Hilba (Fenugreek Relish)
Hilba (or hilbeh) is the Yemeni Arabic word for fenugreek as well as for the traditional spicy relish Yemenite Jews make from fenugreek seeds to add to soup and some dairy dishes or use as a dip with pita or lahouh, a spongy, fermented Yemenite pancake. Yemenite soup with hilba is comforting and delicious, as well as medicinal. Conventional Yemenite wisdom that hilba is healthy and can decrease blood sugar in diabetics has been verified by research. In Israel and elsewhere, research shows that hilba lowers blood sugar and cholesterol, reduces risk of heart disease and more.
A word of warning: Hilba is an acquired taste. It is prepared in a variety of ways, depending on the Yemenite community. Some cook it with tomato and leeks. The one I share here is the version my late mother made, which wasn’t cooked. Mostly umami, this relish is also a touch bitter. Some avoid eating it, believing its pungent odor is secreted in the body’s sweat. This does not deter me. On the contrary, I welcome any opportunity to have it as part of my meal, especially with soup.
- 2 tablespoons ground fenugreek seeds
- 1¾ cups water, divided
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon s’houg, or to taste (available in the freezer section at kosher markets and Trader Joe’s)
- Place fenugreek in a bowl, add 1½ cups water, cover and let sit for about an hour and a half, until most of the water is absorbed and the fenugreek has more than doubled in volume. You may place in the refrigerator overnight. Tip bowl slightly to carefully discard any remaining water without disturbing the fenugreek. Add lemon juice and whip for about 10 minutes (using a whisk, hand mixer or blender) until frothy and light. Add water as you go by the tablespoon, up to ¼ cup. The consistency should be gelatinous and jiggly, not runny. Add s’houg and salt and mix to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.