For this third stop in Yemen in honor of the country’s Independence Day on November 30th, I decided to go for the recipe that is considered by many to be the national dish: saltah.
We do not usually talk about politics or news in general on 196 flavors, but I would like to dedicate this post to all the victims of the Paris attacks on November 13th. Indeed, it was the day that I cooked my Yemeni recipe. I had just finished cooking my saltah and I was about to shoot it when Vera contacted me to warn me of the attacks at the Stade de France, but also in the tenth and eleventh arrondissements (districts) of the capital. My father and brother live in the tenth arrondissement, and even though I suspected they were not out that night, I still was taken by fear. Fortunately, I was quickly relieved when I heard back from them and learned they at home and well. My father still mentioned that he had heard gunfires from home.
Our thoughts also go to our Malian friends who were victims of barbaric acts this Friday.
Without going into a demagogic speech, there are many things that divide us on this earth, but one of the few things that unites us is food. I would have said that music soothes the soul, but honestly, I hate heavy metal! For me, it is food that soothes the soul…
But back to our saltah. The word saltah is derived from salatah (سلطة) meaning composition of vegetables, known internationally as… salad! The term salatah probably arrived in Yemen with the Turkish troops during their many invasions of the country.
There are different versions about the origin of the saltah recipe, but the most common is that it was first created in the idamat (الادامات), a common charitable home during the Ottoman Empire. Saltah used to be made with leftover food donated by wealthy families or mosques. These leftovers were mixed and heated in stone pots over fire for a long time.
Although each region has its version, saltah is still considered by many to be the national dish of Yemen. The basis of this recipe is a meat broth or soup called maraq, a fenugreek froth called hilbeh and sawahiq or sahowqa (or bisbas), a mixture of tomatoes, peppers, garlic and herbs. Saltah also often includes rice, potatoes, scrambled eggs or even vegetables like bell pepper and tomatoes. The meats typically used for this soup are lamb and chicken.
Saltah is usually served hot and toward the end of the meal, with Yemeni bread that is used to scoop up the food. The cuisine of Yemen is rich in breads, especially flatbreads such as tawa, tameez, laxoox or lahoh that I made last year, malooga or malooj, kader, kubaneh, fateer, kudam, rashoosh, oshar, khamira and malawah, this delicious flatbread that Vera featured this week .
Marak temani, this delicious Yemeni soup that I prepared the first time that we traveled to Yemen is probably an adaptation of saltah. It was imported by Yemeni Jews in Israel and surely remains the Yemeni recipe that is best known in the world, maybe even before saltah.
Saltah is cooked in a stone pot called madra or haradha that keeps the stew hot for a long time, much the same way that bibimbap is cooked and served in a stone bowl called dolsot. Dolsot bibimbap is a Korean dish that I featured at the beginning of our adventure. As I do not own a madra, I cooked my saltah in a cast iron pan, which is really the base for my tagine cookware.
This is not the first time that I say this on 196 flavors: I’m not a fan of soup (read: I really hate soup)… but I am trying to change this. Although I preferred marak temani, I must admit I also liked saltah. To begin with, adding the egg at the end gives the soup a unique texture, similar to Chinese egg drop soup.
I had already prepared hilbeh for my marak temani, but I do not think I was very successful. I had used Indian fenugreek, while it is best to use fenugreek from the Middle East, which gives the frothy texture that you should aim for. I was lucky to find food fenugreek in an Armenian supermarket a week earlier. But I also added a lot of herbs, spices and vegetables to the hilbeh that probably made it less bitter than the first time.
I chose to make saltah with rice. Whether you choose rice, potatoes or lentils, they should be cooked with the saltah.
Saltah can be prepared with lamb or chicken, but my favorite meat being lamb meat, the choice was quickly made. Everyone loved this soup at home. Will it be enough to reconcile me with soups for good?
- 1 lb lamb stew , cut into pieces
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- ½ onion , chopped
- ½ green hot pepper , chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 2 eggs , beaten
- 6 tablespoons cooked rice
- A few tablespoons of hulba
- Vegetable oil
- In a pressure cooker, sauté garlic, onion and hot pepper in a little oil until the onion is translucent.
- Add cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt. Add the lamb to the onion mixture. Brown the meat for 5 minutes.
- Add about 5 cups of water to the mixture and lock the pressure cooker. Bring the cooker up to pressure, and reduce heat to low/medium to keep the pressure steady. Cook for about 40 minutes. The meat should be tender and break easily.
Pour the meat stew in a stone pot (haradha) or a cast iron skillet. Add the rice and cook until bubbly. At that time, add the beaten eggs, then a few spoonfuls of whipped hulba and serve hot with Yemeni flat bread or pita.