yemenite people eat Hilbah with soups, salads, and breads. Hilbah was brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews and is now widely eaten by other ethnic groups in Israel.

2 tbs ground fenugreek seeds (found in Indian and Middle Eastern stores)
¼ cups water
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt

Place the ground seeds in a bowl, cover with water and soak for at least an hour in the refrigerator. The seeds will soak most of the water and will double in size.

Discard of the water by tilting the bowl gently (don’t spill the jelly-like seeds themselves).

Add lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water and salt, and using a whisk or a mixer whisk the hilbah until it becomes thick and frothy. Add a little more water if necessary. The consistency should be fluffy but not watery.

It is best eaten when freshly made. You can keep leftovers in the fridge in a closed container. Hilbah tends to turn dense and lose its foam after a while. You can either add it to foods as is or add some lemon and water and re-whisk it to recreate the original texture.

Best Cauliflower Salad

I’m proud to say that this salad is my creation. I created it a while ago, and everyone who tasted it fell in love. We entertain a lot, and this salad is a star in almost every meal. Whenever we are invited to dinner, I’m asked to bring this cauliflower salad. I already gave the recipe to so many people and got so much great feedback that it’s time I finally posted it here.

Ingredients:
1 head large cauliflower
3tbs olive oil
30 cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
½ bunch (1 cup) coarsely chopped cilantro
3 cloves garlic
2tbs olive oil
Juice from ½ lemon
Salt
Black pepper
½ tsp cumin

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the cauliflower head into small florets and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and add 3tbs olive oil. Mix well.

Place the cauliflower on a baking sheet in one layer and roast in the pre-heated oven until cauliflower is nicely roasted, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and chill.

Cut the tomatoes in half and place in a large bowl.

Add the chopped cilantro and the sliced onion to the bowl.

Peel and slice the garlic. Heat 2tbs oil in a small frying pan and add the garlic. Saute just until the garlic is starting to brown. Pour the garlic and the oil into the large bowl with the tomatoes.

Add the chilled cauliflower to the bowl.

Pour in the lemon juice, add some salt and cumin, and mix to well combine all the ingredients.

Let rest for 30 minutes so the flavors are well absorbed.

Sweet Potato in Curry and Cinnamon

My daughter doesn’t like vegetables. She’s been fighting it for years. But for someone who really wants to be vegan and healthy, she has to learn to eat her veggies somehow. Last week, being home from college, she decided to experiment a little in the kitchen. She found one sweet potato and decided to combine it with Indian flavors that we all love so much. When she let us try the end result, we were all blown away. It came out DELICIOUS!! So Indian tasting on one hand, and so original on the other. She actually invented a dish, and a really good one, too. I’m so proud of her!

So, we made it again last night, this time with measurements, so I can post the recipe for all of you to enjoy.

Ingredients:
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tbs oil
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp curry powder
black pepper
Salt

Dressing:
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
Juice and zest from 1 large lime
3 tbs oil

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, mix the sweet potatoes with the spices. Line a baking sheet with tin foil, and spread the sweet potatoes on top, in one layer.

Roast the sweet potatoes until they are soft, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large bowl, mix the dressing ingredients.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and toss them in the bowl with the dressing. Coat all pieces with the dressing but be careful not to mash the sweet potato.

Return to the baking sheet, turn the oven to hi broil and broil for a few minutes, until the sweet potatoes are roasted and crispy.

Remove from the oven and try not to finish everything while you wait for it to cool off.