Yemeni-style Homemade Feast in Brooklyn
Eats: Chicken Fahsa/Salta with Hulba, Kidem, Shafuut, Mereg, Rice
Tunes: Featuring Methal & some other Yemeni musicians
Why: For the love of Fahsa/Salta & making new friends
Ever since first tasting Fahsa from the Yemen Cafe here in Brooklyn I’ve wanted to learn to make it. I’d been doing all sorts of research but hadn’t quite landed the recipe I thought would get me to the taste like at Yemen Cafe. I was also confused about Mereg (did I really have to make one soup, in order to make a second soup? And if so, was the same meat used?). At least a year ago, at one of my volunteer sessions at Arab American Family Support Center (AAFSC), I used my questions as a real-life practice for our English conversation practice but my questions were a bit too complex for our conversations. A few months ago, while cleaning up a bowl of Fahsa at Yemen Cafe here in Brooklyn, I even begged for help from the server, showing him my piles of notes. Still inconclusive.
A few weeks ago, I finally got up the nerve to ask an acquaintance that I initially met at AAFSC, but now was also connect to because our young children were in neighboring classrooms. I first asked her to join us for dinner and asked if she would someday give me Yemeni cooking lessons. She seemed almost as excited as I was and we had a date set pretty quickly.
She brought her 2 children and 2 friends to help with the cooking. They wouldn’t let me help, but instead told me to take good notes while they demonstrated. Every now and again my daughter tried her hand, but otherwise, our kids made fast friends while the ladies and I were in the kitchen.
What a feast! Our daughter loved the Fahsa so much that she requested that I put it in her lunch this week! And dear son is still smitten by the Kidem, ever since that surprise treat one morning last week.
My new friends didn’t have any particular music to suggest but they liked that I was playing some Yemeni music when they arrived.
The rest of the playlist is just music I liked from some googling. This playlist has been a hit all week! When we weren’t listening to Khruangbin, we had on our new Yemeni playlist and we were thinking about yummy Yemeni food.
The first big lesson was that that the difference between Fahsa and Salta really depends on who you ask! I thought Salta was vegetarian and Fahsa had meat but they said that is only true in some areas. Some people call even the vegetarian version Fahsa. The types of “typical” meat (lamb, chicken and even fish!) and vegetables also changes by region. On top of that, family preferences dictate the recipe so there are many variations. I think a good equivalent is chili here in the US. There is no one way to make chili. It can be vegetarian or full of meat, and both of those versions vary wildly. The meat can vary from hunks of a single type of meat, to a variety of ground meats, or even just be based on some kind of sausage, and probably includes one or more types of beans. Vegetarian versions are likely heavier on beans and often have tofu or other substitutes.
At any rate, the below recipe will provide the foundation, and you can try other vegetables and meat as you wish.
The Mereg (pronounced more like “morocg”) is the initial soup that is made, where the chicken and veggies cook in the broth, and then the Fahsa/Salta is a separate dish, which is made using the Mereg as a base, but transferring it into a madara (a special stoneware pot), mashing the veggies adding shredded meat (if desired), and possibly other veggies (they added okra to mine, which had been sauteed with oil, garlic and a bit of potato).
Recipes for the following are below, in the order in which you should start them for your own feast!
- Bread, if you are making! (I’ll need 2-6 hours of rising depending on the type you choose: khobz or kidem or…)
- Hulba (needs alternating time in the fridge and getting hand beaten)
- Yemeni tea
Have on hand:
- Kidem, khobz (or other Yemeni bread, or store-bought pita in a pinch).
- Large pot to eat out of, family style.
Don’t skip this part. It takes a lot of time and arm power but the payoff is a very unique flavor and presentation. It’s so memorable that it’s the basis of my kids’ nickname for it: “the soup with the island.”
NOTE: If whipping by hand, expect it to take about 20 minutes. This is how we did it, though I’ve seen some recipes that appeared to use some sort of a mixer.
- 1 tbsp ground fenugreek
- In a 3:2:1 ratio:
- cilantro leaves/stalk
- parsley leaves/stalk
- 2 whole sprigs mint
- 1 seeded green chili (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
- Put the ground fenugreek and water in a medium-sized bowl and put it in the fridge for several hours (5 is recommended, but ours ended up being about 2.5).
- After at least 2 hours in the fridge, when the fenugreek has absorbed some water, carefully pour off the excess water and begin to beat it with a fork. It will take a good amount of effort and will begin to get fluffy and turn from brown to white/ pale green. [side note: I would love to know the history of this. Who sat around whipping this for so long to discover the flavor and texture?!]
- You may need to give it (or really your arm) a rest for a bit, and if so, put it back in the fridge, then beat it some more when your arm is ready.
- When good and fluffy, prepare the herb/heat additions: put the 3 herbs and chili (if using) in a food processor with a tad of water and chop well. Add to the fluffy fenugreek along with some salt and mix. Add salt to taste.
- Keep in the fridge until ready to use it to top the Fahsa/Salta.
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 1 whole chicken, skin removed, and into large chunks
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp cumin/ black pepper / turmeric mix
- 3 tsp salt (or more, added at various parts, to taste)
- 3-4 carrots, peeled and in large chunks
- 2 medium potatoes, skinned and cut into 2-3 inch chunks
- 3 small zucchini, 2 inch chunks (skins on is fine)
- In a large pan, cook onions in oil until beginning to brown. Add garlic for the last 2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add chicken, mixing to cover. Cook uncovered, stiffing frequently.
- Add spices and salt, increase heat to medium high and cover, cooking for about 20 minutes.
- Add carrots, lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, covered (5 minutes)
- Add potato and zucchini and continue to cook, covered (10 – 15 minutes).
- Add a bit more salt, and boiling water until just about covered and cook on low for 20-30 minutes.
- 1 cup loosely packed cilantro
- 1/2 cup loosely packed parsley
- 1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
- 2-4 cloves garlic
- 1 cup water
- 1 green chili (optional)
- 3 cups sour cream (at least)
- 5 pitas (at least)
- In a food processor, put 2 cups of sour cream plus everything else except pita bread and combine.
- Warm 5 pitas on the stove top burner.
- Pour the sour cream herb mixture into a large bowl. Rip bits of the pita and drop it in, stirring to cover the bread.
- Put in the fridge for some time. As the bread absorbs the moisture, you may need to add more sour cream & water. Mix the sour cream/water in a small bowl, then add to the Shafuut.
- Eat as is, or with Sahwk (a spicy tomato, chili, garlic herb condiment, made fresh. See below.
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces,
- 20 cardamom in pod
- 20+ cloves
- 2 cups Basmati rice
- 4 cups boiling water
- Food coloring (we used a few drops of red and yellow, but they would usually use orange… need to get name/type.
- salt to taste
- Heat oil in a large pot. Add whole spices until they sputter. Add rice and fry a bit.
- Add boiling water and stir to combine.
- Cover and cook until rice is done. Add a bit of food coloring at the end.
- Serve with chunks of meat and/or veggies from the Mereg (refer to the top of the photo at the top of this post).
Sahwk Spicy, Fresh-Made Condiment
We enjoyed this atop the shafuut, as well as atop the fahsa/salta (spooned on only enough for the individual eating it, and not stirred in).
- 4 tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic
- 10 hot red chilis
- 1.5 tsp salt (or more to taste)
- 1-2 tbsp water (or more as needed)
- Put all ingredients in a food processor and chop until well combined. Taste and adjust per your preferences.
- If you will be dining with spicy-averse, make the same without chilis or only one chili, perhaps.
The moment of truth! Once your Mereg is done, it’s time to transform it into Fahsa. The below served 4 adults and 4 children, along with everything else on this page.
If you don’t have a madara (large stone pot with low sides, that can go on the stove top), a 8-10 inch cast iron pan would probably work nicely. You will not only prepare the Fahsa in it, it should also be placed in the center of the table (or floor, as you would do in Yemen) and eaten family style, using bits of bread to dip/scoop. You may also want to add some of the SPICY SAUCE right there in the pot, but only add enough for your won consumption, and don’t stir it in.
- a pot to prepare and serve it family style (see note above)
- ~3 cups of Mereg (broth, veggies and meat)
- other cooked veggies you have on hand (they put in some sauteed okra)
- 3 spoonfuls of Hulba (see above)
- more salt to taste
- Kidem or Yemeni flat bread to eat it with*
- In and unheated madara or cast iron pan, mash up about half of the veggies from the Mereg, using a fork. Add a bit of broth to help it along. Here is where you would add in any other desired veggies.
- Once good and mashed, add some of the meat, shredded into small pieces, careful to discard any bones, and add more broth if desired.
- Put the pan on the stove and heat the Fahsa on medium heat for at 15-20 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Add salt to taste.
- When ready to serve, add scoops of Hulba on the top and do not stir it in (make the island!). Serve with Kidem, Yemeni flat bread, or even pita.
* I didn’t yet try either of these recipes because my friends brought Kidem, but I plan to this weekend and will report back.
Update (29/4/18): YES. Take the time to make the bread. The Queen of Sheba site for their khobz bread which was turned out really good but I think I will try it again to perfect it; bread can be finicky! They also have a recipe for Kidem, which I will try next time)
Makes 2 cups. My guest chefs made it inside my teapot but next time I would just do it in my favorite chai pot for easier cleaning/viewing. The kids and I did a taste test and we all preferred it without milk (which is the way most patrons of Yemen Cafe seem to enjoy it when I’m there, as well. Personal preference! Try both…
- 2.5 tsp Al-Kbous loose tea
- 2 cups water
- 6 cloves
- 6 cardamom pods, cracked
- 1.5 tsp sugar
- evaporated milk (optional)
- In a pan with a spout, heat 2 cups of water, tea, cloves, cardamom pods and sugar.
- Once boiling, let steep for 2 minutes.
- If desired, add 1 tbsp evaporated milk, stir to combine and turn off the heat.
- Enjoy immediately, or later as it’s quite nice chilled, as well.