The Republic of Yemen is in the Arabian peninsular and shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. The Houthis, a Shiite tribal militia from northwest Yemen, have been at war with the central government for the best part of a decade. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Yemen.
A few facts
In ancient times Yemen was known as Arabia Felix, Latin for “happy” or “fortunate. Today, Yemen is neither happy nor fortunate, but it acquired the name because its high mountains attracted rain, making it more fertile than most of the Arabian peninsula.
Shibam, in Hadramaut province, is sometimes known as “the Manhattan of the desert”. It consists of some 500 mud-built tower houses resembling skyscrapers, some of them as many as 11 storeys high. Shibam is a Unesco world heritage site.
Yemen claims to be the ancient homeland of the Queen of Sheba (Balqis or Bilqis in Arabic).
Camel jumping is a traditional sport that is becoming increasingly popular among the Zaraniq tribe on the west coast of Yemen in a desert plain by the Red Sea. Camels are placed side to side and victory goes to the competitor who leaps, from a running start, over the most camels.
Popular Yememi dishes include Saltah (meat stew), Laxoox (flatbread), Aseed (dried fish served with local cheese, salad of garlic and spring onions with meat and sauce), Fatoot (fried bread with eggs), Bint Al-Sahn (sweet honey cake). I made Chicken Mandi (slow cooked spiced chicken over rice). It was quite tasty.
Prep time: 45 minutes + 4 hours – overnight marinating
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes
For making Hawaij Spice
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1/4 tsp whole cloves
1 inch whole cinnamon
For marinating chicken
1½ kg chicken
2 tbsp hawaij spice
40g butter, melted
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3 tsp salt
For making Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 whole cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 inch whole cinnamon
2 bay leaves
2 green chilies
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp soaked in 1½ tbsp water saffron strands
4 cups water
Salt to taste
In a small frying pan, roast all the ingredients for making the hawaij over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or till aromatic. Do not burn the spices.
Let the roasted spices cool down and grind to a fine powder
In a bowl, combine 2 tbsp hawaij with ½ tsp turmeric powder, ground pepper, salt and melted butter
Using a brush, spread the spice rub inside the skin, over the chicken and also inside the cavity
Place the chicken in a bag and marinate in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight
In a small bowl, soak the saffron in water for an hour. Keep aside
Place a large pot over medium heat, add oil
Add onion, season with salt and cook till translucent
Remove the pot from the heat
Add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, pepper corns, green chilies, turmeric powder, rice, water and enough salt. Combine well
Baking the chicken and rice
Preheat oven to 210 C
Place a wire rack over the pot with rice, and place the marinated chicken breast side down on the wire rack to allow the drippings from the chicken to fall into the rice. Make sure the pot is larger than the chicken
Place the pot along with chicken on the lower rack in the preheated oven
Cook for 15 minutes at 210 C
After 15 minutes, lower the heat to 180 C and cook the chicken and rice for 45 minutes
After an hour, gently flip the chicken (breast side up) and again cook for another 30 minutes or till the chicken has browned and cooked well inside.
Take the rice and chicken from the oven. Remove the wire rack from the pot, let the chicken rest for 5 minutes
Add the soaked saffron into the rice and combine well. Adding saffron is a must as this is what makes the rice aromatic and flavorful
Place the rice on a platter and put the chicken on top and serve