Friday, July 31, 2009

The Forecast Calls for Flavor - Hilbeh (Yemenite Fenugreek Sauce) - MLLA13

Hilbeh 1

Summer in New York has been rather unseasonable this year. It's rained here on average four of seven days for several weeks. And I'm not just talking passing sun showers or soft overnight soakers, but furious downpours and volcanic thunderstorms that tear the limbs off trees and turn the gutters into the great Mississippi. They last for hours at a stretch. Noah is scheduled to float by any day now.

Even though I don't get what's going on with the atypical weather lately, it does teach a lesson that nothing is all that predictable, not unlike the legume recipe failure I experienced the other day. It wasn't a particularly complicated nor uncommon dish; I used dried beans, the go-to ingredient most cooks turn to when they prepare legumes. Disgusted with the grayish mud of a meal I labored over, I scraped the heap in the trash, and began rummaging around my cupboards for something that would soothe my mood. And there they were: a half-pound bag of fenugreek seeds, something I frequently use as a spice, but certainly not as a key ingredient. Fenugreek, though not generally thought of as a legume, is, indeed, a member of that nitrogen-fixing plant family best known for beans, string and otherwise.

Fenugreek Seeds

It wasn't at all easy to find a recipe that calls for a large amount of fenugreek seeds. I'm still not quite sure how I serendipitously landed on this fabulous Yemenite hot sauce, but I can pretty confidently predict that hilbeh will take you by storm. ~

Hilbeh 2

Hilbeh - Based on several recipes I researched. Here is one of them, from 1 World Recipes.


2 tablespoons dried fenugreek seeds (Soaked overnight covered with cold water, then rinsed and drained. Soaked volume is 1/2 cup.)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, packed
4-5 serranos or other comparably hot fresh peppers, seeds and membranes removed if you want to control the heat
1 large fresh tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt


In a large skillet, warm olive oil briefly over medium heat, then add onion and garlic. Sauté until they are translucent and golden, stirring frequently (about 5 minutes). Add fenugreek seeds, cilantro, hot peppers,and tomato stirring to heat through. In a separate, dry skillet, toast the spices until they are fragrant and lightly browned. Tip spices into larger skillet and mix through. Remove from heat. Transfer hilbeh to food processor or blender and grind into a coarse paste (about 1/2 minute). Transfer to serving bowl. Top with lemon juice and salt, and gently toss with fork. Can be enjoyed warm or chilled. Makes approximately 2 cups. Serve with crackers, pita, or lakhoach, a traditional Yemenite flatbread (recipe link follows).

Lakhoach - From the Lynne's Country Kitchen recipe
This recipe is so elementary that it's impossible to adapt. I have not rewritten it for this post.
This post is for Harini (Sunshine Mom) of Tongue Ticklers hosting My Legume Love Affair 13. The round-up will be online in a few days. I can't wait to see what you all have gotten up to this past month.


  1. This recipe is similar to what people from Maharashtra in India prepare. Maharashtrian cuisine uses fenugreek a lot as the main ingredient. In most parts of India 'fenugreek laddoos' - methi laddoo is eaten during winters and post-pregnancy as it is extremely good for joints and helps strengthen the spine. It is used to make 'khichdi' alongwith rice in the same way as your recipe too. I will request my MIL to make it soon and post the recipe. She is an expert at it and usually makes it in November.

    I did not know that they belong to legume family! Thanks for the tasty recipe:).

  2. Sounds like some unusual weather you are experiencing, and that you have gotten the weather we should be getting here in Australia, half the days here do not seem like winter at all as its sunny with no rain!
    Your recipe looks really interesting! It sounds like it would be quite spicy :)


  3. tjis fenugreek sauce looks delicious! I love the unique flavor of that spice/those seeds....



  4. As Harini said, we Maharashtrians use methi/fenugreek in food. I have a recipe decided for next MLLA-14 :) will be on your way in few days (as soon as you announce)

  5. A very informative post: I didn't know fenugreek was a legume. And you reminded me that I, also, should have some in my cupboard, waiting to be put to use. I like the bread as well.

  6. Wow! A most unique bean dish. Bravo!

  7. Susan, I love this. I adore fenugreek and have never used the seeds like this. A must try!

    One thing about the rain is that it keeps us indoors and in the kitchen :)

  8. Susan, thanks for accodomating me and the daily tiffin for hosting MLLA . As for the recipe , Im not very sure , but saw a similar recipe in Mangoes and curry leaves but with coconut milk in it and it was a srilankan dal recipe. I would surely participate in the event this month.

  9. That looks succulent! You always come up with such great ideas Susan!

    July has been a wet rag of a month here in Scotland too :(

  10. Absolutely lovely. Will try this soon.

  11. Fenugreek has such a nice distinctive flavor. I love it that you incorporated it in your spread. Sounds unique.

  12. I have been swept away by your storm.

    This is exquisite - the flavour so unexpected, the fenugreek so luscious, so creamy.

    I went to sneak a little pre-breakfast treat. Alas. All gone. Luckily I too have a large bag to work through.

  13. Susan, this is a very unique recipe, & only the 2nd recipe which i found that uses fenugreek not as a spice. when i was in india in an ashram, i ate a curry which they had made from the green fenugreek seeds from their farm, which i had thought was some lentil when i ate, but found out later that it was fenugreek. I came back here & made the same kind with the regular fenugreek ( I had posted it last year when i had just about started blogging)..

    Could you taste the teesny bitter of the seeds here? or were they washed away from soaking? I did not taste mine after i cooked.

  14. I only recently started using fenugreek and I quickly fell in love with it. Will try this Yemeni salad for sure. I love Middle-Eastern Flavours!

  15. I had no idea fenugreek was a legume... this looks delicious!

  16. Harini - Of course, I am going to hunt up this recipe while I wait for you to post your MIL's. It sounds marvelous. Thanks for letting me know.

    Rose - I have a very dear friend who lives in Melbourne; she tells me the same thing. Though the weather here has been somewhat more seasonable last week, we are getting more rain today.

    This recipe *is* spicy, but you can adjust depending on how much hot peppers you use.

    Thanks, Rosa. I love fenugreek, too.

    Hi, Mints! Good to see you. I'm very excited about using more fenugreek in my cooking. I look forward to your MLLA recipe. Thanks!

    Simona - Thanks. There are all sorts of plants that are classified as legumes; it's one of the largest botanical families on the planet. There is always something new to discover.

    Thanks, LL!

    Lisa - Thanks. Knowing you, you will love it. Lucy made it recently to rave reviews.

    Hi, Dee! Happy to have you on board as MLLA host. Mango, curry leaves and coconut like the makings of a luscious recipe.

    Jacqueline - Thank you! Seems the whole world is suffering weather weirdness.

    Thank you, A & N!

    Thanks, Farida. Fenugreek does have a unique flavor. I'd like to see it used more often as the star ingredient in recipes.

    Lucy - I know, I know, I know. Isn't it amazing? I adore it. So glad you and your boys did, too.

    Soma - I'm going to look up your recipe from your archives - would love to try it. Yes, now that you mention it, perhaps there is just a touch of bitter, despite the long soak and rinsing, but I found that it added yet another nuance to a complex mix of flavors. This is a raw sauce.

    Hi, Marta! Middle Eastern food is easy to love.

    Thanks, Jessica. Since I started MLLA, I've learned that legumes are more than just a bowl of beans. ; )

  17. Looks delicious - what a nice way to eat fenugreek! I made a sprouted fenugreek "pickle" a few months ago and it was really lovely. I will have to make it again...and post it to your next MLLA event now that I know it is a legume! Thanks.

  18. came here thru sra's blog and got soenamoured of ur photos that i stayed. u have a beautiful blog.
    we make a dessert with fenugreek seeds, never a relish. should try this.

  19. HI there - interesting rendition. "Hilbe" (also chilba/chilbeh) is really a Yemenite JEWISH condiment. It is very popular is Israel but is always made with GROUND *not whole* fenugreek which is soaked overnight. (If you want to try it, use 1 tbsp finely ground fenugreek and 1 cup cold water). We soak it about 15 min and then drain the water and repeat. Then leave it to swell overnight. Next day, DRAIN OFF ALL THE WATER but keep the thick paste and put it in a blender or food processor. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 or 2 HOT green chillies (with seed), 1 or 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 c chopped coriander, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp cumin. You can also add 1/2 of small tomato, if u like. Then whip it for about 2 or 3 minutes until light and fluffy. We eat it with a bread called Kubana which is like a big cake. Hope you try it and enjoy it! BTW, Jews living in India also made this and it was known as "Jews Paste" in the Indian language/s of the region - I guess as it was unique to our community. Jewish Yemenites probably adopted it from the traders from India a very long time ago.

  20. Anonymous - Thanks for all the info. Your recipe sounds outstanding. I shall make it soon. Would love to try Kubana, too.