Spiceologist to the Stars

November 2, 2011
(Tablet) Sercarz is following in the footsteps of ancient Jewish spice traders. Jews were in Ceylon, modern-day Sri Lanka, in the second century and likely brought back spices with them to the Middle East and Europe…. Sercarz was born into a culinary culture where spices are central. “My Transylvanian grandmother married a Tunisian,” he says of his mother’s side. His father’s parents were from Germany and Belgium. Paprikash and poppy seeds met peppers and preserved lemons in his childhood kitchen. »

Jachnun and Hilbeh

October 31, 2010

Jachnun served with fresh grated tomato and skhug

Jachnun is a traditional Yemenite Jewish dish prepared from rolled dough which is baked on very low heat for about ten hours. The dough is rolled out thinly, brushed with shortening, and rolled up, similar to puff pastry. It turns a dark amber color and has a slightly sweet taste. It is traditionally served with a crushed/grated tomato dip, hard boiled eggs and skhug. The dough used for jachnun is the same as that used for malawach.

Jachnun is served by Jews of Yemenite descent on Shabbat mornings, after having been left in a slow oven overnight.According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to light a fire or cook on Shabbat.

Jachnun has become popular in Israel and is now consumed by other Jewish ethnic groups. Frozen jachnun is sold in supermarkets for those who want to skip the time consuming process of rolling the dough into layers.

I enjoy my Jachnun served with Harisa and fenugreek

Jachnun ingredients

  • 3 3⁄4 c All-purpose flour
  • 2 T Sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 1⁄2 T Salt
  • 1 large Eggs
  • 1 1⁄4 c water
  • 3⁄4 c Margarine, cut into 6 pieces

Cooking Jachnun

1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in food processor and process to blend.

2. Add egg and 1 cup water and process with on/off turns to mix. With motor running, gradually add remaining water, about ¼ cup, adding enough so mixture comes together to a smooth, fairly stiff dough.

3. It will be sticky.

4. Remove from processor.

5. Kneadi dough well by slapping vigorously on the work surface.

6. Divide into 6 pieces and knead each one with a slapping motion until smooth.

7. Roll each in your palm to a ball.

8. Put on an oiled plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

9. Oil working surface and rolling pin. Let margarine stand at room temperature until very soft.

10. Roll out 1 ball of dough on oiled surface to a very thin 12-inch square.

11. To help stretch dough, pull it gently from time to time by hand, until very thin.

12. If dough tears, simply press it together.

13. Spread with a piece of soft margarine.

14. Foldi in half, then in half again to make a long strip.

15. Roll up strip from a short side in a tight cylinder.

16. Repeat with 5 remaining pieces of dough.

17. Put in greased, shallow 8-inch square baking dish.

18. Cover with foil and a lid and refrigerate at least 2 or up to 8 hours.

19. Preheat oven to 200°F.

20. Bakei pastries 13-14 hours or until golden brown.

21. Serve hot.

I have a fantastic recipe for hilbeh that i got from an old Yemenite man who used to serve in the civil guard in Kiryat Arba. He was very proud of it, and was convinced that women could not cook nearly as well as men. I didn’t try to dissuade him — his recipes, at least, were good — and obviously he got them from his wife or his mother!!
Take a few tablespoons of ground fenugreek (hilbeh) and soak it in a large bowl of water for at least six hours, but preferably overnight (Thursday night is best, since this is for Shabbat). Drain off the water. Place the resulting gel in the food processor. Add lemon juice (to taste — if you’re using 3 T hilbeh, then figure about 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice, at least), 1/2 t fresh ground black pepper, 1/2 t fresh zhug (Yemenite hot sauce), salt to taste, 1 t. fresh ground cumin and 1 small tomato cut into eighths (yes I know this sounds weird).  Run it at high in the food processor for at least 3 minutes, until it is whipped into a light and fluffy texture, and almost white in color (except for the pinkish tint from the tomato).
It is amazing. I like a lot of lemon in it, but some folks don’t.
Alternatively, some people like their hilbehonly whipped with salt and lemon.

Enjoy!  Yemenites dip their challah in this for the first course at Shabbat meals, and also put it in their chicken soup.  I love it with the challah, but I draw the line at the soup….
Chana

Hilbeh (Yemeni Fenugreek Relish)

Yield:4 oz.
Ingredients:
2 tsp. fenugreek seeds, soaked in water for 18 hours or until they have softened, drained
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 fresh green chili, chopped
a handful of cilantro, chopped
2-3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt, to taste

1. In a food processor or blender, grind the fenugreek seeds with the garlic, chili and cilantro to a coarse paste.Place fenugreek paste in a medium bowl.

2. Add the tomatoes and beat in the sugar,lemon juice, and salt to taste.Serve with arab bread or as a flavoring for stews.