• Hawa Hassan's pantry •
In Hawa Hassan’s Indian Ocean-driven kitchen, every dish is infused with the flavors of her native Somalia: punchy cloves, heady cinnamon, and lots of pasta (courtesy of Italian colonialism). Now based in NYC, Hawa’s saucy, aromatic kitchen is a product of the diaspora — she splits her shopping between Greene Grape Provisions (for sustainably-raised poultry and specialty staples) and the local East African grocery store (for bulk-bin turmeric and teas). She also keeps a few jars of Basbaas sauces, her line of small-batch Somali condiments, on hand for extra drizzling and zhuzhing where necessary. Read on for more of Hawa’s kitchen must-haves — like Afrobeat playlists and her personalized xawaash spice blend — and how trial-and-error baking taught her that it’s okay to start over.
Shop Hawa’s Pantry
“My kitchen is simple, without fuss, and organized. I only stock up on the essentials, and that means lots of spices, veggies, and Anita’s yogurt. My cooking is very Indian ocean-focused, with lots of warm spices like cumin, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and whole cloves. Somalia was colonized by the Italians until 1960, and with the longest coastline in Africa, and this explains why its cuisine is heavily inspired by the Indian ocean and Italian cuisine. So I’d say my cooking style is equal parts saucy, aromatic, and heavy on warm spices.
Oftentimes, I find inspiration in the kitchen by mixing and matching different ingredients, and playing around with heat levels. It's fragrant aromas from the spices, and the flavors of Somalia — and Africa at large — that speak most to me when I’m in the kitchen. I’ve also recently gotten into baking my own breads. It’s been humbling, to say the least. I’m learning through baking that it’s ok to start over and over again.
Markets & shopping
I also buy my spices in bulk from the East African grocery in Seattle. I can count on them to have everything I need such as Berbere, Shiro, and teas from back home. If you live in Fort Greene, you might find me stalking the aisles of the area grocery stores DAILY, as that’s how I like to shop.
Xawaash — Somali food is typically seasoned with a spice blend called Xawaash (pronounced Hawash), and it helps give every recipe a unique level of flavoring. I grew up with it, adore it and personalize it in every way I can. Xawaash is used to season everything from sauces like our red Tamarind date, pasta sauces, rice and most meat dishes. It’s similar to Garam Masala, made up of cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon bark, turmeric powder, and black pepper.
I don’t typically use cookbooks as a reference. My treasured memories of being my mother’s helper— huddling around the stove and looking after the babies while cooking Somali dishes like canjeero, bariis and suugo— have sustained me my entire life. I’m the 2nd eldest in a family of 10 children, and being in the kitchen following the directions of my “Hooyo” (Somali word for “mom”) is how I’ve gained my love for cooking.
To Sum it Up:
Pantry item she can't live without: cumin
One or two items that are always in her fridge: spinach and lemons
Her most trusted kitchen tool: Vitamix
5 adjectives that describe her pantry style: worldly, colorful, warm, organized
Her all-time favorite market: Greene Grape
Women she pines for: my girlfriends, little sisters, and my dear friend and boxing trainer Susan Reno
Women-made food products she pines for: Anita’s Yogurt, Anjali Bhargava’s Bija Bhar’s Resilience Turmeric Elixir, Jenny Gao’s Fly By Jing, Diana Lovett of Cocomama
Her favorite music to jam out to in the kitchen: Afrobeats