Jerusalem is one of my favorite cookbooks for the traditional middle east recipes written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. You may download the e-book here. I find several vegetarian recipes that we, Indians, could very well try without demur since most of the ingredients are readily available here. Helbeh is one such recipe that caught my attention as it is an exceptional semolina cake prepared with fenugreek seeds and almonds. 

Helbeh-4 Helbeh
Helbeh, a traditional sooji-fenugreek seeds cake, popular in Jerusalem

Fenugreek seeds (vendhayam) are the commonly used spices mainly added into spicy curries. We also take overnight soaked fenugreek seeds along with buttermilk or fermented rice water (neeraharam) in the morning particularly during summer to keep us cool.

vendhyam Helbeh
Soaked fenugreek seeds

Besides we prepare halwa (kali) using fenugreek seeds & rice specially for lactating mothers. Interestingly the same tradition has also been practiced in middle east, where new mothers are greeted with fenugreek seeds cake bars (helbeh) by their family & friends.

Vendhyam-recipes Helbeh
Fennugreek seeds (vendhayam) recipes

Helbeh Recipe:

Helbeh is almost similar to the traditional semolina cakes prepared here during Christmas. I have baked helbeh using semolina, whole wheat flour & coarsely ground almonds, and prepared the syrup using palm sugar. Now the recipe for helbeh adapted from Jerusalem as below:

Helbeh-5 Helbeh
Helbeh cake soaked in palm sugar syrup


Dry ingredients:
Semolina (rava)1/2 Kg (500 grams)
Whole wheat flour1/4 cup
Coarsely ground almonds1/4 cup
Fenugreek seeds1 tbsp
Instant yeast (fast-acting yeast)1/2 tbsp (or 1 and 1/2 tsp)
Powdered palm sugar crystals (panang karkandu)1 tsp
Baking powder1/2 tsp
Salt1/2 tsp
Helbeh-ingr1 Helbeh
Wet ingredients:
Olive oil1/4 cup (50 ml)
Neutral oil (sunflower oil)1/4 cup (50 ml)
Melted ghee (clarified butter)1 tbsp (15 ml)
Hot fenugreek water 250 ml
Helbeh-ingr2 Helbeh
For syrup:
Palm sugar300 grams
Water300 ml
Rose water2 tbsp
Lemon juice1 tbsp
For garnishing:
Blanched almondsas needed
Helbeh-ingr3 Helbeh

Helbeh cake making:

  • Boil fenugreek seeds until soft, separate them from boiling water and keep aside.
  • Add all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well.
  • Pour the oil one by one and mix well until each particle is coated with oil.
  • Pour hot fenugreek water (and hot water, if fenugreek water is inadequate) into the flour mixture and knead into a smooth dough.
  • Cover the dough with a towel and keep the bowl in a warm place for half an hour.
  • Grease the baking dish (9″ round pan) with ghee.
  • Place the dough over the greased pan and smooth the surface using a measuring cup as shown below.
  • Draw lines using a knife to create diamond patterns.
  • Place a blanched almond at the center of each diamond bar.
  • Leave aside for another half an hour for proofing.
  • At the end of the second proofing preheat the oven at 220 deg C.
  • Place the cake dish over the low baking rack and bake for 20 min.
  • Then bake at 200 deg C for another 20 minutes after placing it on the high baking rack.
Helbeh-cake-baking Helbeh
Helbeh recipe
  • Heat a sauce pan with water & powdered palm sugar and bring it to a boil.
  • When the sugar is dissolved and the syrup begins to boil, reduce the heat.
  • Pour lemon juice and simmer for 5 min.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Pour rose water into the pan when the syrup reaches the room temperature and leave aside.
  • Remove the cake dish from oven when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  • Pour the syrup immediately over the hot cake.
  • Keep the dish covered for 24 hours to 36 hours allowing the cake steeped in syrup.
  • Enjoy the soft moist fenugreek cake bars at any time. 🙂
Helbeh-cake-bars Helbeh
Helbeh soaked in palm sugar syrup

Tips & Tweaks:

  • The original recipe calls for all purpose flour in place of whole wheat flour & pine nuts instead of almonds.
  • If you are using regular yeast, you can activate the yeast by adding into lukewarm fenugreek water and then pour the activated yeast solution into the flour mixture.
  • Lemon juice is added into the syrup mainly to prevent the formation of sugar crystals at room temperature, so it is an essential ingredient for making the syrup.
  • There is no sweetener added into the cake dough, and the sweetness comes from the syrup only. So we need to add the sugar accordingly while preparing the syrup.
  • I have prepared the syrup with equal measures of water & sugar. Since the coarse semolina absorbs a good volume of liquids compared to fine semolina, I had to pour the syrup liberally enabling it to reach the bottom of cake.
  • We can also prepare the syrup using jaggery, cardamom & dried ginger as shown below:
Jaggery-helbeh Helbeh
Helbeh soaked in jaggery syrup

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