Hawaij, a Yemenite Spice Blend
Lately, I’ve been noticing certain occurrences, coincidences, tapping me on the shoulder, and I’m learning that it’s important to pay attention when these things happen. They say things come in threes, and that’s how I thought to take notice of this spice mix. First, I read this poignant article on how loss motivated a return to culture in the case of Chef Michael Solomonov and (a restaurant I’ve been dying to visit) Zahav in Philly. And hawaij is mentioned. Second, I was flipping through one of my favorite author’s cookbooks, Claudia Roden and the Book of Jewish food – and, again, this spice blend jumped off the page at me. And third…it’s Rosh Hashanah – Happy New Year to those that celebrate!
Hawaij is actually a Yemenite Jewish tradition, a ground spice mixture that consists of black pepper, saffron, turmeric and cardamom. In Aden, a port city of Yemen, the blend is slightly different – it still has black pepper and cardamom but includes cumin and coriander (according to Claudia). Of course, other sources include clove, cinnamon, and even ginger in the mix – it’s definitely one of those traditions that differ by family history. The turmeric in the blend obviously draws parallels to curry, but to me, the flavor is floral, peppery, earthy, and astringent from the cardamom.
It’s typically used in soups and stews and to flavor rice, but it also makes a killer spice rub. I envision some crispy chicken thighs rubbed with hawaij drizzled with a delicious pan sauce from the chicken drippings, stock and butter. That just made me so hungry. I also love the idea of lively-ing up a basic fall/winter brothy soup with a small teaspoonful of this stuff. And, you know, why not a tender, fall-off-the-bone osso bucco seasoned with hawaij and served with a fall mushroom risotto? I’m motivated – so check back for recipes with hawaij soon…