A Taste of Ethiopian Cuisine
Ancient Grains to Spicy Stews
Ethiopia’s principal crops are coffee, beans, cereals, potatoes, livestock, sugar and oilseeds. Although only a third of its population is Muslim, traditional Ethiopian cuisine does not use pork or shellfish as ingredients. Also, utensils are not used at meal time. One item, a sour flat bread called injera, is made from fermented teff flour. Teff is an ancient grain grown in Ethiopia’s highlands. It is the smallest of all grains--it takes about 150 grains of teff to equal the size of one grain of wheat, and about 3,000 grains of teff equals just 1g. Teff is low in gluten; high in protein; and a good source of calcium, iron and fiber. Injera is eaten with most Ethiopian meals. It is made from teff flour that is mixed with water to make a pancake-like batter texture. Then, it is covered and set aside for about three days, to allow fermentation to occur. After the batter has fermented, it is poured on a hot griddle to cook. Prepared stews are traditionally poured over the injera, and diners use their fingers to tear off pieces of the bread throughout the meal.
Ethiopian cuisine contains many varieties of spiced vegetable dishes and stews. One signature dish is fasolia, which is string beans and carrots, sautéed in caramelized onions and red bell peppers. There is a dish called gomen be sida, which is a lamb stew, traditionally served with a side dish of sautéed collard greens and buttermilk curds. Toul can be found on many Ethiopian restaurant menus, worldwide. It is made with cooked peas, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and peppers.
Whole Foods Market has a popular Ethiopian-style chickpea stew recipe on its website. The ingredients include several private label brand products, such as canned chickpeas, tomato sauce, vegetable broth, onion, red potatoes, carrots, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, ginger, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt.
A National Staple
The national dish of Ethiopia is a spicy stew called wat. It can be made with beef, chicken, lamb and goat, or it can contain only vegetables. One of the key ingredients used in wat is a spice mix called berbere, containing ginger, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek seeds, ginger, cloves, garlic cloves, cinnamon, allspice, onions, salt, ground red hot peppers, vegetable oil, water, salt and black pepper. All of the ingredients are combined and cooked into a paste texture. Doro wat is the most popular dish eaten in Ethiopia. It is a chicken stew made with tender chicken (marinated chicken legs in lemon juice), onions, garlic, ginger, white wine, fenugreek seeds, cardamom, nutmeg, spiced butter oil and boiled eggs. The spiced butter oil is made with unsalted butter, onions, garlic, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. The butter is melted first; then, the rest of the ingredients are added and heated over very low heat, until the milk solids are separated (on the bottom) from the rest of the liquid. Then, it is strained through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Like clarified butter, spiced butter oil must be stored in the refrigerator, to keep it from turning rancid.
It has been 13 years since the Chicago-based restaurant, Ethiopian Diamond, opened. Doro wat continues to be one of the establishment’s best-selling menu items. An appetizer called sambusa (aka samosa) is also popular. It is made of thin dough that has been cut into shell shapes and stuffed with seasoned, minced meat and vegetables, before they are deep fried in vegetable oil. One of the restaurant’s side dishes is gomen--chopped collard greens simmered in a red pepper sauce, along with onions and garlic. In Ethiopia, traditionally, this dish is called abesha gomen (spicy collard greens), and it is made with chopped collard greens, olive oil, red onions, garlic, ginger, green chilies, vegetable stock, red bell peppers, salt and black pepper.
Like most African countries, desserts are not a regular part of Ethiopians’ daily diet or lifestyle. However, there are sweet breads sold by vendors on the streets in Addis Ababa and smaller cities and towns. One of the breads is called dabo kolo, which is a spicy/sweet, bite-sized fried bread made with flour, sugar, water, vegetable oil, cayenne pepper and salt. The ingredients are mixed together, then divided into small golf ball-sized pieces, which are then fried in vegetable oil. Another sweet bread is called honey bread (yeast-based; made with flour, honey, vegetable oil and salt). Sometimes, fresh, chopped herbs, such as rosemary or basil, are added to honey bread to create a sweet, herbal flavor. pf
www.PreparedFoods.com -- Type in key words, “A Taste of Regional African Cuisine,” for a May 2009, Prepared Foods’ article on this exotic cuisine
www.ethiopiandiamondcuisine.com -- For a look at the Chicago restaurant mentioned in the article
www.ethiopianrestaurant.com -- A complete guide, with with pictures and recipes
www.globalgourmet.com/destinations/ethiopia/ethiback.html -- For background and history of Ethiopia