My Citizens – the last few days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have placed all the civilized nations of the world on high alert, few more so than Israel (a country that enjoys close ties to both nations and which has always embraced former Soviet Jews as citizens and allies alike).
Until yesterday, Israel had publicly sent doctors to Ukraine and conducted back-channel negotiations with the Kremlin – but in a move that shocked secular and religious Israelis alike, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett secretly flew Friday night to Moscow ON THE SABBATH to try and negotiate a permanent cease-fire with Vladimir Putin.
For a religious Israeli politician to violate the proscription against travel on Shabbat (NEVER done except under life-or-death circumstances) is a stark underscore as to how serious this war is becoming as a threat to established world peace. To honor this bold mission, I wish to share a classic Jewish bread of the Sabbath enjoyed throughout Israel.
Kubaneh (Arabic: كبانة ; Hebrew: כֻּבַּאנֶה), is a leavened bread baked in a pot with a tightly-sealed lid, where it cooks in its own vapors within a pot that has been lined with oil or fat.
Traditionally eaten by the Jews of Yemen on Sabbath days and holidays, the pot is usually placed in an oven (formerly a clay oven where it was laid upon dying embers or coals) shortly before nightfall where it remained until the following day, when it was eaten for the Sabbath meal or at brunch.
As noted in this excerpted article on the fascinating background of kubaneh I found on wsj.com:
MANY MORNINGS, Danish-Israeli master baker Uri Scheft wakes before sunrise to tend to the loaves at New York City’s Breads bakeries or his Lehamim bakeries in Israel.
But on days off at home, he likes to take it easier, baking to deliver maximum satisfaction while enjoying the luxury of a sleep-in. Nothing fits the bill quite so well as the Yemenite bread kubaneh. Lofty, rich – it’s a make-ahead project that resembles the three-way love child of brioche, monkey bread and a Pillsbury crescent roll.
Mr. Scheft didn’t fully appreciate the brilliance of this bread until he met Israeli pastry chef Rinat Tzadok, the child of Yemenite and Moroccan immigrants. (Their collaborations include recipe development for the businesses as well as their 1-year-old daughter, Hallel.)
One Saturday at the home of Ms. Tzadok’s parents north of Tel Aviv, Mr. Scheft tasted her mother’s kubaneh fresh from the oven.
“I didn’t think anything like it existed,” he said of the mahogany rolls baked in a cluster of snail-shell swirls. “It was warm, buttery and sophisticated, savory and slightly sweet at the same time.”
Kubaneh is a unique, flaky and beloved bread first made by the Jews of Yemen – it became an Israeli staple once tens of thousands of them were secretly airlifted to the country in Operation Magic Carpet. Operation Magic Carpet is a nickname for Operation ‘On Wings of Eagles’ (Hebrew: כנפי נשרים, Kanfei Nesharim), which between June 1949 and September 1950 brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel.
During the course of the classified operation, the overwhelming majority of Yemenite Jews – 47,000 from Yemen, 1,500 from Aden, as well as 500 from Djibouti and Eritrea and some 2,000 Jews from Saudi Arabia – were airlifted to Israel. Yemenite Jews now make up an important part of the country’s demographic and their cuisine (and kubaneh!) is beloved by virtually all Israelis of all nationalities.
Kubaneh is usually accompanied by haminados (eggs that are baked in their shells along with the bread), and resek agvaniyot (a grated tomato condiment).
A proud Jewish community existed in Yemen for thousands of years, until the 20th century when pogroms, persecution and discrimination forced the Jewish population to flee Yemen en masse, and to seek refuge in Israel. Only a very small community of Jews remains in Yemen today.
Yemenite Jews traditionally made kubaneh from sorghum flour or cornmeal during the regular weekdays, but used wheat flour on Sabbath days and holidays. Some would add to the dough either sugar, honey or black cumin. Baking was done in a greased pot, tightly sealed, and left to cook overnight.
The kubaneh was eaten the following day while it was still hot, and many of the diners have been known to ask for the qaʻeh – the hard and oily lower crust, known for its delicate taste.
During the winter months, some were known to insert in the kubaneh the fatty-tail of sheep, or some other piece of meat, which was baked overnight along with the dough, and have thereby turned the kubaneh into an unforgettable delicacy; women after childbirth might be served such a kubaneh.
Kubaneh is baked by Yemenite Jews overnight and eaten for breakfast or brunch on Shabbat, and has become more broadly popular throughout Israel. It can also be served with zhoug (similar to a spicy Yemenite salsa), clarified butter, and hot pepper-garlic chutney in addition to the grated tomato condiment.
Kubaneh was featured in the popular Israeli television series, The Beauty and the Baker, as the lead character Amos Dahari, played by Aviv Alush (who himself is of Yemenite and Tunisian Jewish descent) is from a Yemenite Jewish family.
A few scenes from a typical Yemenite Shabbat in Israel may be watched here:
To make kubaneh, you will need a few specific ingredients and techniques to best achieve the croissant-like texture of the bread. First off – butter. LOTS AND LOTS OF BUTTER!
In Yemen, this butter would have been smen, the fermented butter that I have taken to the next level by cold-smoking it! Failing the availability of this outré ingredient, just mix some European-style cultured butter with my favorite everyday butter – KerryGold from Ireland! This will replicate some of the tenderizing aspects of smen and the flavor.
You will also need the proper kind of pot to make this long-cooked, low-temp bread – remember it must cook for 8-10 HOURS in a low oven started before Friday night sundown so you aren’t violating the rule about STARTING to cook after the Shabbat. This pot is the classic used in Israel to make kubaneh, or a Dutch oven would work as well.
To make bread, you’ll also – obviously – want top-quality bread flour – this is My preferred brand for this particular recipe.
Virtually every kubaneh is baked unflavored, but I prefer a most complex version redolent of Yemenite spicing – in other words, I’m taking a cue from a country across the Straits of Aden from Yemen – Eritrea! Eritrean spiced bread, known as hembesha, is delicious and I’ve followed their lead in creating a savory, well-spiced kubaneh!
I use a Yemenite spice blend known as Hawaij – you can buy it pre-made online here or try My homemade version as elucidated here (my recipe for Yemenite salsa to serve with kubaneh, known as zhoug, is also at this link!).
Citizens – please join Me in honoring the Israeli government for trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine war. We all need this to happen – and soon…
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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