The Story of Salta


Salta is one of Yemen’s favorite luncheon dishes.

Salta is the national dish of Yemen, and one of the world’s most unique culinary creations. Usually, it’s consumed communally by family and friends sitting around the bubbling pot in a circle. The pot contains a well-cooked and finely textured vegetable stew flavored with lamb or chicken. But the most remarkable part is what’s on top: a foamy cloud-like mass with a slippery texture.

Ideally served in a stone or cast-iron pot, the mellow and herby flavor of the stew is achieved with lots of cilantro, leeks, and cumin, providing a real taste of the desert. The morass is eaten by dipping pieces of the giant, slightly charred pitas that constitute one of Yemen’s favorite breads. The bread’s char adds flavor to the stew.

But what about the foam and its gooey texture? This is achieved by soaking ground-up fenugreek seeds (available at Kalustyan’s) in water, decanting the excess fluid, and then whipping up the swollen grounds. The resultant emulsion is called hilbeh, and it may be supplemented with zhug, a sauce of fresh green chiles. The process is very much in the realm of molecular gastronomy, as noted in this week’s Counter Culture review of Yemen Café, a new spot in – Where else? – Bay Ridge.

Back to the salta. Here’s a video of an outsider eating it in Yemen. Try it at Yemen Café and you and your friends will have loads of fun. (The roast lamb and chicken are great, too.)

Here’s a good recipe, if you want to make it yourself.

Eat salta by dipping pieces of the huge flatbread in it.