How to make Bint al-Sahn: A Romantic Yemeni Dish
By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer
“Bint al-Sahn,” بنت الصحن, is a popular Yemeni dish that translates to ‘daughter of the plate.’ The dish is romanticized and symbolizes the coming of age for a Yemeni girl. In the transitioning of girlhood to womanhood, a Yemeni woman eligible for marriage would show off her cooking skills. It is usually served at engagements and weddings. Yemeni women learn to make essential Yemeni dishes like this to pass it down to her daughters and future generations to come. Bint al- sahn also symbolizes love. It is a love message to your person of interest, each layer like a lustered lyric. You’ll only make this dish for the one you love because the process is intricate and lengthy.
This dish is referred to as a pizza, but I would describe it as layered bread dish or honey cake. It is a Yemeni sweet prepared with flour, eggs, yeast, samn (clarified butter), and habbat sowda or black cumin/ nigella seeds. It is the Yemeni version of a croissant, as each layer is covered with butter, and its outcome is a rich and flaky bread. It is best eaten hot, eaten with honey and served with tea.
It’s easy to confuse sahn with its twin sister sabaya, both follow the layering technique but vary in ingredient and texture. Sabaya is made without eggs and is crispy and crunchy whereas sahn is thick, soft, and pillowy.Despite the simple ingredients, the dish is difficult and time consuming and will take more than a few tries to perfect it. The dish is composed of 20-30 layers and each layer needs to be paper thin. You must layer each dough without it ripping, a skill acquired only through experience. If you are new to Yemeni cuisine and would like to make this, consider it a challenge.
- 13 x 12.5 pizza pan
- 5 cups flour
- 2 cups warm water
- Sprinkle of yeast
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1/3 cup ghee
- Nigella/ black seeds to sprinkle on top
- Mix flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.
- Add 4 eggs in the dry mixture, one at a time, and mix. Once the eggs are incorporated add the 1/3 cup samn (clarified butter/ ghee) and mix.
- After adding the samn and eggs slowly add in the water. Please do not add the water all at once! You might need to add more or less depending on consistency.
- Knead for 10- 15 minutes. Once dough has the perfect consistency, not too sticky or dry, allow it to rest for ½ an hour. ***The dough should be smooth, lax, and it shouldn’t stick to your hands.***
- Sprinkle dough unto a surface and once the dough is rested, cut it into about 20 pieces, equally sized and place it on the well- floured surface.
- Once finished sprinkle it with flour and cover it to rest for another ½ hour. In the meantime, melt extra ghee to grease the pizza pan.
- Now comes the hardest part. Roll out a piece slowly stretch it unto the edges of the pizza pan. Ensure that it does not rip and if it does its okay. It requires experience and skill to perfect this dish. When I first made it, every layer ripped haha! Don’t worry about it!
- Repeat this process with every layer. Making sure to show each layer with melted samn.
- After you’ve done all the layers, brush the top layer with the egg wash. Then sprinkle samn and nigella/ black seeds.
- Allow it to rest for half an hour while you preheat your oven to 470 degrees F.
- I baked mines for about 15 minutes. It may vary, be sure to keep an eye out. A finished sahn will be reddish brown on top. It should puff up but once takin out the oven it’ll deflate.
- Once cooled, cut a slice, drizzle with honey, and enjoy with tea.
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