Give and Takeout

O ne of the most interesting takeout menus in town doesn’t come from a restaurant. It comes from Sanctuary Kitchen, a culinary and professional development program for refugees and immigrants, whose food you can order by 5 p.m. Monday for pickup later in the week.

When I arrived at 109 Legion Avenue (just before Dwight Street) to collect my Friday night meal, the stainless steel countertop in the entryway was crowded with brown bags, and several other customers were picking up their orders. Lead chefs Aminah Al-Saleh of Syria and Azhar Ahmed of Sudan were joking together, and Al-Saleh wanted to be sure I knew she’d cooked the chicken I was about to enjoy.

At home, my husband and daughter and I dug into our selections: Syrian Lemon Chicken with Potatoes for 2 ($16), Mauritian Scallion Crepes (3 pieces for $7) and, for dessert, Basta—Sudanese phyllo rolls with peanuts and coconut (6 pieces for $6). The chicken—two generous pieces that we stretched for three people—was moist and tender, served on a bed of soft potato chunks and subtly spiced to highlight the potato and chicken. We literally licked our fingers as we ate, not wanting to miss a morsel.

Meal pickup is at 4 p.m., so reheating was a necessity. We had sent the chicken dish into the microwave, but we opted to warm the spongy Mauritian crepes in the oven to preserve their texture. Folded into semicircles, they were generously laced with chopped green scallions, serving not as a garnish but as the star of the dish. A spicy, bright salsa full of cilantro and heat transformed this side dish into something more exciting for one of us, while the other two preferred the scallion-forward version.

For dessert, we savored the basta’s crispy layers of phyllo surrounding a sweet, peanutty filling. What looked at first like powdered sugar on top turned out to be minutely shaved coconut. This delicate dessert was a happy ending to our first Sanctuary Kitchen meal. We all agreed we would order again.

While our meal was both delicious and a good value, there’s that other reason patrons support Sanctuary Kitchen, notes program director Quynh Tran: its mission. While its 11 current refugee and immigrant chefs—who hail from Syria, Mauritius, Nepal, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan—are preparing dishes from their native countries, they’re also learning English, formal culinary skills, food presentation, job readiness and more.

In addition to offering takeout food on Fridays and sometimes Wednesdays, Sanctuary Kitchen, a program of the New Haven nonprofit CitySeed, also offers catering, cooking demonstrations and other culinary events and sells its wares at CitySeed farmers’ markets. A popular five-week subscription menu called Sahtain! also runs several times a year. For those who don’t want to pick up their food, Sanctuary Kitchen will deliver within a four-mile radius.

Another appeal is the kitchen’s constantly changing menu. Naan and pita are always on offer, says Tran, who joined the organization last summer. Beyond that, she says, “There’s just so much good food… There’s stuff on the menu next week that I’ve never tasted before.”

Sanctuary Kitchen
109 Legion Ave, New Haven (map)
Order pickups: Fri 4pm (and some Wednesdays); order by Mon 5pm
(203) 773-3736 x2 | [email protected]
www.sanctuary-kitchen.square.site

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image features Azhar Ahmed (left) and Aminah Al-Saleh.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts somewhat-weekly content on her YouTube channel, Better Book Clubs.

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