North Park restaurant offers taste of Yemen, with plenty of mandi to go around

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A lot of people will be talking about chocolates and champagne on Valentine's Day, but our Hungry Hound says you can also fall in love with a tiny restaurant in the North Park neighborhood.

The family behind it is from Yemen, and even though there are some similarities to other Middle Eastern cuisines, he says the lamb dishes, in particular, are worth seeking out.

The first question you'll ask yourself, when you hear about a place called the Sheeba Mandi House is, what is mandi? It's basically lamb and rice cooked in an underground pit. They don't have a pit in North Park, but the owners do love cooking lamb in several ways, and funny enough, for dishes that originate in a hot climate, they seem remarkably well-suited to our brutally cold winters.

EXTRA COURSE: BABA GANOUSH AT SHEEBA MANDI HOUSE
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In Steve's Extra Course Video, he takes a closer look at the baba ganoush served at Sheeba Mandi House.



Within minutes of spending any time in the kitchen at the Sheeba Mandi House in North Park, you notice a theme, lots of Mandi.

"Mandi is like the meat, the lamb; in Yemen it's very famous dishes that have everything to do with lamb," owner Faiz Muthana said.

One of the most popular dishes from Yemen is haneeth. Spices like cumin, cinnamon and cardamom are combined with tomato paste and turmeric, as well as some oil, to get everything fully-incorporated. That marinade is rubbed into chunks of lamb and left for several hours, if not overnight. Then it roasts slowly.

"It's like four hours cooking, very slow fire, 350 degrees for four hours; it comes out fall-off-the-bone," he said.

The basmati rice that serves as a base is also seasoned beyond the usual spice blend.
"We use the soup that comes from the lamb; we use (it) to baste the basmati rice. We add dried lemon, turmeric," Muthana said.

But if you wanted to, ordering a side of bread would be a good idea, since it's all rolled out and baked in a giant tandoor oven, a remnant of the previous tenant.

The other dish - perfect on a cold day - is the fahsa, think shredded lamb stew. First, a base of tomatoes, jalapenos and garlic are heated in a clay pot. Cumin and turmeric are added, along with fenugreek paste and finally, the cooked, partially shredded lamb, which renders its fat into the pot as it cooks. Served piping hot, it's perfect this time of year.

"It's like a starter for us, traditional dish, shredded meat. And then we use the soup that comes from the lamb to get that sauce, to get that boiling in it. So everything has to do with the soup of the lamb, to make the rice, to make the fahsa," he said.

Sheeba Mandi House
3456 W. Foster Ave.
773-654-3349

sheebamandihouse.com
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