foodFood & Drink

In the Kitchen With: Hawa Hassan’s Sabaayad

by Kristina Gill

Sabaayad (Somali chapati) | DesignSponge

This week’s recipe is a traditional Somali dish with a special place in Hawa Hassan’s heart. Hawa Hassan is the founder of traditional Somali sauce company, Basbaas Sauces, and this is her mother’s recipe for Sabaayad, or Somali chapati. When making sabaayad, Hawa and her mother, I am sure, know instantly when the dough is the right consistency. They know when to turn the sabaayad in the pan without setting a timer, and they know how flaky sabaayad has to be for it to be considered good by Somali standards.  Those are insider tricks that take a long time to perfect. For my first attempt, however, I think mine came out just fine, shape aside, and yours will, too!  I cut my dough into twice as many pieces as Hawa’s recipe calls for to give myself a chance to practice, but feel free to stick to the recipe yield of eight. —Kristina

Why Hawa loves this recipe: The Somali chapati, also known as sabaayad, is crispy on the outside and flaky and tender inside. It’s got a golden tinge and a slightly sweet flavor. And it has a special place in my heart. In difficult times, my mother served it to us as a treat. With a few drips of honey and a cup of tea, it was a getaway to happiness. I hope my future children love it as much as I do, and make it their own. For this recipe, however, I’ve glammed it up a bit with cilantro.

Portrait by Nasozi Kakembo | Food photography by Kristina Gill

Cilantro for sabaayad | DesignSponge

Sabaayad (Somali chapati)
Yields 8 chapatis


— 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
— 1 cup whole wheat flour
— 2 tablespoons olive oil
— 1 teaspoon baking powder
— 2 tablespoons sugar
— 1 teaspoon salt
— 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
— 2 cups hot milk, you may not use all of it
— 1¼ cups oil for brushing and cooking


Sift the whole wheat flour. Put all the ingredients, except the milk, in a bowl, start mixing and slowly pour in the hot milk until you have a mass of dough that holds together and is not too loose — it can take up to 5 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to mix, and again, do it slowly. Then knead the dough for at least 15 minutes. (You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook if you prefer.) Lightly coat the dough with oil, transfer it to plastic covered bowl or a plastic bag, and let it rest for 30-45 minutes.

Next, cut the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a flattened rectangular or circular shape. Brush a layer of oil on the surface of each piece, then fold it over 4 times to create layers, then flatten it again.

Heat a skillet to medium, then place the chapati on it. Wait until bubbles start to form, or about 1 minute, then flip it. Next, reduce the heat to low. Use a spatula to push down the edges of the chapati to keep it in contact with the pan. Flip again, but add a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Flip 4 or 5 times without adding more oil. Cook the chapati for a total of 4 to 5 minutes.

Place the chapati in a covered container to keep it warm and tender. I like to eat it with a spicy sauce as a dip, or with any kind of stew.

Sabaayad dough | DesignSponge

Hawa Hassan’s Journey

I was born in Mogadishu during a time of war. By the time I was five, tribal conflict had completely taken over, and we made our home in a UN refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya. My mother, single with five children, did her best to ensure our continuing education and assimilation. Within two years she had worked hard enough to own a business and an apartment. As we moved out of the camp, she made a very difficult decision: to send me to Seattle, WA, to live with a family friend.

That was in 1993, and it was 15 years before I saw her and my siblings again. By then she herself had migrated to Norway and opened a furniture outlet and a Somali goods store. Meanwhile, I got discovered by a modeling scout, started this strange career and eventually moved to New York. I’ve since traveled the world, met angels who guarded and guided me, and was loved and sheltered by strangers who became family. My short life has been amazing by any standard, but as a Somali refugee I know just how fortunate I am.

My mother, my hero, always stood by my siblings and me. She made hard choices and I’m forever grateful. My happiest memories of her go back to my time in the refugee camp — my little sisters were left to my brother and me, and I spent most of my days cooking Canjeero, Bariis and Suugo. To this day my mother and I share stories of our short time together, and when I’m with her we’re both happiest when she’s showing me how to cook.

Hawa Hassan | DesignSponge

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