Bone Soup and Flipped Bread: The Yemenite Jewish Kitchen

Gefen Publishing House  2017


Sue Spertus Larkey, a former caterer and the author of this beautiful and unusual cookbook, currently teaches bread-making. In this book, she refers to most most recipes by their authentic Yemenite names. Bone soup—Marak Etsem/Marag ‘Atsli—is the daily pot of soup that cannot degenerate into a plain liquid; hence vegetables and other ingredients are added to it. Calf’s feet bring a certain intensity to the delicate broth, while other types of bones add to its gelatinous quality. Many Yemenites love it prepared this way, but others might refrigerate it so as to remove the fat layer before reheating. Galube/Galub/Kalub is the flipped bread referred to in the title. The bread is flipped in the pan to cook on both sides. It has a rustic appearance and brings great cheer when baked correctly.

The superb color photographs help us enter a culinary world that is not well known outside the Yemenite community. As the author explains in her introduction, “Yemenite Jews have been remarkably unselfish in sharing their culinary wealth, Gahnun/Jihnun rolls, the incendiary z’hug spread and bone soup have long been cultural emissaries and they are loved by Israelis across the ethnic divide. Yet with these few exceptions, Yemenite fare is terra incognita, even to many who take pride in being mavens of ethnic cookery.”

A section entitled “Yemenite Odyssey” provides an intriguing look into the history and traditions of the Yemenite Jews. Between 1911 and 1945, over 17,000 Jews from Yemen immigrated to Palestine. Since then, they have had a profound impact on Israeli society. The author describes the Yemenite kitchen, cooking techniques, and utensils in detail. A list of spices helps us understand that the Yemenite pantry resonates with biblical tones. Seeds, plants, and herbs are frequent ingredients, as is garlic.

The cookbook contains recipes for spice mixes, soups, coffee and tea, spicy z’hugs both green or red (depending on which herbs and peppers are used,; clarified butter (samneh)–all entice one to experiment with a variety of the recipes. Anecdotes make the book all the more interesting. We learn that Yemenite bakers “hover over their creations like mother hens until the process is completed.” A variety of culinary delights tempt the reader. Baked fish, farina pudding, dried white corn kernels and a coffee husk drink are just a few of the specialties presented.

The life cycle section informs the reader that the Yemenites special foods to help the new mother, who “…was pampered with chicken soup made with a two-month pullet, cooked until the meat fell from the bones, so the ‘weakened’ mother would not have to exert herself. With its colorful green herbs and light and refreshing flavor, this soup is the perfect anecdote to post-delivery blues.” The green chicken soup is a delight even if one is not a new mother. The reader is also given a glimpse into other rites that accompany the milestones, such as the henna/hinna betrothal celebration.

Etrog Schnapps, Dried Pea Soup, Yemenite Matzah, Sweet Breads, San’a Dukeh/Charoset, Kubaneh with Caramelized Onions, Pearl Divers’ Fish Steaks, Ja’leh (nibbles consisting of various chickpeas or dried beans), Gushum/G’shom (spicy tomato salad) and Tunfash (spicy popcorn) are but a few of the offerings that delighted this reviewer.

The book also contains product information, maps, a detailed appendix, index, and excellent explanatory notes on yeast.

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