What salt and pepper is to a western cook, hawaij (pronounced “huh-why-adge”) is to a Yemeni one. The ancient spice mixture is used in everything from soup to coffee to baked desserts. Its very name means “mixture” in Arabic, and its uniquely personal blend varies, sometimes significantly depending on the style and preferences of the chef who’s pulling it together.
Dallas chef Eldad Jacobson sang hawaij’s praises in an article in the Dallas Morning News. “Each family has their own mixture. It’s like curry. It’s the same spices, but the ratio differs from family to family … wherever you’d put cumin, I put hawaij.”
The sweet version, sometimes known as hawaij for coffee, is reminiscent of the spice mixture found in chai. It usually includes ginger, clove, cinnamon and cardamom. Some versions might toss in a bit of nutmeg, fennel or anise seeds. After you try mixing a bit into the brew mix for coffee, you’ll want to include it in any number of baked goods and desserts. It’s a real standout in spice-friendly recipes like gingerbread, carrot cake, snickerdoodles and oatmeal cookies.
Hawaij for soup, the savory version, is very similar to curry. It almost always includes cumin, turmeric, black pepper, cardamom and cloves. Other versions can include caraway, nutmeg, saffron, coriander, fenugreek or dried onions. Savory hawaij makes a great dry rub for lamb, pork, beef, chicken, fish and vegetables. Rub the spice blend on about an hour before grilling or roasting to let the flavor seep in. Savory hawaij is also a standout in slow braises and stews, or mixed into rice before or after cooking.
Hawaij-rubbed pork chops from Chef Dana Murrell