Certain dishes instantaneously bring you back to your youth, to a loved one's kitchen, to a place that makes you feel safe, supported, and loved. Comfort food can be wonderfully simple, or it can tell the incredibly rich story of a place and its communityand be a link back home for those who cook it. For Hawa Hassan, the latter is true about her traditional Somali rice pilaf dish, called Bariis Iskukaris. The chef, cookbook author, and Basbaas Foods™️ founder is one of five makers and creatives we are partnering with for our new Sense of Home campaign, which examines experiencing our spaces through each of our five senses: smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch. When we arrive on the day of our shoot, she has her ingredients gathered to cook us Bariis and welcome us into her downtown Brooklyn home.

Hawa's own early life story of being born in Somalia, migrating to Seattle alone at the age of seven, moving to New York City after college in part because of a modeling career, and reuniting with her family in Oslo, Norway, after being separated for over a decade touches upon the trials and triumphs of the modern migrant experience. For many, those ideas of belonging and finding your place and food's impact on you overlap. Hawa speaks to the idea of community when discussing the role of food in her life. "Food for me has often been a place where I've built community, where I've made connections." In 2015, she says she wanted to be "in charge of my narrative," which led her to quit modeling and launch Basbaas Sauces (now Basbaas Foods), a condiment company specializing in Somali hot sauces and chutneys. "I saw that there was a space, a white space, meaning that there wasn't an industry that was having a conversation about African foods. And I thought a really good way to elongate the table was to start with condiments." She laughs, "and so here I am, elongating the table."


A view of author and chef Hawa Hassan's kitchen, dining space and living room. The open-concept space has wooden kitchen cabinets with bowls and a mortar and pestle, a round wooden dining table surrounded by dark blue velvet upholstered dining chairs and a blue sofa with chaise.
A line drawing of Hawa Hassan's favorite things to taste. A drawing of her mom's pasta sauce with a jar of pasta sauce and tomatoes, a drawing of a cold glass of champagne, and a bowl of Halwa after a light meal.
In 2020, the entrepreneur released a cookbook with writer Julia Turshen, titled In Bibi's Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean. The eight African countries that border the Indian Ocean—South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Eritrea—offer geographic and trade influences that shape the unique flavors in each dish. For Hawa, she wanted to celebrate these cuisines and those that carry their traditions because they often go unnoticed. By exploring these flavors through the bibis (i.e., grandmothers), she "was able to honor the matriarchs of many families in each of the eight countries, and all that they represent." The Bariis dish Hawa makes for us is one of the book's recipes and helps to continue telling those stories.
"A pot of Bariis Iskukaris helps me feel at home and connected to my Somali family and roots even when I am far away from both."
On a neutral stone kitchen counter sits a thick wooden cutting board with whole ginger and a mortar and pestle. A round wooden dining table surrounded by dark blue velvet dining chairs with wood arms sits between the kitchen and the living space with a medium blue sofa with chaise. A wood and gold bar cart holds some of Hawa Hassan's favorite ingredients to make a cocktail, including a jigger, a muddler, a strainer and a mixing spoon, along with a crystal glass.
Artist and chef Hawa Hassan's living room has a blue sofa with chaise and a neutral geometric area rug. Across from the sofa is a black framed accent chair with cane arms and back. Above the sofa is a gallery wall of art, photos and magazine pages from Somalia.
As she explains, Bariis is a traditional Somali rice dish served as the base of a daily meal or special occasion dish, depending on whether you add meat or other ingredients to it. Hawa notes that it even makes for a delicious breakfast with a fried or soft-boiled egg on top. The base of the dish is Xawaash, a Somali spice blend, and basmati rice. The mix of savory and sweet, specifically the combination of cooked onions, warm spices, and sweet raisins, is typical of Somali food. As she notes, "a pot of Bariis Iskukaris helps me feel at home and connected to my Somali family and roots even when I am far away from both."

While watching Hawa cook the dish, she explains that foods of home to her "evoke feelings such as sweet, warm, earthy, and lots of aromatics." In making us Bariis, she's not only inviting us to a seat at her table here in her airy, light-filled Brooklyn home, but on the diasporic journey, this dish has taken as well. It's comfort food that is meant to give us her visitors "a sense of belonging and to feel welcomed and cared for."

Hawa Hassan's recipe for Bariis Iskukaris, a traditional Somali rice dish, that includes cinnamon, cloves, raisins and Xawaash spice mix.

Bariis Iskukaris Recipe
Makes 4 servings

1 cup basmati rice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil

1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons

1 2-inch cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

2 garlic cloves, minced

Pinch of ground cardamom

1 small tomato, finely chopped

Kosher salt (to taste)

3 tablespoons golden raisins or regular raisins

1 tablespoon Xawaash Spice Mix

1 cup boiling water

Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cold tap water, stirring the rice gently with your hands until the water runs clear. Place the rinsed rice in a bowl, cover with cold water, and let it soak for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes. Rinsing and soaking the rice ahead of time helps the grains let go of their dusty coating and cook more quickly and evenly.

Warm the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring until it softens, usually after about 5 minutes. Add the cinnamon and cloves and cook, stirring until the mixture smells very fragrant, so for about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cardamom and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds until they're also quite fragrant. Add the tomato and a large pinch of salt, then increase the heat to high. Cook, stirring until the juice from the tomato has evaporated, and the mixture is like a thick paste, about 2 minutes. Drain the rice and add it to the pot, along with another large pinch of salt. In general, cook rice dishes in a sturdy pot with a heavy bottom to maintain low, even heat, and prevent scorching. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring until the mixture is quite dry and the rice smells nutty and is opaque, about 5 minutes. Stir in the raisins, spice mix, and boiling water. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for at least 10 minutes before fluffing with a spoon or fork. If you can find the cinnamon stick and cloves, fish them out and discard them (otherwise, just warn your guests to avoid eating these). Make sure to serve while it's still hot. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and rewarmed in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven or in a skillet over low heat.