Sunday, 14 August 2011

Yemen - How I made Saltah

Research into the national dish of Yemen very quickly brought me to a dish called سلتة Saltah, which is very close to the Arabic word سلت which means salt.  I don't know what the real thing tastes like, but the version I made wasn't too salty.  There seems to be only one recipe for Saltah knocking about on various different websites and this was the one I used.


The Ingredients for Saltah, Hilbeh and Zhug
كوب واحد من النفط  one cup of oil
بصل 2 onions
البطاطا 4/6 potatoes
لحم مفروم minced meat (I used beef, but you could also use lamb)
لحوم البقر الأسهم beef stock
طماطم 2 tomatoes
بيض 2 eggs (which should be beaten)
عصير الليمون lemon juice
تشيليز 3/4 chillies
فصوص ثوم 6 cloves of garlic
حلبة نبات fenugreek seeds
كمون ground cumin
هال ground cardamom
كزبرة fresh coriander

Preparing Hilbeh and Zhug

Preparing Hilbeh
Preparing Zhug
Saltah is usually served with two condiments called Hilbeh and Zhug which are stirred into the dish at the very end.  I prepared these first, so I could put them in the fridge and chill them slightly.

Zhug and Hilbeh
Hilbeh حلبة نبات is a green-coloured condiment based on fenugreek.  It was my first time ever cooking with this spice (the English name comes from the Latin for Greek hay).  Fenugreek is popular in Indian cooking and is often used to make curries.  I steeped the seeds overnight in a glass of water, as recommended by the recipe, then blitzed them in the food processor, with some water, 2 garlic cloves, a green chilli, chopped coriander and the juice of a lemon.

To make Zhug مهدي الشوق I mixed some red chillies, oil and coriander with 4 garlic cloves, ground cumin and cardamom seeds.  Zhug is a popular condiment throughout the Middle East and I'm sure many of us have had this on kebabs or falafel.

Preparing the Saltah

Fry the onion
Fry the beef
To make the Saltah, you start by frying the onions in a frying pan, then adding the minced meat and frying this until it is brown.  I fried the meat and onions in a pan, then added them to the main stewing pot later - this was mostly because I'd underestimated the amount of space I would need to cook this dish - however, it worked out quite well doing it this way, so I would also cook the meat separately in future.

Heat the tomatoes and potato
Add the beef stock

I parboiled the potatoes before adding them to the main pot with the tomatoes (which I had salted) and fresh coriander.  In retrospect, I probably should have added the coriander later. Once the tomatoes had softened a bit, I added beef stock and brought the mixture to the boil.  It was at this point that I added the meat and onions to the pot and reduced the heat.

The original recipe recommends simmering for one hour, but I was in a bit of a hurry, so I let the ingredients simmer for forty minutes, before stirring in the egg and adding the condiments.

It was a really straight-forward dish to make and incredibly delicious.  I made quite a bit portion, so we also had Saltah for dinner the next day.  I'm sure you could add rice to the mixture (which would make it a bit like kabsa) but we decided to eat it with yummy slices of country bread.

Traditional Yemeni food in London

The Queen of Sheba restaurant
Halloumi starter
I decided to add a new element to my learning experience this time, by visiting a traditional Yemeni restaurant.  I'm sure that most of the world's cuisines are represented in London and, sure enough, there is a traditional Yemeni restaurant, not far from Paddington Station, called The Queen of Sheba.

Kabsa Lahan
I went there with some friends and, this being Ramadan, the restaurant was pretty empty, most of the bookings being later in the evening, after sunset.  Unfortunately, I couldn't try their Saltah, but we had a range of starters - halloumi, falafel, moussaka and kibbah (which I hadn't tried before).  We all ordered lamb-based dishes and I tried the Kabsa Laham which was quite good.  The portions were massive and, for the first time ever, my partner couldn't finish his dinner (he's usually asking for more!)

It was a nice addition to the learning experience and one I hope to repeat in future blogs.   

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