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Posted on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8 a.m.

Flavorful Yemenite meat patties the perfect way to celebrate International Hot and Spicy Food Day

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

It's International Hot and Spicy Food Day — what a fabulous thing to celebrate in the midst of winter's chill.

Rather than relying upon the usual suspects — chili, for example — I thought I'd branch out into a different cuisine today: that of Yemen, which lies south of Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula. Yemenite food is generally very spicy, with lots of flavor.

For my recent birthday, my boyfriend Craig bought me the wonderful cookbook 1,000 Jewish Recipes, by Faye Levy. It offers traditional and innovative recipes from all over the world. Faye's mother-in-law is from Yemen and has taught Faye many traditional dishes and family favorites which are offered in the book.

With regard to the dish I've featured today, Faye writes:

"For Friday's lunch, in the midst of cooking the Shabbat meals, my mother-in-law often prepared beef patties when her five children still lived at home. My husband says the aromas of the dishes she was preparing for the Friday night dinner were so enticing that everyone seemed to become extra-hungry at lunchtime. She quickly sautéed these patties in a skillet, but you can grill or broil them instead as hamburgers. She slipped them inside fresh pita bread, with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and pickles."

Featuring a variety of tastes and textures — hot and cold, spicy and soothing, tender and crisp — the sandwiches made with these Yemenite patties make a simple but delicious meal. You can vary the spice level to your own tastes, which makes them wonderfully adaptable to suit brave souls (like the Yemenites, who are noted for fiery foods) or those whose taste buds are somewhat more timid.

In a Twitter conversation with Faye the other night, I wrote that we'd loved the patties, even though we hadn't made them exceptionally hot. She wrote back: "If you want more 'Yemenite spicy' double the cumin, turmeric & black pepper & be sure to serve zehug," which is a hot pepper chutney. Feel free to either take her advice or heed her warning!

Yemenite Meat Patties
(slightly adapted from Faye Levy's 1,000 Jewish Recipes)

1 small onion, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 slices white bread, crumbled fine
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic paste
1 egg
3 tablespoons oil, for cooking
thinly sliced onion, tomato, pickle, and/or cucumber, for serving
pita bread, for serving
zehug, for serving (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, combine onion, salt, bread crumbs, beef, lamb, cilantro, cumin, paprika, turmeric, red pepper flakes, pepper, garlic paste and egg.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Divide the meat mixture into 4 large patties, and place them into the skillet. Brown them on each side, then lower heat to medium; cook 5 minutes per side, or until desired doneness.

Serve each patty in a pita bread with onion, tomato, and cucumber.

Makes 4 generous sandwiches.

Note: If you leave out the bread crumbs, these will be too moist to hold together as patties; they would then make an excellent variation on Sloppy Joes.

1/4 pound hot green chiles (i.e.: jalapeno or serrano)
1 cup garlic cloves, peeled
4-5 tablespoons water
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin (optional)

Remove stems from peppers. Put garlic and peppers in food processor and purée until finely chopped and well blended. If necessary, add a few tablespoons water, just enough to enable food processor to chop mixture. Add cilantro and process until blended. Add salt, pepper, and cumin, if using.

Keep zehug in a jar in the refrigerator, where it will keep about 1 week, or you can freeze it.

Makes 1 cup.

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Mary Bilyeu writes for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, telling about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests, meeting new friends ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions, comments, or suggestions:

Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — where she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related; and look for her monthly articles in the Washtenaw Jewish News. "Like" her on Facebook, or send a tweet on Twitter, too.

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.