Sunday, 15 February 2015

Y for Yemenite Jews

Dee:  “The vast majority of Yemenite Jews now live outside of Yemen itself, but they have retained a few distinctive recipes which we felt were worth exploring. 
The dishes that we chose had simple sounding titles, but turned out to be quite complex, with a number of different textures and flavours in evidence.  The savoury elements of the meal were strong and rich tasting, further enhanced by the spice mixtures.  In contrast, the cookies and coffee that we enjoyed for dessert were more subtle and provided an almost calming effect, if such a thing can be imagined in the context of a meal, after the boldly flavoured courses that preceded them.  This contrast provided a sense of balance to the meal and although pleasantly full by the end of it, we didn’t feel over-faced.
Taken together, these recipes made for a most enjoyable meal.”

All recipes apart from the Zhoug are from ‘Arabian Delights’ by Amy Riolo

Yemeni Sweet Sabbath Bread (Kubaneh)
Dee:  “Could this have been our most ambitious baking project so far?  It was certainly a challenge, but it was central to the chapter in the book, so I knew I had to at least attempt it.  
Basically it is a yeasted bread that is baked at a low temperature in a covered pot overnight.  It is served by being broken into sections rather than in slices, and is listed as being enjoyed with eggs and tomatoes.
I added a little wholemeal flour to the dough as I was running a bit low on white flour, but otherwise used the ingredients that were listed in the recipe.  I used some of the Seville Orange marmalade that we made a few weeks ago to enrich the dough.
Unfortunately our oven doesn’t go as low as the temperature stated in the recipe, so I had to bake the bread at Gas mark 1 and hope for the best.  I ended up baking it for about six hours in total, rather than the specified eight.  It was tricky getting the timing right as I had to keep checking the dough every half hour or so to see how it was getting on.
Finally, once it was out of the oven and had cooled down, I was happy with how the loaf had turned out.  It was a little tough on the bottom, but the rich brown colour that the bread had taken on looked pleasing, and the taste was equally rich, with an interesting sweetness and fruitiness provided by the marmalade.
We enjoyed the bread first as a starter with some cherry tomatoes which we just seasoned and roasted in the oven.  This proved an excellent match.  It was a savoury dish, but with a nice balance of sweeter flavours coming through from the marmalade in the bread and the natural sugars from the roasted tomatoes.  We also added a little Zhoug to the tomatoes, to give them an extra spicy kick.”

Zhoug is a fiery hot Yemeni relish made from green chillies and a mixture of herbs and spices.  I have heard it referred to as ‘green harissa’, and although it is one of those recipes which every cook has their own version of,  I have always made mine much hotter than harissa.
There isn’t a recipe for Zhoug in the book, so this is my version of it;

6 green chillies, stalks removed
3 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed in a pestle and mortar with a little salt
10g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
25g fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 tablespoons water

1  Grind the cardamom pods (shells and seeds), peppercorns, caraway seeds and salt together to a fine powder.
2.  Chop up the chillies, reserving the seeds, and add to a food processor with the crushed garlic herbs, water and ground spices.
3.  Blitz everything together to a fairly coarse consistency.  Do not over blitz it.
Zhoug can be added to salads, soups and stews, and pairs extremely well with tomatoes.  Be careful with this version though, as it is very hot indeed. 

Chicken Soup (Hasaa bil Dajaj)
Dee:  “This soup took quite a while to make, but was well worth the effort.  The recipe called for the chicken and vegetables to be cooked together, and then for the chicken to be cut up and returned to the strained broth.  We shredded the chicken rather than chopping it up, and found that this worked very well, ensuring that some was included in each spoonful.  The picture below shows how this looked.
However, before we served the soup, we decided to include the vegetables, so blitzed them in a food processor, then returned them back to the broth.  The results are shown below;
This made a heartier soup, and a surprisingly good winter warmer.  The flavours of the spices really came through, and the shredded chicken was still very much in evidence.  The finished soup only needed a touch more salt as it was well flavoured, and we were pleased to have plenty left over for another couple of servings each at least.”

Shortbread Cookies (Nayem)
Dee:  “The only place I have seen Nayem mentioned is in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book ‘Jerusalem’ which describes them as a Yemenite Jewish version of the better known ‘Ghorayeba’ cookies, but with cardamom included in the ingredients and a clove, rather than an almond, garnishing each cookie.  There is a recipe for Ghorayeba in Arabian Delights which includes cardamom in the ingredient list, so I proceeded with that.  I added a little water to the dough, which wasn’t part of the recipe, but helped enormously with binding the ingredients together and also with shaping the cookies.
I baked them for 15 minutes in total, and they didn’t take too long to cool down.  The taste wasn’t as overly sweet as I was expecting, and there was only a mild spiciness considering that strongly flavoured cardamom and rose water were included.  The cookies were still a great accompaniment to the cardamom flavoured coffee that we enjoyed them with."

Soundtrack:  Ofra Haza – Fifty Gates of Wisdom/Yemenite Songs
Dee:  “This album was released in 1984 and opens with the original version of 'Im nin alu', which she had a hit single with a few years later.  The version on this album is more stripped down than the single and for me is the better for it.  This, and the albums seventh track, 'Yachlivi Veyachali' are my personal favourites.
The album is a fascinating mix of traditional sounding songs given a contemporary studio production.  As one would expect, the vocals soar and enchant, but the multiple layers of percussion are also high in the mix, sounding in parts like drumming on old oil cans and sheet metal.  There is also some electronic percussion, but this is far less noticeable.
The album contains eight songs, with most being between four and five minutes each.  They all have a similar pace but slightly different melodies.  The majority are quite happy sounding, and it is not hard to imagine them being performed with accompanying dances.
It was another good choice of soundtrack to our meal, making for a great atmosphere all round.”

Next week we reach the end of our world cuisine project, and our journey ends not too far away from Angola, where it began:  Z for Zimbabwe


  1. What an interesting article. There's so much I don't know about Yemeni food. That bread sounds wonderful, and I'm really intrigued by your Zhoug. What kind of chillies do you use? - Sheila

  2. Hi Sheila, Great to hear that you enjoyed the article. The bread was lovely, and developed more of a malty flavour once it had cooled down and rested for a day.
    There are loads of different recipes for Zhoug: I used green finger chillies, which are on the hot side, but any green chillies would be fine. I'll be writing more about it in a few weeks' time as part of the Tasting Jerusalem project.
    All the best,