The Many Kinds of Jewish Yemeni Breads
Nearly all Yemeni Jews now live in Israel, with only a few hundred still living in The Yemen, and others scattered around the world. The Israeli Yemeni traditions are very distinct in all areas of their lives, in their prayer, language, dress and their food. Their traditional foods consist of Yemenite soup (chicken soup with the Yemeni spice Hawaiig), Hilba (made from fenugreek seeds) and a number of breads.
Surprisingly the Yemeni people are not over weight, but they generally have problems with diabetes as they get older and this is attributed to the flour, not the sugar in their diet.
The various forms of bread are all made from the same dough and are simply made using firmer dough or a dough with more liquid. Today modern Yemeni housewives still make most of these breads themselves on a weekly basis. The names of these breads are in Hebrew and I have used "H" as the guttural sound that has no corresponding letter in English. Trying to get a recipe out of one of these seasoned cooks is extremely frustrating as they tend to give instructions such as "a little bit of this, and a handful of that", but after several years of making these breads I have figured it out and written the recipes down.
The basic recipe for all of these breads is:
- 1 kilogram of plain flour
- 2 heaped tablespoons sugar,
- 1 level tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast (not used in Jachnun or malawah)
- Approximately 3 cups of lukewarm water, depending on the consistency that you require.
- Some people add an egg, others add baking powder
. Yemeni Pita:
Perhaps the most well known of the Yemeni breads in Israel, the Yemeni pita differs from a normal pita as it is about twice the size and does not open in the middle. Traditionally the pitot were made by slapping them against the inside of a ceramic outdoor oven, now days you can buy a frying pan which has a lid and inside the lid is a heating element so that you don't need to turn the pita over. The dough is made quite firm and a piece is manipulated in the hands to form a round shape, then it is laid in the pan and left until brown. Another variation is to add Hilba – the fenugreek paste – on to the surface of the pita, turning it into a saluf.
The dough is still firm but not enough to be rolled out, it has a sticky consistency. This is perhaps the form of Yemeni bread that is made most, as it is eaten on a Sabbath morning along with the Jahnun, eggs, tomato, hilba, cheese, salad and hot chili sauce. After it has risen twice (about half an hour in all) it is placed in an oiled Yemeni Kubana tin and baked for about 2 hours on 180 centigrade, and is then returned to the oven later in the evening to spend Friday night in the oven at about 100 degrees centigrade.
* A kubana tin is a metal round tin with a lid, as seen in the picture.
Made with the same consistency of dough as the kubana. Small handfuls of the dough are dropped into a pan with a generous amount of oil, but not enough to deep fry. The pieces are turned over, and they swell in the frying pan. These are also eaten with grated tomato, white cheese and hot chili sauce, but some people eat them with sugar powder sprinkled on top. The sweet version is often eaten at Hannuka as an alternative to the Hannuka donuts.
Jachnun looks like a very thick cigar and is baked over night in the oven. You do not need to add yeast to the jachnun dough. You need the dough to be firm enough to roll out. Once the dough been left to rest for about thirty minutes it is split into about 15 pieces. Each piece is rolled out, then spread with margarine. Then it is folded over so that the margarine is inside the dough, and once again it is roled out and the margarine is repeated. This is done several times. On the final time when the dough is rolled out and spread with margarine, it is then rolled up as if it were a roll of paper. In this form it is either frozen, or baked in the oven over night in a kubana tin. Traditionally the Jahnun is eaten with grated tomato, a boiled egg, white cheese and hot chili sauce.
The pastry dough is prepared as in the Jahnun(also with no yeast), with layer upon layer of margarine. It is often referred to as filo pastry but the Yemeni version is a lot thicker and the "leaves" are also thicker. Once the dough is prepared with the margarine layers, the malawah is not rolled up like a Jahnun but is spread out into a circular shape as if it were a pita. Then the Malawah is fried in a frying pan on both sides. The layers gently lift up and it can be crunchy and soft at the same time. Malawah is eaten with grated tomato, white cheese and Yemeni hot chili relish. There is a sweet version where the malawah is cut up while in the pan and mixed with honey, raisons, nuts and cinnamon, this delicious concoction is called Fatoot. Another way of serving it is to roll an uncooked Malawah around feta or Bulgarian cheese and then put it in the oven. This is called Ziva and is rarely made in homes but rather bought frozen or eaten in Yemeni restaurants.
Malawah can be frozen and kept for at least 6 months.
This dough has the runniest consistency and is perhaps the hardest to make. You need a very good non-stick large frying pan. The runny dough is poured into a hot and lightly greased frying pan, it is not turned over, and the surface of the Lahuh gets covered in bubbles which become holes. It has a very unique look to it and is eaten mainly with the Yemeni soup.
In Israeli supermarkets you can buy all of these breads already made and frozen except for the Kubana, which housewives usually prepare for Sabbath on a Friday, and the Yemeni Pita which can be bought from Yemeni restaurants and a few bakeries.