Hilbeh means fenugreek in Arabic. My first memory of making this cake was actually in the UK shortly after we moved here. My mum had brought a jar of fenugreek with her from the Middle East and I remember sitting in our sunny dining room sifting through a tray of the seeds to remove any chaff and small stones. You don’t really need to do that anymore, with modern agricultural food practices. Fenugreek came crashing back into my life in a big way three years ago when I struggled to establish breastfeeding with my eldest son, as fenugreek is supposed to support milk production. And eating this cake was certainly no hardship!
This dish is a fenugreek and semolina cake and is a great way to end a special meal or to serve with hot drinks when friends pop over. I made this recently for my cousin and her family and was surprised when all four kids polished off most of the tray- much of which was actually my Otis. An unusual taste but still completely delicious- even for little taste buds. This cake looks fabulous and festive so it a great idea for your Christmas party or holiday family gathering.
for the cake
¼ cup fenugreek seeds
2 ½ cups water
3 cups semolina
½ cup plain flour
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp instant dried yeast
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp tahini
for the syrup
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 200C
make the syrup by adding the water, sugar and lemon juice to a saucepan and bring to a boil stirring so the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat and let it cool completely.
Make the cake by adding the fenugreek seeds and water to a saucepan and boil for 15-20 minutes until the seeds more than double in size. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then remove the seeds from the water, but do not discard the water- just keep it to one side.
In a mixing bowl, add the flour, semolina and oil and work together with your fingers until fully combined and sand-like.
Add the fenugreek seeds, cinnamon, baking powder, yeast, salt and fenugreek water to the flour and semolina mixture and work together to form a thick dough. Add more water if needed until it had all come together without overworking.
Spread the tahini over the bottom of your baking dish and then press the dough evenly into the pan.
Cut the cake into the shape you want to serve it in- squares, diamonds or something more elaborate and press an almond into the centre of each piece
Cover with a clean tea towel ad lave somewhere warm for one hour to rise.
Put in the oven for 30 minutes until delicious and light golden brown.
As soon as you remove the hot cake, pour over the cooled syrup and serve hot or cold with tea, coffee or even a festive tipple!