Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! I was delighted when a copy of Bone Soup and Flipped Bread: The Yemenite Jewish Table (Gefen Publishing House) by Sue Spertus Larkey arrived in my mailbox. Richly illustrated with fabulous photographs throughout, both modern and archival, this unique culinary treasure captures the richness of a dwindling culture.
Sue Spertus Larkey lovingly shares the history, culinary heritage, and food traditions of the over two-thousand-year-old Yemenite Jewish community, as well as the changes that followed immigration to Israel in the 1950’s. Notable is the strong impact of Yemenite cuisine on today’s Israeli food scene.
The chapter on the indispensable Yemenite larder is followed by three sections devoted to more than 100 step-by-step detailed recipes for everyday meals, life-cycle events, and holidays. These are prefaced by descriptions of the many colorful customs central to Yemenite celebrations, along with personal stories and tips generously shared by Yemenite cooks. The result is a written record that will help preserve their treasured food heritage. Appendices include kitchen information, a chronological guide, maps, where and how to purchase products, a recipe index, plus an extensive bibliography.
Larkey, who has lived in Israel for over 30 years, writes: “Just when
winter hits its peak of frenzied rain and snow, our hearts are warmed by the neighborly exchange of traditional Purim mishloah manot, small plates of homemade pastries, candies, and dried fruit. Every season presents a fresh opportunity to feast on special foods.”
The menu of the Jews of Yemen is not broad or sophisticated. They enjoy a singular repertoire of foods infused with a handful of aromatic spices, and a huge selection of unique breads. Larkey writes: “Despite the erosion of many facets of Yemenite culture, the community has been particularly successful in preserving its ancient food-ways.”
Bone Soup and Flipped Bread is enlightening and inspiring. Cookbook collectors will definitely want to add this terrific culinary treasure to their cookbook shelf.
ABRAHAM’S SOUP / SABBATH SOUP
Bone soup and bread are the main attractions at almost every meal. Seasonal vegetables provide diversity. Spring might suggest whole, young garlic heads. In the winter, cauliflower and root vegetables are appropriate. Abraham’s Soup, or “blessed soup,” is daily bone soup enriched with meat to create a rich broth for the Sabbath.
Yemenite cooks simmer the meat and bones for about 10 minutes, skimming off the particles that rise to the surface. The water is poured off and sometimes the meat is even rinsed. Fresh water is added and the real cooking begins. You can do this or follow the usual western method below.
Yemenite villagers like to add a little body to the broth with a roux-like flour-liquid mixture called ma’lutah. Habbanis make ma’lutah with sorghum flour spiked with hawayij. If you wish to thicken your soup, make the ma’lutah as described in step 5.
1 lb (500 g) meaty osso bucco bones
2 lbs (1 kg) lean short ribs or brisket
1 large onion, peeled and stuck with 2 whole cloves
6 celery stalks with leaves, sliced lengthwise and cut into small pieces
2 scallions, chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
1 large head garlic cloves, peeled
2 large tomatoes, grated on the large holes of the grater.
3/4 Tbsp hawayij tsufra (see recipe below)
Ground black pepper
3 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
- Place the osso bucco bones and meat in a large soup pot with 10 cups of water.
- Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, skimming off the particles that float to the surface.
- Add the onion and half the sliced celery. Simmer the meat 1 1/2 hours or until it is fairly tender.
- Add the scallions, potatoes, and the remaining celery. Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press into the soup. Add the tomatoes and hawayij; season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, if desired, make the ma’lutah thickener.
- For the ma’lutah: Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and pour in 1 cup of the soup stock. Stir vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Add another 1/2 cup stock and stir again until smooth. Cook the ma’lutah on medium heat for one minute, or until the mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon lightly, and the raw flour taste disappears.
- Stir the thickener into the soup and cook another 10-15 minutes until the soup thickens slightly.
SAN’A STYLE HAWAYIJ TSUFRA / SAN’A STYLE YELLOW SPICE MIX FOR SOUPS AND STEWS
Makes 1/3 cup
The bright yellow (tsufra) color of turmeric gives this sophisticated hawayij its name. Add a teaspoon or more to soups, stews, fish, etc., according to taste.
1 Tbsp ground cumin seeds
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 tsp ground turmeric
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 Tbsp freshly grated dried ginger root or ground ginger
- Combine the spices.
- Transfer to a glass jar, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
GAHNUN / JIHNUN / JAHNUN / ADENESE SABBATH ROLLS
Makes 14 rolls
Gahnun are believed to have originated in Aden, the tiny strip of land jutting out from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. These most unusual rolls, which are called jihnun / jahnun in Yemen, have a quaintly unsophisticated quality that seems to reflect an ancient attempt to create warm pastry for the Sabbath. Curiously, while Jews in towns and villages across Yemen adopted this Adenese specialty, the Jews of San’a never embraced gahnun, remaining firmly devoted to kubaneh.
Like kubaneh, gahnun is eaten after Sabbath prayers. Even for those who forego Sabbath services, gahnun is the showcase item on a menu that includes its traditional handmaidens –lasis, roasted eggs and tomato dip. Other embellishments could be zawm and salads.
My friend Drora Sofer taught me how to make gahnun with a recipe handed down from her grandmother to her mother. Drora’s grandparents responded to the Zionist call of the early 1900s to come to rebuild Palestine. As members of a movement called Pirhay Teiman, the Flowers of Yemen, they set off on camels, with high hopes and massive curved jambiyah daggers for defense. They purchased fine mocha coffee to barter for ship’s fare from Aden to Palestine. I include here the precise instructions recounted by Drora, imitating her mother’s original, chirpy Yemenite sing-song. Even without the melodious instructions, gahnun is a fascinating process of pulling and stretching simple dough until it is paper-thin, and then folding and rolling it into a fat roll. Then of course, there is the Sabbath morning joy of retrieving the rolls from their special pot and eating them in the traditional ways. Fastidious diners like to slice the rolls into bite-sized rounds. Others are content to take bites from the roll. My kids love to eat the rolls slowly, carefully unraveling the furls in order to reveal each new, chewy layer. This is by far the most fun, though inelegant, way to enjoy gahnun. However you eat them, be sure to dip the pieces in tomato sauce.
Note: The dough must rest in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before forming the rolls and another 2-24 hours before baking. Like kubaneh, gahnun can spend a good 16 or more hours in the oven. Because the rolls are fully cooked after baking about 4 hours, they can be made in advance and just reheated before serving. They can also be prepared through step 18, wrapped in foil and frozen. Before baking, defrost the rolls until they are just cool. Place in the prepared pot and bake as directed.
Equipment: 16 cup (4 liter) kubaneh pot with tight fitting lid, or baking dish, or cookie tin with tight fitting lid, tray, baking parchment large enough to line the bottom and sides of the pot plus extra for covering the bread.
2 lbs (1 kg) flour, sifted
2 Tbsp single acting baking powder or 1 Tbsp double acting baking powder
1 Tbsp salt
3 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 cups hot water, just hot enough to stick your finger in and say “ouch.”
1 1/2 cups tap water
1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp (1 1/4 sticks/150 g) butter or margarine (keep chilled until step 9) or 1/2 cup oil
Oil for greasing the work surface, tray, the pan and baking parchment
4 pieces of firm bread, crusts removed, or 2 pita breads sliced horizontally
- Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl; stir until they are well combined.
- Dissolve the honey in the hot water.
- Pour the honey-water into the dry ingredients. Add the tap water and stir until the mixture forms a rather shaggy mass. If there is unabsorbed flour, add water a tablespoon at a time just until the mass clings together.
- Place the dough on the counter and knead as Yemenites knead firm dough, by forming a log and rolling, or rocking it back and forth until the log is about 9″ (23 cm) long. Hold one end down and with your other hand pull up the other end by shaking and stretching. Then fold the dough over to form a shorter log. If the dough still seems dry, knead with wet hands. Do this for about 3 minutes. The dough will become supple and might be a bit sticky or tacky.
- Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth and “Now go clean the living room.” (Let the dough rest 30 minutes.)
- “Give the dough some air.” Knead about 6 times. “Now go sweep the porch.” (Let the dough rest 30 minutes).
- Repeat the kneading and chores one more time. The dough will become smooth and elastic.
- Wrap the dough well in greased parchment and put in a plastic bag. Chill 3-4 hours.
- Grease a tray with some oil. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. Remove the shortening from the refrigerator and divide it into 14 pieces. Grease the pot and the parchment with oil. Place the paper, greased side up, in the pot, flatten the bottom and press up against the sides of the pot.
- Dampen the bread and lay the pieces in the bottom of the pot. Lay a piece of greased parchment on the bread, greased side up.
- Divide the dough into 14 roughly equal pieces. Dividing the dough is a source of pride for Yemenite bakers. There are often jovial debates, accompanied by much boasting, as to how many workable balls one can obtain from 2 lbs (1 kg) of dough. As you see, 14 is my optimum number.
- Roll each piece into a ball and place on the greased tray. Cover the balls with a damp cloth and let rest 30 minutes.
- Use a few drops of oil to grease a 16″ (40.5 cm) circle on your work surface.
- Pick up 1 ball. Keep the rest covered with the damp cloth. Flatten the ball between your palms. Gently pull and stretch the dough from the center out. Be careful not to let your nails tear the dough. Turn the dough as you stretch until you have a circle with a thinner center.
- Place the dough on the greased surface. Working from the center out, use your fingers to press the dough out until the center is very thin. Now, hold down the center with one hand and gently lift and stretch the dough with the other hand. Sometimes it helps to slide your hand under the dough. Lift and stretch it. Be patient. The dough may fight by springing back when you stretch it. Hold down the stretched part with one hand while you pull another section. Keep increasing the thinness and size of the center area until it is almost translucent. Continue to work your way around the dough, increasing the area of the thin center by holding down and stretching, until only the outer edges are left. Look at the circle and see if there are any thicker spots. Gently lift and stretch the dough until it is uniformly tissue paper thin. Very gently pull out the edges, a little at a time. You’ll be surprised how far they can stretch. Be very gentle to avoid tearing. You will have a circle or rectangle of about 10″ x 12″ (20 cm x 30 cm).
- By now, the shortening will be soft. If it is not, soften it very briefly in the microwave. Gently dab about one-third of one piece of shortening over the entire surface of the dough. Then gently smear the dabs to make a thin film over the face of the dough. If using oil, brush the surface with oil.
- Lift one long side of the dough and fold it to the center. Use another one-third of the piece of shortening to smear the top of the folded part or brush with oil. Fold over the other side as you would fold an envelope. Smear it with what is left of the piece of shortening, or brush with oil.
- Starting at the bottom, lift about 1″ (2.5 cm) of the end and stretch it gently. Roll the dough up, stretching as you roll. Periodically, gently pull the strip widthwise so the roll remains about 4″ (10 cm) wide. Take care not to be too vigorous as it is easy to push a thumb or finger right through the fragile layers. Keep rolling until you reach the end. Pull it over and press gently to seal.
- Place the gahnun roll in the pot, seam side down. Make sure the rolls do not touch the sides of the pan as you place them within. Finish the remaining balls in the same manner. Traditionally, the rolls are placed in the pot in layers, each layer facing an alternate direction. Fold the parchment over the top. Cover the pot. Chill 2-24 hours.
- Bake the gahnun in a preheated 212 ̊-225ºF (100 ̊-110ºC) oven, or place on a heated electric warming tray.
- Just before you go to bed, remove the pot lid and pour 1/4 cup of water carefully around the edge between the pot sides and the paper. Replace the lid and return to the oven or the hot tray.
- Serve gahnun hot, with roasted eggs and grated tomato sauce or honey. The top rolls will be golden and puffy, the middle rolls will be ridged from the weight of the top rolls, and the bottom rolls will be dark and chewy. Gahnun may be stored 1-2 days at room temperature but must be served warm. The rolls reheat well in the microwave or oven.
For some people, the most appealing thing about gahnun is the delicious roasted eggs that traditionally accompany the rolls. The eggs range in color from pale beige, the color achieved by boiling them with onion peels, to glossy chestnut brown. The deeper shade of brown is produced by adding coffee to the cooking liquid.
If you’ve never experienced the pleasure of eating a roasted egg, you’ll be surprised to find that the tawny shell harbors a delicate, coffee-cream colored “white,” and if the eggs are perfectly made they will conceal a tiny, still creamy center. The slightly nutty taste is delicious. Roasted eggs give a mysterious flavor to egg salad or salad Nicoise.
1 egg per person, plus a couple of extras as someone is sure to want another one (make sure there are no cracks; wash eggs well)
Clean brown peels from 4 large onions
1/2 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Equipment: A lidded pot, suitable for both the stove and oven, large enough to hold the eggs with at least 1″ (2.5 cm) headroom to spare
- Preheat the oven to 212º-225ºF (100º-110ºC).
- Put a layer of onion peels in the bottom of the pot. Put in the eggs and top with the remaining onion peels. Add water to cover and simmer the eggs for 8 minutes.
- Add the oil and coffee. If needed, add more hot water to cover by 1″ (2 cm).
- Cover the pot and transfer to the oven or an electric warming tray. Bake the eggs for at least 5 hours, or overnight.
Norene Gilletz is the leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada. She is the author of twelve cookbooks and divides her time between work as a food writer, food manufacturer, consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer, and cookbook editor. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada and her motto is “Food that’s good for you should taste good!” For more information, visit her website at www.gourmania.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org