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Yemenite Malawah Flaky Bread

By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:

Many years ago (it was 1996), I visited Yemen and came to appreciate the fantastic architecture of Sana'a, the beauty of the Hadramaut desert and of Bir 'Ali island, full of dolphins, lobsters, and multicolored fish. I don't like to think about how most of this beauty may now be destroyed by war. I want to keep my beautiful memories of the Yemenite wildlife.

I was not impressed by the food when I was there, but there was one dish that I will always keep dear to my heart: a fantastic flaky bread of Jewish origins. Last week I was in a new kosher restaurant near my house here in Florence and they served this flaky bread with a spicy sauce! It was a delicious jump to the past.

For the first time, I tried to replicate the bread, and I have to say it came out perfectly—the best flaky bread I’ve ever had! It is a kind of bread cooked in a hot pan, very quick and easy to make. If you want to add an exotic touch to your table, serve this fantastic bread with hummus or with a spicy tomato-based sauce (called zahawig in Yemen).

Malawah is but one of many kinds of yemenite bread, but I think it is the best.


2 cups flour

3/4 cup water

1 tsp. salt

1/3 cup melted butter or ghee

Nigella seeds

In a big bowl, mix together flour, water, and salt and knead it until smooth and soft.

Form the dough into 2 equal balls and cover with a bit of butter and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Roll out each dough ball into a very thin sheet on a floured surface with a rolling pin, preferably in the shape of a rectangle.

Fold the dough into a rope-like shape.

Tie the rope into a knot. Tuck in any loose ends and then once again brush with melted butter. Cover and let it rest for another 20 minutes.

Flatten the dough with the rolling pin. Brush again with melted butter and cover with nigella seeds.

Heat a pan and cook the bread until crispy at the ends, turning it until it is brown on top. Remove and serve immediately with hummus, babaganoush, or spicy sauces.

Zahawig Sauce

1 tomato 1 green chili

1 garlic clove

Pinch of cumin seeds Cilantro, optional Lemon/lime juice, optional Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process for 30 seconds.

Serve with the flaky bread.


Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), and Superfoods, Ippo is currently finishing her latest work, The Lords of Florence (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).

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