Friday, April 10, 2009

Ethiopian Feast Recipes

This week was pancake week. I made slightly sour, spongy pancakes (flatbreads, really) known as injera, to accompany the Ethiopian feast I made for my husband's return home, and eggy, crepe-like pancakes with fruit sauces to commemorate Good Friday, a family tradition by way of Germany. Two pancakes from two parts of the world, and yes, to save our palates, the meals were separated in time by more than those commas. Injera and fruit? Not sure.

My husband and I have a favorite Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant in Geneva, Switzerland. Well, it isn't exactly a restaurant, really. Behind the tiny convenience store selling mostly Italian products, is a small gathering place for the Eritrean and Ethiopian community to watch Ethiopian TV and eat Eritrean and Ethiopian specialties. On the front door, next to the painted-on advertisement, "PRODUITS ITALIENS", we saw an easily missable hand-written sign hinting at an Ethiopian meal. An hour or so later, and blissfully feeding each other and ourselves with our hands, I told my husband the story of how I first experienced this seductive food.

Back home in Bloomington, Indiana, after my freshman year of college, I worked as a waitress at an Ethiopian restaurant. It was my first experience as a server, and my first injera. The ex-model owner of the restaurant was Ethiopian: long, gorgeous, and a very good cook. She explained to me about kaytenya, gomen, yebeg alecha, and doro wat, and I curiously scooped it up with the injera in my hands. I loved the spongy texture of the injera, and the strongly spiced and varied stews of chicken and hard-boiled eggs, kale, lamb, lentils, split peas. This was adventurous food. I was adventuring.

On tour to Washington, D.C., home to a large Ethiopian population, I introduced my fellow dance company members to this communal way of eating, and I tried my hand at injera and some of the stews when I returned home. I made a kind of faux injera, with white flour and carbonated water, as in the early nineties in NYC it was difficult to find teff, the world's smallest (and perhaps most nutritious) grain, the grain Ethiopians use. Teff, a member of the lovegrass family, is very high in calcium, iron, and protein, and the fermentation process used to make the injera adds necessary probiotics. Now grown in the U.S., primarily in Idaho, it is easily found in health food stores.

Last week, my friend Lisa asked me what she should do with teff, and, remembering that my husband and I had missed a date at that Ethiopian in Geneva, I thought I'd bring Ethiopia to us. I made my first, authentic, fermented, 100 percent teff flour injera, a few vegetarian stews, awaze (a fiery spice paste made with red wine), and an unctuous, and vaguely waxy, flax seed and honey beverage. This is what you do with teff, Lisa: make injera! And to accompany it, yemiser wat and atar alecha and gomen and awaze and telba. Ethiopian food, I lovegrass you.


Adapted from a recipe at this source:

24 oz ground teff, about 3 1/2 to 4 cups (Make sure the teff is ground; you could use a food processor for this task. I forgot to grind my teff before adding water, so I used an immersion blender after it was already combined, and that worked fine.)
4 cups water
salt, to taste
vegetable oil, for the skillet

Mix ground teff with the water and let it stand in a bowl covered with a dish towel at room temperature until it bubbles and has turned sour. This may take as long as 3 days. You can cook it before, it just won't be as sour. The fermenting mixture should be the consistency of a very thin pancake batter. If it's not, add a little more water.

Stir in the salt, a little at a time, until you can barely detect its taste.

Lightly oil an 8 or 9 inch skillet (or a larger one if you like), and heat it over medium heat.

Pour in enough batter to cover the bottom of the skillet. About 1/4 cup will make a thin pancake covering the surface of an 8 inch skillet, if you spread the batter around immediately by turning and rotating the skillet in the air. Injera is not supposed to be paper thin, so you should use a bit more batter than you would for crepes, but less than you would for pancakes.

Cook briefly, until holes form in the injera and the edges lift from the pan. Do not let it brown, and don't flip it over, as it is only supposed to be cooked on one side.

Remove and let cool.

To serve, lay one injera on a plate and ladle your chosen dishes on top. Serve additional injera on the side. Use the injera as a scoop to eat the delicious stews with your hands.

Niter Kibbeh (Butter/Oil mixture to use as base for many Ethiopian dishes)

Adapted from a recipe at this source:

This isn't necessary to make (using olive oil as a base is acceptable), but using this spiced butter (or oil) will add layers of flavor to your stews that will make the extra effort worth it.

1 lb unsalted butter (I used goat milk butter mixed with olive oil)
3/4 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (I used fresh turmeric root)
4 cardamom seeds, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves, whole
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds

In a small saucepan, gradually melt the butter (I used 1 lb goat milk butter and about one cup olive oil) and bring it to bubbling. When the top is covered with foam, add the other ingredients, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently simmer, uncovered, on low heat. After about 45 to 60 minutes, when the surface becomes transparent and the milk solids are on the bottom, pour the liquid through a cheesecloth into a heat-resistant container. Squeeze the solids until you retrieve all the clarified butter (or oil), and discard them, keeping the butter. Covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator, niter kibbeh will keep for up to 2 months. Note: A good quality olive or other oil may be substituted for the butter.

Berbere and Awaze

Berbere is a dry, fragrant, and very spicy condiment that is also used to flavor the spicy wat dishes in Ethiopian cuisine. Mixed with a little red wine and olive oil, it becomes a sauce, or a paste, called awaze, and can be eaten alongside finished dishes as a hot sauce. I found this recipe years ago, when I first attempted Ethiopian food, and it has stayed a favorite. I have no idea where it came from, so I am unable to credit the source. Enjoy; this is great.

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup dried onion flakes
4 oz (or more, or less, to taste) dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
x amount of cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon to 1/2 cup (yes, that is what the recipe really says!)

Toast the cumin, cloves, cardamom, peppercorn, allspice, and fenugreek over medium heat until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Cool completely.
Combine toasted spices with other dry ingredients, and grind in a spice grinder.

To make awaze, the spicy paste, add 1/2 cup dry red wine, and 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

Yemesir Wat (Ethiopian Red Lentil Puree)

Adapted from a recipe at this source:

Serves 4-6
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled, minced
1/4 cup oil, butter or niter kibbeh
1 teaspoon turmeric (I used fresh turmeric root)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 lb red lentils
4 cups water
salt and pepper, to taste

Puree onion, garlic, and ginger (and turmeric root, if using fresh turmeric) in a food processor or blender.

Heat oil, butter, or niter kibbeh in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add turmeric, paprika and cayenne pepper, and stir rapidly to color the oil and cook the spices through, about 30 seconds.  Add the onion puree and sauté on medium heat until excess moisture evaporates, and the onion loses its raw aroma, about 5-10 minutes.  Do not burn.

Add lentils and water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are cooked through and fall apart, about 30-40 minutes.  Add water if necessary to keep from drying out.

Stir in salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Gomen (Stewed Collard Greens or Kale)

adapted from a recipe at this source:

1 large bunch collard greens, or kale, about 1 1/2 pounds
1/4 cup niter kibbeh, ghee or olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 fresh hot peppers, seeded and minced (or to taste)
1 cup broth, or water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cardamom

Tear stems from collard greens (or kale), and wash greens well. Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Add greens to water and boil briskly for 15 minutes. Drain, squeezing water from greens. When cool enough to handle, slice them thinly. (I skipped this step, and added the raw greens directly to the skillet after the onion mixture was cooked, covered them, and simmered until they were cooked. That way, I didn't lose any of the vitamins in the kale to the water.)

In a large skillet, melt the niter kibbeh (or oil). Add onion, garlic, ginger and hot peppers, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add collard greens (or kale), broth (or water), salt, pepper and cardamom. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, or until most of water has evaporated from pan. Serve with injera.

Yield: 4 servings

Atar Alecha (Spiced Green Split Pea Puree)

adapted from a recipe at this source:

I doubled this recipe.

1/3 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon niter kibbeh (or oil)
1 cup dry split green peas, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 teaspoons green chile, minced (I didn't add this, as I wanted one mild dish)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water

Soak the split peas for one hour in three cups of water.

In a dry pan over moderately low heat, stir-fry the onion and garlic for 2 minutes. (I skipped this step.)

Add the niter kibbeh (or oil) and sauté until the onion becomes transparent.

Add the turmeric, green chiles (if using), and salt to the onion mixture.

Add the peas, and enough water to cover them by about an inch, and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring regularly, and adding more water if necessary, until the peas fall apart. When the peas are cooked, mash them well.

Add the water, if necessary, and cook to reduce the mixture to a thick, well-spiced pureé.

Serve warm, or at room temperature, with injera.

Telba (Ethiopian Flaxseed Beverage)

Adapted from a recipe at this source:

1 cup flaxseed
6 cups water
1 to 2 tablespoons honey

Heat a cast-iron skillet over low heat. Add flaxseed and dry roast, stirring for about 5-10 minutes. (I did this, but would skip this step in the future, to avoid heating and destroying the great properties of the delicate flax oil.) Remove from heat and cool. Place flaxseed in a spice grinder and grind to a powder.  Sieve into a bowl. (I didn't strain the seeds, but if you're not a fan of chewing a little flax, I would advise you strain.) Add water and stir. Let sit for about 10-20 minutes to allow solids to settle out.  Strain into a pitcher. Add (warmed) honey and chill.

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