Monday, July 9, 2012

Injera, wat?!

I suppose I should live up to the name above and write about Ethiopian food.  I've been working on a post about The Wait, but it's depressing on such a beautiful day.  I've got a pot of lentils on the stove, so why not share the little bit I know about Ethiopian cooking instead?

The truth is, I don't know how to make injera. Yet. I tried once. It was a very sad waste of teff flour. I've been told by Ethiopians that making injera is very, very hard. Sigh. Anyway...

A traditional "fasting" or vegetarian meal in Addis Ababa.

If you've had Ethiopian food, you either love it, or hate it.  If you've never had it, go try some and come back. I'll wait...

Okay. Ethiopian food, like Ethiopia itself, is unique in Africa. It is similiar to Indian food and shares some of the same basic ingredients and spices as other African cuisines.  In other ways it is very different from traditional foods in other African nations.  Each African region has its favorite starch, just as each European country does.  Rice, maize (corn), fufu, yams, potatoes, breads both flat and risen form the basis of African cooking in different regions.  Injera is the Ethiopian starch, and it is found nowhere else.

Basically a pancake cooked only on one side, injera is used both to serve and to eat a variety of traditional stews.  Injera is made from teff flour, a grain grown in Ethiopia.  (I have several bags in my cabinet, sigh.)  To make it, you need a starter- a fermented mix of flour and water. This makes the injera rise, like yeast does in bread. Good injera has lots of perfect little bubbles all over it... it is neither sticky nor dry, crumbly nor too chewy. I've heard that Ethiopians are very particular about their injera. Ahem.

I was very intimidated by cooking Ethiopian food, but quickly realized that I would need to get over it. Since the very first week the children were home we've been eating at Ghenet, a wonderful local restaurant.   After months of weekly dinners and some helpful advice from Ghenet's cooks, I tried out some recipes suggested by other adoptive moms. (like this one)  Daniel especially thrives on traditional food, and he has been very enthusiastic about my attempts at cooking his favorite foods.  God Bless the Internet, you can buy Ethiopian spices online.

Most Ethiopian stews or wat are made with either a mild or a spicy base.  You start by sauteing onions, garlic and ginger root in butter or oil, then add a little bit of tomato paste or fresh tomatoes, and either tumeric or berbere.  This is your base, to which you can then cook lentils, beans, chicken, beef, goat, or mushrooms (Daniel's favorite). Tonight I made some lentil wat, which we'll eat with some crusty rolls, salad and cheese. Yum!

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