Shafoot شَفُوْت: A Starter Yemeni Dish
saltah سَلْتَة, faHsah فَحْسَة, mandi مَنْدِي, fattah فَتَّة, sousi سُوْسِي, ‘aSiiT عَصِيْد, bint aS-SaHn بِنْت الصَّحْن and shafoot شَفُوت are very popular local dishes that are unique to Yemen. You might have tried or heard of mandi because it has found its way to neighboring gulf states and other Arab countries and will soon become international. However, no one prepares it as deliciously as Yemenis do, trust me! Some of these dishes constitute the main course, others are starters, side dishes, or desserts. This post is about a starter dish—the shafoot الشَّفُوْت.
image by Muhammad Bakhdar (flickr.com)
To make a delicious shafoot dish, you need the following ingredients: loHooH لُحُوْح (special Yemeni bread), yogurt زَبَادِي, tomatoes طَمَاطِم, garlic ثُوم, fresh green or dried chili بِسْبَاس, white or red onion بَصَل, peppermint نِعْنَاع (optional), cucumber خِيَار (optional), and salt مِلْح.
To begin with, let’s find out what loHooH is. It is a type of bread that is particularly popular in rural areas and during the month of Ramadan. It is made from white or yellow sorghum ذُرَة and white flour, or pearl millet دُخْن with white flour. Normally, two thirds of it is either sorghum or millet and remaining third is white flour. I personally prefer the millet-based; however, the use of sorghum is more popular. As for shape, it is a very thin crepe-like bread with a wrinkled surface.
As for the yogurt لَبَن, Yemenis prefer using homemade yogurt. However, supermarket yogurt is just as good, especially in cities, but it must be sufficiently liquidized. Some choose to liquidize it with milk, but generally water is used.
Tomatoes, garlic, and chili are squeezed into a mixture called سَحَاوِق. While some people use an electric blender to mix them, using a pestle to crush them together into a juicy mixture gives a better taste and flavor.
Onions are separately chopped into very small pieces. Since white onions have more water and may taste slightly sweet, red onions make the dish much more delicious.
Peppermint is not essential, and neither is the cucumber. This depends on people’s taste. If you like mint flavor, then a few peppermint leaves can be crushed separately or with the tomatoes, garlic, and chili. Like the onions, the cucumber must be cut separately into fairly small pieces.
Once the yogurt is suitably liquidized, the mixture of tomatoes, garlic, and chili is added. Then the chopped tomatoes are added as well as the peppermint and cucumber (if chosen). The yogurt is to be stirred thoroughly so that the added ingredients are not sticking together. Slat and the amount of chili is based on your taste. Also, the quantity of ingredients is based on the number of people whom the dish is prepared for.
While some people use the loHooH as it is, it is recommended that each loaf be cut into smaller pieces. By so doing, the appearance of the dish will be nice, the loHooH is thorough saturated with the yogurt mixture, and the dish is easier to eat whether by hand or a spoon.
As an hors d’oeuvre, shafoot is always served cold. Therefore, make sure that the yogurt mixture is cold. Also, the loHooH must be left to become cold.
On a slightly deep round plate, pour a little of the yogurt mixture so that it fully covers the bottom of the plate. Then a layer of loHooH is to put. After that, enough of the yogurt mixture is to be poured on the loHooH. This process is to be repeated (i.e. a layer of loHooH followed by pouring some of the yogurt mixture) as needed. Make sure that the yogurt mixture is just enough to soak the loHooH. In other words, do not add too much of the yogurt mixture; it will ruin the dish.
Leave the dish for a few minutes before you serve it so that the yogurt is fully soaked up. If you choose to decorate the dish with some vegie toppings, do it swiftly as leaving the dish for a long time before it is served makes it dry. If not, shafoot is ready. Bon appétit!