Tuesday, November 09, 2010

VeganMoFo: The Epic Ethiopian Culinary Adventure!

MoFos! Travel north with me to Eastern Africa... to the land of Ethiopia!

Many years ago, maybe 12 years ago, I had Ethiopian food with my mom. I really didn't like it. I remember that it gave me some kind of crazy stomach ache. My mom and I tried to go for a walk, but I felt icky. Also, Mr. Vegan Eats & Treats had Ethiopian food once, many years ago, and he didn't like it either. But nowadays, all the cool kids are always going on and on about "injera this" and "ethiopian that," and I've been feeling kinda left out. It's not like we have Ethiopian restaurants here in Santa Cruz, so I decided to bravely return to the "scene of the crime," and give Ethiopian food another shot.

So, I turned to the obvious authoritative source on vegan Ethiopian eating, Miss Kittee's esteemed and most delightful Papa Tofu Zine, which happens to have quite an impressive collection of Ethiopian recipes. I picked out a few recipes to make and got to writing out my grocery list. Wait. What's this? I need sourdough starter? Oh, okay. So, I bought a little packet of sourdough starter at the store. Wait. What's this? The sourdough starter needs 24 hours to activate. Oh, okay. So, I put off Ethiopian food for another day or two. Reading the recipe for this legendary fermented Ethiopian bread called injera, I come across another surprise. Wait! What's this? The injera batter needs to sit out for 3 days? Oh, okay. I didn't realize you need to plan 3 months in advance to make homemade Ethiopian food. I was afraid I'd have to have some sort of "Around the World in 30 Days" flight delay!

Uh,... yum?

Finally the big day was here! I set about making all my various dishes... ignoring the weird bowl of stinky fermenty teff batter on the counter. I facebook chatted kittee to express my anxiety that my injera was either going to fail miserably or give Mr. VE&T and I some sort of bacterial disease. She was very kind and reassuring.

But, as you can see, that batter was seriously intimidating looking. I forged ahead. Poured the batter on the pan. Watched as it superglued itself to our "nonstick" pan, and then stubbornly refused to come off.

Injera FAIL.

A child only a mother could love.

Tried again, and another failure... straight into the bin! Undeterred, I tried again. This time I did not spread the batter around. I just poured it on and left it. Hoorah! Success! It might not be perfect, but I'll tell you what, it was definitely passable. I was perfectly content. Just look at those brown beauties. The injera is made with all teff flour (except the little bit of wheat flour in the sourdough starter)... so it has a dark, sort of buckwheat color. As you may have noticed, it's kinda grey when it's raw, but somehow it cooks up into a rich, nutty brown color.

injera zoom!

Along with the injera, we needed some main dishes to go with it, obvs. So, I made "Yemiser W'et (Lentils in a Spicy Red Gravy)" first. Mmmmm! This recipe had a couple other little elements that required advanced prep first. I had to make the spiced Earth Balance mixture called "niter kebbeh." Kittee warns us Papa Tofu readers that these recipes aren't low fat, but that reducing the niter kebbeh will also reduce the flavor. So, I decided to solve this problem by quartering the fat in the niter kebbeh recipe, but only going halfsies on the spices. I'm sure it was cheating, but it worked great for me. Also, this recipe called for the classic Ethiopian spice mixture called "Berbere." I couldn't find any in the stores... so I turned to one of my library books, A Taste of Africa and looked up their recipe. Well, their recipe was excellent, but produced One Pound of spice, which is certainly more than I needed (1 Tbsp, to be precise). So, I 1/8'ed it, and then some... and still ended up with a whole spice jar full of berbere. Cool! Anyhow, after all that work, this Lentils dish came together actually quite easily and was very, very good. Full of spice, but not in a 5-alarm fire kind of way, just in a complex and flavorful way. And all cooked down into a thick, lentil-y stew of deliciousness.

Next I made "Gomen," or collards. I love collards and I always think of collards and African cuisine as BFFs... so I wanted to make sure that our ATWin30D experience in Africa included at least one collards dish. These collards were excellent!!!!

The other dish I made was "Yetakelt Kilkil (Gingery Vegetable Stew)". Hello, Friend! This dish was SO good, and so simple. Just as Kittee promises, this is a dish you can throw together, put it in the oven, stir it around every 10 minutes, and otherwise forget about it while you make everything else. Plus, it's totally off-the-hook tasty magic. I was pretty surprised that a little mess of some humble veggies, with just a little spiced butter (I used less than the recipe called for), could cook up into something so full of flavor and so fun to eat.

It's probably obvious by now that this was a pretty big production as far as dinners go... but it was actually pretty easy to make these dishes concurrently. While the veggies were in the oven, and the lentils were simmering and thickening, I could cook up the collards. And collards, as you may know, can't really be overcooked, so while they were doing their thing, I could make the injera.

This meal ended up being really great, and has most definitely redeemed the world of Ethiopian food for both Mr. VE&T and me. Hoorah!! Funny enough, after all the work and days of bubbly fermentation and experimentation, the injera was just fine for me though and not a favorite for Mr.VE&T... whereas everything else was crazy great. So next time around, maybe I'll just skip the injera, and then I won't need the 3 month advance planning either!

As a result of all this excitement, I have documented for you:
The Many Moods of Making Ethiopian Food

1. I bravely tackle a world cuisine that I have previously not enjoyed
1a. I didn't draw this, but I should have had a cartoon of me staring at the calendar, making a date in pen with injera, one week from now.
2. I routinely return to the bowl of injera batter to inspect its weirdness and smell its icky fermenty smells.
3. I fret over what digestive troubles I will get from eating something that has been sitting out for 3 days. And from the fact that my bowl of injera batter does not look like the injera batter pictures on kittee's blog.
4. I experience injera failure. I am more bemused than despondent.
I switch to a higher caliber non-stick pan.
5. I triumph over the evil spirits of Injera Failure and experience some semblance of injera success!
We eat delicious Ethiopian food and are filled with happiness. Spices! Flavors! Textures! Nutrient magic! Mr. VE&T goes back for 2nds, then 3rds. From the kitchen he sings out: "I whip this food into my face! I whip this food into my face!"
After dinner we rest on the sofa with our furry buddies. Mr VE&T watches tennis and I draw cartoons and snuggle the furbies. (attentive readers: don't worry, I'm not neglecting Stevie Wonder. She likes to sit on the futon in the computer room after dinner most nights, not on the sofa with the rest of us. She is an antisocial weirdo and we love her anyway. You'll have to go into the computer room if you want to visit her.)


  1. That looks crazy good! And that cartoons is really funny.

  2. amey!
    you are hilarious. i bet you didn't go out and buy a new "dedicated" teflon pan like i instructed, right? tsk tsk. and teflon, is so ewwwww. but, it looks like you had fun and made tasty food anyway! me along with the people of ethiopia are proud of you. actually i have o idea about the people of ethiopia, but i bet my friend hirut would be proud. she seemed to really like the fact that i made my own injera, too. bring leftovers on friday!


  3. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I am so glad it was all worth it after all that work! I love Ethiopian food but I have never made the injera.

  4. Kudos to anyone who makes injera! I just don't have the foresight to make something like this. I'd definitely like to in the future though and I will bear your mishaps in mind.

  5. Bummer about the stubborn injera, but the meal looks fantastic anyway! :) I still haven't tried Ethiopian food yet...definitely must do that soon.

  6. Gabrielle Pope10:07 AM

    You are adorable.

    SF has some Ethiopian restaurants that are decent. Not AMAZING, but decent. Come eat at them with me!

    Injera is tricky. You did well!


  7. dc and ny both have some good ethiopian restaurants...but...the inerja never looked like yours...it is much lighter and almost "spongy"...
    i think you should do a cookbook or any book with your illustrations...

  8. You are hilarious, I loved reading this! I'm even inspired to try it because I <3 injera.

  9. Wow... way to stick it out, Amey! I'm so sad you had such a bad experience with Ethiopian food to begin with. It's one of my favorite cuisines, and the dishes you made are actually two of my favorites. I'm so impressed that you made injera from scratch! We have a large enough West African population that injera is sold in the grocery store.

    Hooray for Kittee - thank you for making these recipes so accessible! I now must try the collards recipe - the one I had in the restaurant is always bitter and a bit overcooked.

  10. I salute you and your bread ferment success!

  11. There was another injera post today where someone had a fail. It must be hard to make. I've been wanting to do it but saw a recipe with no sourdough starter. I love fermentation experiments so I will get started.

    Your illustrations are adorable. We too have post dinner furry time.

  12. best post ever. i loved reading along your Ethiopian adventure, Amey! where do i begin?! hooray for kittee's tasty ethiopian recipes - we made some of her atar allecha & yetakelt w'et along with injera last year (i still have some teff flour in mah freezer) and we also cut back a smidge on the fat in the niter kebbeh - i also reduced our spices a bit because sometimes dan gets fussy. but we loved our meal as well. i'm so glad you had injera success! i like your fretful face in your cartoon. i know i've said this before - but your cartoons make me smile! :) we have an anti-social kitteh. her name is Angry Kitteh (she is feral, but lives indoors only, as all of our catties do) - she only loves dan and runs from me (even though i'm the one who found her on the road). so i hear ya on caring for a strange pet that sometimes doesn't want to be included. they crack me up sometimes. :) anyways - i'm glad you both enjoyed the ethiopian eatz - they look wonderful and have me wanting to make my own again super soon, too. yipee!

  13. The young lady and I have only had Ethiopian food once-- it was at a sort of mini-convention thing where everyone had flown in a couple of days before. At least one person was starting to get sniffly, and by the end of the weekend EVERYONE was sick... Really great cuisine, as long as nobody has a cold.

  14. Awesome job! Hahahaha, there's a reason I've never attempted Ethiopian food at home :) Love the illustrations, and by the way, I totally want to start two new bands now and call them Injera Zoom and Nutrient Magic.

  15. My roundup yesterday was going to be just about Ethiopian, but there weren't enough recent posts! If only I'd waited a day!

    I like your post dinner furry time doodle the most. One day you'll have to try injera at a restaurant and see if you feel differently.

    Lovely post!!

  16. I have got to try this Ethiopan stuff I see so much of - glad it worked out for you.
    I wonder what it was that bother yr and yr husbands stomachs before?

  17. yum! i'd love to try all of that!

  18. Sarah C.7:29 AM

    I love the song "I whip this food into my face!" I wish we had a recording so we knew the tune - it could become a blogosphere-wide hit! Awesome cartoons too. Now I'm hungry for Ethiopian food (I've only had it in restaurants but I think it's crazy good; I just don't think I have the time to make it at home).

  19. Anonymous7:50 AM

    Wow, I am so very impressed by this culinary adventure! There are many choices in Ethiopian restaurants in Berkeley & Oakland, but we've sadly stopped going as we have both had injera stomach pain :( But I may just try this after reading about your success. Thanks so much for detailing all of your modifications!

    :-) jen e.

  20. The meal looks fantastic, despite the initial fail! :) I love collards, and those look amazing!

  21. Hahaha! This is the best! I've given up making true injera, so I just add teff starter to a whole wheat crepe recipe.

    The food looks AMAZING!


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