Yemen Café

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

I pulled up this post because a friend mentioned that I had often sung the praises of Yemen Café’s remarkable Lamb Haneeth – so while it’s fresh in my mind, here are a few photos from one of my group visits taken back in May, 2017.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

If you bring a large group to Yemen Café, 176 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, and everyone wants to order the delectable slow roasted Lamb Haneeth (and really, that’s the point), you can prevail upon them to bring out an enormous platter of lamb and rice as you see here. Note that every cut is different, but all are unbelievably tender and equally delicious. It’s their most popular dish and once you’ve tasted it, you’ll understand why.


With a single order, you won’t get to choose your cut, but it’s guaranteed to be a treat.


The Kibdah appetizer was excellent as well; sautéed lamb liver with onions and tomatoes served with hot clay-oven bread that, alas, didn’t make it into this picture.
 
 
Yemen Café has two locations: 176 Atlantic Ave and 7130 5th Ave, both in Brooklyn.
 
 

Shakshuka

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I hadn’t been considering taking a photo of this and there isn’t even any backstory except that I had been reading a food website’s newsletter that happened to be singing the praises of shakshuka. I’m told that I’m hopelessly suggestable when it comes to food choices (okay, fine, guilty as charged) so you know what took place next, totally spur of the moment.

Shakshuka comes with some weighty baggage regarding its origin and consequently a predictable carry-on of spelling alternatives. Best I can tell, it got its start in Ottoman North Africa; Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, and Yemen among others proudly include it among their national cuisines, each with its own accent of course.

Essentially, shakshuka is tomato sauce (canned tomatoes are fine if you don’t have great fresh tomatoes and great amounts of time) pointed up with onions, peppers, and garlic in which eggs are poached; the basic recipe is pretty simple although it calls for a soupçon of finesse at the stove when nestling the raw eggs into the sauce. But beyond the fundamentals, international flights of fancy take off involving an assortment of seasonings that run the gamut from sweet to spicy and the inclusion of black olives, preserved lemon, feta cheese and such, as well as representative meats and vegetables (think merguez or chickpeas). Space and deference to your plans for the remainder of the day preclude my listing them all here.

My extemporaneous seasonings that day included lots of toasted ground cumin and whole cumin seeds, smoked paprika, harissa to kick it up, and cilantro as an integral ingredient as well as a garnish. Pretty straightforward, but I was motivated, and sans forethought I used whatever I had on hand. I did veer from the canon, however, by anointing it with white truffle oil post poach.

I can’t imagine this dish without bread – but English muffins instead of a more appropriate North African or Middle Eastern bread? Say it with me: because that’s what I had on hand!
 
 

Yemen Sweets

Instagram Post 8/19/2019

I was stalking the aisles at Brooklyn’s Balady Foods, the redoubtable Middle Eastern market at 7128 5th Ave, in search of goodies for my Little Levant ethnojunket when I stumbled upon this toothachingly sweet trio of blood sugar tolerance tests from Yemen Sweets that turned out to be a little much even for me.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

This one is called Harissa, a word I’ve always associated with North African red chili pepper paste and never with candy. A little research and I learned that the Arabic word harissa (هريسه) means to mash or squash which made some sense. Its main ingredients are sugar, soybean oil, peanuts, flour, cornstarch and sesame seeds (no heat) so, predictably, its dry texture is somewhere along the cookie<–>candy continuum, closer to cookie were it not for the oil. You can readily taste the ground peanuts and sesame seeds along with the intense presence of clove and cardamom.


Similarly flavored, Khalta has a texture along the gummy bear<–>Turkish delight continuum. Seems like khalta (خلطة) means mix, but probably in a different context. Mitigated by plenty of peanuts and strewn with sesame seeds, it was unusual as well.


The most immediately accessible of the three (although TBH the others grew on me eventually) is Labaneyh. This one had a crumbly texture and tasted like a perfumy cross between fudge and white chocolate, no surprise since cacao is listed among the ingredients along with milk, the Arabic word for which is laban (لبن) so that’s logical.


I was unable to ferret out much information about these three sweets despite the manufacturer’s address listed on the packaging which doesn’t seem to relate to much in the real world. Anybody out there know more about these? Your comments are greatly appreciated!