Yemen on the brink: “We have a vaccine for this. It is called food.”

On March 30, the UK World Food Programme (WFP) and Omved Gardens hosted their latest instalment of The Chef’s Table, which this time focused on the food crisis in Yemen followed by a live cook-along. The cross continental zoom event highlighted the critical situation in Yemen and what can be done to help. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and the conflict, now entering its sixth year, has led to millions fleeing their homes and food prices skyrocketing. Currently, five million people are only one step away from famine in Yemen.

Yemen in Crisis

British WFP Chef-Advocate Arthur Potts Dawson began by introducing Annabel Symington, Communications & Media Officer for WFP, who described WFP’s food relief work and the crisis from her experience on the ground in Yemen.

Ms Symington explained that Yemen is a country that has historically imported most of its food, but that “Since the war, the price of food has sky-rocketed and now people can’t afford to buy it”. She added that the coastline and agricultural lands have been mined, destroying sources of local agriculture and compounding the severe economic decline due to the war. Ms Symington explained that just last week she had met a fisherman, Salam, on the Red Sea coast who was unable to fish and that even if he were able to fish, he would be unable to sell much of his produce. The markets have dried up given that the main market “is now on the other side of a front line.”

Funding to avert Famine

Ayaan and Mikaeel

Also present for the event were Ayaan and Mikaeel, two six-year-old best friends who decided to set up a lemonade stand outside their home in Redbridge, East London, to raise money for those affected by the Yemen crisis. The boys set a target of £500 but by the end of their first day had already raised £5000. When asked why he decided to raise money for Yemen, Ayaan replied that “We read a book called Boy about a kid who had to run away from his home because there was a civil war. Then our parents showed us the Yemen appeal and we saw how many children were suffering and we wanted to help them.” They went on to receive a donation from Oscar-winning actor and campaigner Angelina Jolie. Ayaan and Mikaeel’s excellent fundraising initiative helped raise a total of £100,000 for those affected by the Yemen crisis.

Critically underfunded, WFP’s ability to avert famine in Yemen, is hanging in the balance. As David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP says, “the answer is simple”.  “We have a vaccine for this. It is called food. All we need to save lives is funding.”

Ms Symington explained that the key to responding to the food crisis in Yemen is making sure that famine prevention is on the political agenda of donor countries. The June G7 summit will be a crucial opportunity to appeal to world leaders in an attempt to secure more funding. Asked what needs to happen to solve the food crisis in Yemen, Ms Symington responded, “To end hunger in Yemen, Yemen needs peace.”

Yemeni cuisine

Yemeni-American Chef Sukaina Al Shami

Yemeni-American Chef Sukaina Al Shami, shared her knowledge of Yemeni cuisine from her kitchen in the United States, guiding the audience and chef Arthur Potts-Dawson through the process of making Saltah, a traditional Yemeni dish. Sukaina explained that due to food shortages and malnutrition in Yemen, “food culture has not only changed but has also been threatened”. The cook-along celebrated Yemeni food culture with a demonstration of how to prepare a vegan version of a delicious staple meal in Yemeni cuisine. “Yemeni Saltah is probably one of the most iconic dishes in Yemeni cuisine. Some people even consider it to be ‘the king of the table’.” Sukaina told the audience.


Recipe – Yemeni Saltah (Vegan)

This recipe has three components to it:

  1. Vegetable stew
  2. Whipped Fenugreek
  3. Green Zahoug

Optional Toppings:

For the final results, enjoy every bite with the following ingredients:

  • Grated or minced fresh ginger
  • Minced green chili
  • Lemon slices


Vegetable Stew

  1. Place olive oil in a pot with diced onions and garlic on medium heat, cook until they start to soften then add in tomatoes, spices, and tomato paste, constantly moving them around until a sauce base is formed. In Yemeni cuisine, this is called the “Kushn”, add in zucchini, and pepper, cut into small dices and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  2. On medium high heat, add in potato chunks, and move them around until they begin to soften, add in more olive oil if needed.
  3. Once potatoes begin to cook, add in green beans, top off with hot water, salt, cover and reduce to low/medium until potatoes are fully cooked.

To make Yemeni spice mix combine: 1 tsp Cumin; ½ tsp black pepper; ½ tsp Ground coriander; ¼ tsp turmeric; pinch of ground cardamom; pinch of ground cloves.


Whipped Fenugreek

  1. In a bowl, add 2 ½ cups water, sprinkle the ground fenugreek and let it sit for 10 – 15 min.
  2. Drain out the water, what is left is jelly-like fenugreek. With a hand mixer, or by hand, mix -whisk until it’s its whipped and fluffy.
  3. Leave to the side.


Green Zahoug

Tsp fresh ginger

3 – 4 cloves of garlic

Tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

Bunch of Chinese chives OR green part of spring onions

Bunch of coriander

1-2 green chilis

  1. In a blender/processor, add in all ingredients, and blend, add in a tbsp of water or two if herbs are dry. If they were just rinsed, don’t dry them and place in your blender/processor right away.
  2. Next, add 2-3 tbsp of the green zahoug to the fenugreek and whip until fully mixed.

Assembling the Saltah

  1. Bring a clay pot, Dutch oven or casserole dish to medium high heat, add in vegetable stew and let it start to sizzle.
  2. Remove from heat onto serving table, top off with whipped fenugreek.
  3. Enjoy with flatbread and grated ginger, diced jalapenos and lemon juice.

Recipe by Sukaina Al Shami


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