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!
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.
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.
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
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.)