Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hilbe - the WonderSpread of Yemenite Jews

Hilbe, a spread/dip made of Fenugreek seeds or leaves, is a staple of Yemenite Jewish cuisine, and is usually eaten at one or more of the Shabbat meals. It goes amazingly with pita bread. The recipes vary, and can include garlic, lemon juice, and various herbs and spices. 

Fenugreek itself has some wonderful nutritional benefits, being rich in calcium and magnesium - and also some very special health properties. It has a beneficial effect on blood sugar regulation and is known as a milk-supply booster for nursing mothers. I had taken Fenugreek capsules in the past, when I reckoned I needed to build up my supply, and I reckon they helped a bit, but nothing very dramatic. However, after a Shabbat of enjoying homemade hilbe spread in very moderate amounts, I suddenly felt a very prominent increase in my milk supply, something I didn't even think of or aim for (since my baby is now almost one year old and I figured we have a pretty steady supply-demand thing going). I suppose this effect was due to pre-soaking the Fenugreek seeds for a couple of days, thus allowing the special plant components to activate.

I think that's really worth noting, as capsules are so much more expensive - and, apparently, less effective - than the real thing. I'm not sure you can buy Fenugreek anywhere, though. In Israel, the seeds are available in health food stores, and the leaves can be found at certain markets in season. 

Here is the recipe we used:

- about 1\3 cup dry Fenugreek seeds. Place in a bowl of water for 48 hours, changing the water every day. The seeds will swell considerably. 
- a bunch of fresh coriander, about 3\4 cup shredded
- 2 big cloves of fresh garlic
- juice of one lemon
- salt and pepper to taste

Once the Fenugreek seeds are soaked and drained, put everything into your food processor (we have a new one, and this recipe was its stunning debut). Blend thoroughly and add water as needed, to reach desired consistency (thicker/thinner, however you like it). Once finished, it should have a refreshing characteristic smell, and look bright green, sort of like this:

Image taken from here. Our internet connection is so slow I can't even upload a photo of what we made, sorry!

A word of warning: hilbe has a dominant smell; some like it, some don't mind, some wish they could do without it. The smell can later come out in your sweat, or even in your baby's diaper. The Fenugreek capsules don't smell when you take them, but the smell comes out with a vengeance later through all your pores.

Update: shortly after writing this post, I experienced a further increase in my milk supply, up to the kind of engorgement that happens a couple of days after having a baby, when milk "comes in". It was really quite uncomfortable and painful, complete with plugged ducts. Thankfully the plugs dislodged after a night of nursing almost continuously, but the affected area still feels bruised and tender. I can attribute it to nothing but eating the hilbe 24 hours previously, and will be careful with the quantities next time - I plan to restrict myself to 1 teaspoonful (compared to the 1 tablespoonful I had eaten) and see whether it has any influence. 


Lady Anne said...

Goodness! It's hard to believe your son is almost a year old. I still tend to think of him as a new-born.

I'd always heard that beer makes milk, but depending upon your inclinations and tolerance, that can be problematical.

BFife said...

I tried to make this for our homeschool group (we were learning about Isreal! And all of us are lactating...). It almost tasted like uncooked falafel or uncooked chickpeas. Did I do something wrong? I soaked the dried seeds for 2 days, changing the water, then blended it with the other ingredients. Thanks!

Mrs. Anna T said...

BFife, I'm sorry the recipe didn't work out for you. I have no idea what exactly went wrong, but sometimes you need to tweak the ingredients a bit. Everybody makes hilbe a little differently, so it's not like there's a One True Way of doing it. Try to poke around the 'net for some hilbe recipes and see if you find one that works better for you.