Black History Month Sunday Dinners: Part One – Ethiopia

It’s Black History Month and it’s time to celebrate the only way I know how: through song and food. Michael and I decided rather spontaneously to dedicate our Sunday dinner escapades to this celebration of the history of African Canadians  – and what better way to start than with Ethiopian, a cuisine that is just so healthy, flavourful and very vegetarian-friendly.

I first discovered Ethiopian in the least likely of places – Ottawa. One really rainy Easter weekend, we decided to check out Horn of Africa on Rideau, and although it was a mere hole-in-the-wall with plastic chairs, I was immediately captivated by flavours and textures that were just so new and thus exciting. Now, over a decade later, I have been to many Ethiopian places – ranging from dive-y to quaint to almost-elegant, but have yet to find Ethiopian food in this city that tops the Ethiopian food I tried in (of all places) Winnipeg!  So, doing what I do best, I try to re-create it in my kitchen.

Tonight we went all out – Atakilt We’t (cabbage, carrot and potato stew), Yemisr We’t (lentil stew), gomen (collard greens) and salad, served over injera bread. None of the recipes are original or my own (obviously…it’s not as though I come from a long line of Ethiopian chefs who have passed their secret recipes on to me) but I have tweaked them to suit my dietary needs and preferences. None of them are difficult or time consuming on their own – it’s only when you attempt a full feast in a puny kitchen like mine that things get a little harried (as they did last night). The bonus is that we have enough food for the next three days. But you could easily take one of these recipes to create a perfectly easy, filling and healthy weeknight meal. The yemisr we’t is my personal favourite.

A word on injera: injera is the slightly sour flat bread that resembles a hole-covered pancake or crepe essential to an Ethiopian meal. Everyone tears off pieces of the crepe and scoops up morsels of stews or vegetables. Making injera properly requires access to teff flour and a lot of patience and planning. I made it once: I had to start 5 days ahead of my cooking night, as injera batter or dough needs to ferment for at least that amount of time. I since developed my own kind of ‘faux injera’ recipe because let’s face it – unless you’re Ethiopian, you probably aren’t going to be on a regular rotation of feeding sour dough and cooking injera, nor will you be planning in advance for each Ethiopian-inspired meal you make. I got the idea from a few other food blogs of using club soda to emulate the holes in the injera, but where I refused to compromise was in the teff flour that is traditionally used to make injera. Teff is now pretty easy to find in the GTA as most Bulk Barns and health food stores carry it. It’s an incredibly  healthy flour – it is gluten free, extremely high in protein and full of fibre. So my injera uses teff but cheats on the fermenting process and takes a whole 5 minutes to whip up. This time I used teff from the Bulk Barn, but I honestly believe the Bob’s Red Mill stuff I got at the health food store was better. Nonetheless, it worked in the end.

Before getting into the recipes, I must give a link for berbere – the spice that is quintessential to Ethiopian cooking – and used in the yemisr we’t recipe I am sharing below. I have tried many different blends, but my favourite is this one, because it uses ajowain seeds. Ajowain (or ajwan) can be found easily at Indian stores, and although I know little about them, I do know that without them, the food lacks that warm and exotic flavour I’ve come to associate with Ethiopian food. This recipe will give you enough berbere for about 6 stews:  http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/berbere.html

Of course no Ethiopian meal is complete without a cup of thick, aromatic coffee. Although I did not have green beans to roast the traditional way, I was able to brew some fantastic Ethiopian yirgacheffe coffee from a small, independent Fair Trade roaster in Winnipeg that my aunt and uncle sent us by mail a little over a week ago. It is fantastic – absolutely beautiful coffee – and they have a website: http://www.blackpearlcoffee.ca/ Check it out and support fair trade (and while I am at it, if you want to make a night of it, watch the movie Black Gold (www.blackgoldmovie.com) which chronicles the struggle of impoverished Ethiopian coffee farmers seeking a fair price for their coveted beans.

So with no further ado, here are the recipes!

Atakilt We’t

Ingredients:

1-2 tbsp olive oil + approximately 1/4 cup water

1 onion, thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, smashed in a mortar and pestle with 1 tsp salt

1/2 head of white or green cabbage, cut thinly

3-4 large carrots, diced

3-4 potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 tsp cardamom (ground)

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

Instructions:

Heat oil in a large pot and add garlic and onions, frying for a few minutes. Add remaining vegetables and fry for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add spices and stir to coat the vegetables. Reduce heat and cook for approximately 1/2 hour until the vegetables are tender. You will need to stir it periodically, but keeping the lid on the pot will retain moisture. Add water as necessary to keep vegetables from sticking to the pan (or, add oil if fat is not a concern to you).

Yemisr We’t (adapted from: http://ethiopianrecipes.net/yemiser-wet-spicy-lentil-stew/)

I made the following adaptations: niter kebbeh – a sort of spiced ghee – is normally used, but I have never used it because you generally have to make or buy a huge amount  – too much for my purposes. So I use Indian ghee and add a tiny pinch of cardamom and cloves. I eliminated green peas because my husband hates peas. I replaced the chopped tomatoes with 1 1/2 cups of Pomi crushed tomatoes because tomatoes in February are – quite frankly – tasteless. And finally, I used 1 tbsp of the berbere spice given above – 1 tsp might be more appropriate for a hotter, more concentrated berbere, but it doesn’t give the kick I am looking for with the berbere I use.

Ingredients:

1 cup brown lentils, washed and sorted

1 tbsp ghee + pinch of cardamom and cloves (a very small pinch)

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves minced garlic

1 1/2 cup good quality crushed tomatoes

1/3 cup tomato paste

1 tbsp paprika

1 tbsp cumin

1 tbsp berbere spice blend

1 tsp salt (optional)

1 cup vegetable broth/stock

Instructions:

Cook lentils in a separate pot of 3-4 cups water until tender, then drain. Meanwhile, heat the ghee and cardamom/cloves until melted and add onions and garlic. When onions are softened, add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and when lentils are cooked, add them to the pot, cooking gently until much of the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is thick (similar to a thick curry).

Gomen (collard greens)

Ingredients:

1 bunch collard greens

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 red chili

salt to taste

Instructions:

Remove stems from collard greens, wash leaves thoroughly, and chop finely. Set aside. Heat oil and add red onion, garlic and ginger. Saute for 5 minutes until onion is softened. Add collard greens and chilli pepper and cook approximately 10 minutes, stirring often. Season to taste with salt.

Salad

Baby romaine or spring mix or other green lettuce

1 cucumber, minced finely

3 green onions, minced

1 tomato, seeds removed, finely chopped (to do this, slice the tomato in half, squeeze gently until seeds are pushed up and remove with a tea spoon)

2 tbsp minced parsley

1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed and minced

1/2 lime and 1/2 lemon (or just lemon)

1 tbsp olive oil

pepper and salt

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl except oil and lemon/lime. Toss the salad. Whisk the oil, lime and lemon juice with salt and pepper in a bowl and drizzle over the salad before serving.

Faux Injera

1 can club soda or perrier

1 cup teff flour

3/4 cup white or whole wheat flour

1 tsp ground fenugreek (optional)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 lemon

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients while you heat up a large flat bottomed pan (preferably non-stick). Squeeze the lemon gently, avoiding seeds, into the batter. Whisk the batter really well. Batter should be fairly thin, although not as think as crepe batter. Using a ladle, rapidly pour the batter into a heated pan and swirl the pan so that the batter spreads evenly across it. Keeping heat at medium, wait for bubbles to appear in the crepe and for the batter to cook on the top, approximately 40 seconds. Do not flip the crepe. Gentle remove with a pancake flipper and place on a plate. Continue until all batter is used.

Assembly:

If you have just made the bread and one stew, simply serve the stew in a bowl with a ladle and the injera rolled up on a plate. Tear off pieces of injera and scoop up the stew with your right hand and eat.

If you have gone all out, line a large, round dish with several pieces of injera and arrange the stews in a circle around the bowl. You can use the injera lining the bowl to scoop up the food, or extra pieces of injera on a serving plate.

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