Faith Kramer
Past President, Hadassah Oakland Ruach Chapter

Yemeni Grilled Chicken for Summer Shabbat Dinner at Home or On the Go

Yemeni Chicken recipe photo courtesy of the author
Yemeni Chicken recipe photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author.

It’s summer in my part of the world – Oakland, California – and I find that the cadence of Shabbat has changed. It starts and ends later in the day, giving me more time to take a break between the workday and the gift of Shabbat.

The warmer weather makes it less likely that I will want to be in a hot kitchen, so I lean toward grilling, preparing salad-based meals, or making dishes in advance. Also, like many folks, I go on vacation at this time of year, so I’m sometimes making Friday night dinner on the go – at a campground, friend’s house, rental apartment or hostel kitchen.

I always pack a Shabbat dinner-to-go kit, which includes a few of my favorite spice mixes and battery-operated Shabbat candles, since some campsites and venues don’t allow open flames. I also make sure I have juice or wine for the Shabbat ritual of Kiddush, the prayer ushering in and sanctifying the sabbath, and bread for the hamotzi (blessing over the challah), thanking G-d for bringing forth bread from the earth.

One summer staple is Yemeni Grilled Chicken from my cookbook, 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen. The recipe uses quick-cooking boneless chicken thighs that can be prepared in advance and served at room temperature or reheated, so they are easy to schlep in a cooler if I’m traveling. They can be cooked indoors in a grill pan, electric grill, under a broiler, or just in a skillet, or outdoors on gas, charcoal or even disposable grills, so this is a versatile and adaptable recipe.

I like to serve the dish with a dab of z’hug (Yemeni hot sauce or pepper condiment) or other hot sauce or salsa, or sometimes with a drizzle of amba, an Iraqi-Israeli fermented mango sauce. You can toss leftovers with green salad, chopped red onions and tomatoes and a favorite dressing for a tasty Shabbat lunch.

I think it’s such a great dish for summer Shabbat and other dinners that I recently featured it in an online recipe demonstration for Under One Tent, co-sponsored by the Diablo Valley (California) chapter of Hadassah, the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center and a local synagogue (you can watch the demonstration on YouTube).

The chicken’s marinade gets its blast of flavor from hawaij, a mix used for soup comprising black pepper, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, ginger and other spices. The Yemeni word hawaij means “all that is needed.” Hawaij, z’hug and amba are available from some kosher, specialty, spice and Middle Eastern markets and online. To make your own hawaij, see the Almost Instant Hawaij recipe below. If you are buying hawaij, be sure to purchase the yellow-brown version meant for soup (sometimes called Israeli spice mix for soup), since there is also a hawaij for coffee. The savory hawaij is a very versatile spice blend that I use in stews and soups as well as in z’hug. Try the marinade on chicken, tofu or fish kebabs, or on whole roast cauliflower.

Adapted from 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp. hawaij or Instant Almost Hawaij*
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp. diced onion
1 tbsp. minced garlic
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Vegetable oil for the grill

In a large bowl, mix the hawaij, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, onion and garlic. Reserve and refrigerate ¼ cup of the marinade for basting.

Add the chicken to the remaining marinade and turn it to make sure the chicken is fully coated. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour, or up to one day, turning occasionally. Transfer the chicken to a plate, discarding this marinade.

Brush the rack of an outdoor or indoor grill or a grill pan with oil. Heat to medium-high. Grill the chicken, turning occasionally and brushing it thickly with the marinade reserved for basting until the chicken feels firm (not hard) and its juices run clear when you cut into the thickest piece. An instant-read thermometer should read 165°F. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The chicken can be prepared up to three days in advance, then stored in an airtight container and refrigerated. (To make in a skillet, heat 1 tbsp. oil over medium- high heat. Sauté chicken, basting occasionally with reserved marinade until cooked. To broil, preheat broiler and place on broiling pan and follow grilling instructions.)

*INSTANT ALMOST-HAWAIJ — To make 1/2 cup, use a jar with a lid to mix 3 tbsp. ground turmeric, 3 tbsp. ground cumin, 1 tbsp. ground black pepper, 2 tbsp. ground cardamom, 2 tbsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground ginger and ¼ tsp. ground cloves. Tighten jar lid. Shake well. Store airtight out of direct sunlight or heat for up to one year. In a small jar with a lid, combine the turmeric, cumin, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, ginger and cloves. Secure the lid and store airtight for up to one year.

About the Author
Faith Kramer, a former president and current board member of the Hadassah Oakland Ruach Chapter, is a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. The California-based food writer is the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” (The Collective Book Studio). She writes a twice-a-month recipe column for the J, Northern California’s Jewish News Source. See more about her cookbook, other writing, and recipes at She can be reached at
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