Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crises, Culture, and Cuisine

Yemen is currently in the middle of an unfortunate crisis (because what crisis is fortunate?) that started in 2011 with protests against the president, poverty, and other issues. Currently rebels have taken the capital city of Sana'a. Corruption is high and radical Muslim groups are causing a lot of problems. Human rights are near to nothing as children can be forced into marriages as young as the age of nine (shudder), you can be arrested without a conviction or trial, and the government does not promote religious freedom. With all of this depressing and somewhat horrifying information about Yemen, you may think it is just about the worst place on earth. I have not done a good job portraying the rich culture and history of the Yemeni people. The historic kingdom of Sheba (like the Queen of Sheba) encompassed Yemen and stretched all the way to Ethiopia. Yemen is also home to four World Heritage sites, and, according to Wikipedia, "UNESCO proclaimed the tradition of poetic songs in Sana'a, called al-Ghina al-San'ani, a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity".


The cuisine of Yemen is separate from the other cuisines of the Middle East because it contains both Ottoman and Indian influences. Fish, lamb, and chicken are the major meats consumed, and both bread and rice are popular. Zurbian is a biryani-type dish served in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It consists of rice and either lamb or chicken cooked with onions, potatoes, and a ton of seasonings. Commonly served for weddings and other special occasions, this meal is fit for any celebratory Yemeni meal.

Chicken Zurbian
1 pound chicken pieces (I used thighs.)
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into fourths
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp dried cilantro
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp black pepper
salt, to taste
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 ¼ cup basmati rice
2 ½ cups chicken broth
large pinch of saffron
almonds, cashews, and raisins, to top

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are golden, about 6 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cilantro, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and salt along with the chicken and potatoes to the pan. Brown each side of the chicken for a minute or so and then pour a 1 ½ cups of chicken broth overtop. Simmer for 30 minutes, adding a little extra water if it all evaporates. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the rice for 10 minutes in the boiling water. Drain the water off the rice and set it aside. Mix the saffron with the remaining chicken broth. Once the chicken is cooked, mix the Greek yogurt into it and remove it from the heat. Put half of the rice into a medium saucepan and then top with the chicken and potato mixture followed by the remaining rice. Pour the saffron-chicken broth evenly over the top. Bring the whole thing to a simmer and cook until the rice is done and all the broth has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Top with the raisins and the nuts and serve.



I think I would have liked this dish a lot better if I were not sick with a sinus infection and I had cooked the rice a little bit longer. Make sure your rice is fully cooked before removing it from the stove. That was my biggest mistake. The meat had a good overall flavor. I really enjoyed making this dish. Boiling the rice for an initial 10 minutes and then cooking it later on with the meat is a cool trick, and layering the rice and filling was fun. I amazed my roommate with information about saffron, the most expensive spice on earth. (At least as far as I know.) Thankfully I stocked up on (relatively) cheap saffron in Spain. I refuse to pay $13 for a few strands of it hear, so my former "saffron" recipes use substitutions. It's nice to actually use the real thing. Perhaps I had too high of an expectation for Yemeni food. Yemen's breakfast of fatut was my favorite after all. (How can you go wrong with fried pita mixed with scrambles eggs?) It was not my favorite meal, but was still enjoyable in between the trips to the bathroom to blow my nose and frequent coughing spurts.... I hate sinus infections.

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