Anyway, my book club meets monthly, and last Thursday it was my turn to host the group for dinner and conversation about the novel. The story is set mostly in Ethiopa, so I decided I would try cooking some native dishes for us to enjoy.
We have one vegetarian in our group, so my search centered around recipes that she could enjoy with us, and except for the chicken stew, the entire meal was not only vegetarian but also super-easy to veganize. Also, each individual recipe was quite easy, though cooking all of them in a few nights proved a bit of a challenge.
I quickly figured out that before you can cook Ethiopian food, you need two key ingredients:
- Berbere: a spice mixture that combines the heat of dried chiles with the cozy warmth of all those great pumpkin pie spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)…not to mention a couple of ingredients that I had to shop for (fenugreek, cardamom pods).
- Nit’r qibe: a spiced butter that aromatics are usually cooked in before other ingredients are added.
So, my first task was making big batches of berbere and nit’r qibe, because almost every recipe I found called for one or both, and I figured they might be good things to have around the house for future cooking adventures. And let me tell you, I fully intend to keep both of these in stock at all times, because they’re really damn good.
I also went ahead and mixed up dough for injera, the traditional Ethiopian sourdough flatbread that customarily serves as both dish and eating utensil. I still planned to provide plates and forks to my guests, but thought the bread would be good for sopping up all the stews and veggies I was making. If I were Ethiopian (or had access to a really good African grocery), I would’ve used teff flour, but I had no idea where to find that, so I followed this recipe instead.
Well, my injera dough was nice and thin like crepe batter, just like the recipe said. My pan was nice and hot, a solid medium-high, just like the recipe said. My dough spread thin and got nice and bubbly on top, just like the recipe said.
But (why is there always a “but”?) somehow, despite being less than tortilla-thick, my bread was sticky and doughy in the middle no matter how done the outside was.
So, I scrapped that kitchen disaster and got Micah to implement the back-up plan, a mixture of white and brown basmati in the rice cooker. Not the traditional starch for an Ethiopian meal, but it was perfectly fine.
What did we eat with our not-so-Ethiopian rice?
- Doro Wat – spicy chicken stew (two changes: I made this in the slow-cooker and substituted chicken breasts for the legs because that’s what I had in my freezer)
- Misr Wat – spicy red lentil stew
- Gomen Wat – stewed collard greens (Micah suggested adding lemon to this because it needed some acid to balance the spice, and he was totally right)
- Atar Alecha – green split pea puree (Micah’s and my favorite)
- Fosoleay – berbere-spiced carrots, potatoes, and green beans
Not only was dinner delicious, but we enjoyed a yummy pre-dinner snackie called dabo kolo. These are spicy little peanut-sized nuggets, kind of like a cracker. They’re traditionally fried, but mine were baked per the recipe I used and still ridiculously addictive! In fact, we kind of ate them all before I could snap a photo. But this is what they look like:
Finally, I was at first saddened to learn that Ethiopia doesn’t really have a traditional dessert. But I did read about a traditional layered fruit drink that sounded light, sweet, cool, and pretty much perfect for ending our hearty, spicy meal. So I made my own version with pureed honey-sweetened avocado, mango, and strawberries:
Micah and I are still enjoying the leftovers from this delicious feast, though I’m sad to say we’ve already devoured the dabo kolo snackies as well as the entire batch of split peas, so I need to make more. Soon.
I knew nothing about Ethiopian food before last week, and I have no idea if my dishes would pass muster with the natives, but I do highly recommend all of these recipes if you’re eager for some culinary globe-trotting.