I am late to the party but finally joined the Covid baking club. I’ve got my sourdough starter, a fridge filled with a variety of flours, and a lot of time this winter to bake! I recently listened to a podcast interview with Israeli chefs Gil Hovav and Einat Admony (love the food at her veg restaurant Taim) and they talked about so many of the incredible Yemenite foods they grew up eating, which humbly inspired me to try to make some, including two breads, malawach and jachnun.
Malawach and jachnun are made with the same dough but prepared and used differently. Jachnun is a rolled bread traditionally baked overnight on Shabbat evening to enjoy for lunch while malawach is a fried flatbread dough, like a pancake.
There’s a small vegan cafe in Shuk Levinsky in Tel Aviv where I used to enjoy malawach that was a flaky delicious pile on a platter brimming with olives, grated tomato sauce, schug and salad. It was a delight to sit at the cafe’s open bar facing the street and people watch. Especially on Friday morning, when the street was packed with people stocking up at the many nearby open spice shops as shoppers stood under awnings on the sidewalk placing orders or mingled about inside, picking from large barrels and tubs of spices, nuts and dried fruits.
I was intimidated to try to prepare such delicate dough, and especially to make jachnun, not knowing until the next day if the dish was successful. While I made my jachnun and malawach with whole wheat flour, it can be done with white, to give it a lighter, more delicate texture. But in contrast the nuttiness of the flour and heaviness was good, especially with the malawach. I served my malawach with date syrup but you can also go with the traditional savory route of grated tomato sauce and schug (as jachnun is traditionally served).
I also used a glass jar in lieu of a rolling pin which was good for handling the oily dough to roll it out as thin as tissue paper. I also oiled my counter which helped to prevent the dough from sticking and to more easily roll the dough tightly. I also loved that the jachnun pot was lined with old pita to absorb the oil from the dough. Both the malawach and jachnun were hearty and satisfyingly enjoyed on cold winter days: the warmth of the dough, the spiciness of the schug with the jachnun was warming, and the sweetness of the date syrup made for a perfect sweet treat.
Ingredients (either for 6 jachnun or 6 malawach, or a combination of each)
3 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup date syrup (silwan)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
stale bread to line the pot
Optional to serve:
date syrup (silwan)
4-6 tomatoes, grated
- Mix all of the ingredients except the oil and stale bread to form a dough. Knead the dough (it will be sticky) and let sit for 10-60 minutes.
- Knead again and let sit (I let it sit for about 30 minutes).
- Divide the dough into 6 balls. Pour oil on your work surface (I used my countertop).
- Roll the dough into a 16×16 inch square. As I said above, I used a glass jar which worked well with the oil. I couldn’t get a perfect square but it was good enough for me. Also, the dough needs to be very thin and will tear, but it doesn’t matter because you will next roll it.
- Gently rub oil into the dough.
- Fold the dough into thirds. And then roll the dough again, both the length and width.
- If you are making malawach, I continued to roll the dough lengthwise into a long thin strip and then rolled into into a coil. Then roll the coiled dough as flat as possible. If you are making jachnun, continue to roll the dough from the shorter side, into a log-shape. Gently tug on the dough each time you roll it to keep it as thin as possible.
- If you are making malawach, heat a skillet over medium heat (no oil needs to be added to the pan since there’s so much in the dough!) and gently fry the malawach on both sides until lightly browned. Serve with silwan or grated tomato sauce and schug.
- For the jachnun, heat the oven at 215 degrees Fahrenheit. Place pieces of stale bread in the bottom of an oven safe pot.Take each rolled jachnun and put each on parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together. Cover with tinfoil. Bake overnight for 10-12 hours.
- To make the tomato sauce, simply cut in half and grate tomatoes into a serving bowl. In another bowl, add schug (how much depends on how much heat you prefer). Serve with the jachnun (and malawach for a savory option or date syrup for sweet).