Hilbeh – Fenugreek Cake Recipe by Grandma Reva

Arabs throughout history had an uncanny ability to incorporate foods with medicinal properties into dishes. Many times superfoods like fenugreek are not palatable and almost bitter on their own. But the health properties of fenugreek are too massive to ignore, so Palestinians figured out how to put this seed into a popular cake called Hilbeh. 

Hilbeh is a Palestinian cake (also popular in Lebanon and Syria)  that uses farina, or cream of wheat, along with fenugreek seeds. The cake’s rustic texture is  reminiscent of namoura (semolina cake) but it is vegan since it doesn’t use any dairy or butter. The fat of choice is olive oil, which soaks in with the farina and flour overnight to ensure extra flavor throughout. Hilbeh is not to be confused with the Yemenese Hilbah, which is a frothy condiment also containing fenugreek seeds used as a condiment with soups and stews.  

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Fenugreek seeds have also been used in ancient Indian and Chinese medicine for millennia. Holistic doctors credit fenugreek for increasing lactation and alleviating PMS and menopausal symptoms in women, increasing testosterone for men, soothing sore throat, and even fighting colon cancer. Since the seed  is rather bitter when eaten alone or boiled in a tea, Indians actually chew on fenugreek seeds with a colorful candy coating after meals for better digestion and to cleanse the palate. 

 

fenugreek

With hilbeh,  Palestinians also stood by the adage that “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”  The cake itself is sugar free, so you can adjust the amount of sugar syrup you want to use according to your preference. Traditionally however, the hilbeh is soaked with copious amounts of the syrup.
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My mother-in-law, Auntie Reva, who  is now in her mid 80s,  still manages to find a way to make treats for the family whenever she has the energy. I can’t recall a single time that she bought processed sweets, always preferring to bake an Arab treat with ingredients that were familiar to her. She soaks the fenugreek overnight, to ensure a milder flavor and more digestibility. Soaking the  seeds also removes lectins, or anti-nutrient proteins that can inhibit mineral absorption. This is an ancient dessert that she has made at least twice a year since I have known her, and I wanted to preserve that special time with her in the video below:

HILBEH – PALESTINIAN FARINA FENUGREEK CAKE

1 cup farina (cream of wheat)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup olive oil, I like HARVEST PEACE (Use promocode Blanchetv and get 10% off at http://www.harvestpeace.com )
1/2 cup fenugreek seeds
3 cups water
1/2 tsp baking soda
20 grams yeast
For syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Mix the cream of wheat, flour, and olive oil well, and keep in a bowl overnight. Soak the fenugreek seeds in 3 cups of water overnight as well. The next day, cook the seeds in their water and simmer for about 30 minutes, then set aside.
Make the sugar syrup, by combining the water and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 or 20 minutes, the syrup should be thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Finally add the lemon juice and set the syrup aside to cool.
Mix the yeast with 1 cup of the fenugreek water, while the water is still very warm but not too hot. This will activate the yeast. Stir the 1 cup of fenugreek water and yeast into the cream of wheat mixture. Then add the cooked fenugreek seeds and combine well. Spread the batter into a 9 by 13 inch pan and let rise for at least 30 minutes to one hour. Then cut the batter into squares before baking in the oven. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes, or until the top is nice and browned. While the cake is still hot, pour the sugar syrup on top. Wait about 15 minutes for the syrup to soak in before serving.

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