Monday, January 31, 2011

E is for Ethiopia: Breaking Bread with Friends

Tis Esat Fall (On Blue Nile River)

The first time I tried Ethiopian food I was terrified. In addition to the nerves I had about meeting my boyfriend’s parents, the only thing I associated Ethiopian food was with, was spicy. I by no mean, and I mean NO means, like or will eat spicy food.  I am a big ol’baby when it comes to spicy food. I can’t handle even the slightest kick.  To my relief my boyfriend shared my apprehensions with his mom, and she made the food mild. The food was delicious…after I figured out how to eat it.  I put a little bit of everything on my plate, grabbed some injera, and sat down. As I waited for everyone to join me at the table I looked around and wondered…. where is silverware? The table was completely set with place mats, cups, and wine…but no silverware. Before I opened my big mouth to ask, I waited to see what my boyfriend was going to do. Good thing I didn’t ask, because you don’t use utensils to eat Ethiopian food! I felt embarrassed for myself for assuming that I needed to eat with a knife and fork.

On top of my new appreciate for Ethiopian food, another reason I choose Ethiopia is because one of my favorite chefs is Ethiopian. I first laid eyes on the talented and attractive Marcus Samuelsson on Bravo’s Top Chef where he served as a judge for one of the challenges. He soon came back in to my life as a contestent on Top Chef Masters where his calm demeanor and delicious dishes made him the winner of his season. His 2006 African-inspired cookbook The Soul of a New Cuisine received the prize "Best International Cookbook" by the James Beard Foundation. Basically, he is amazing.

Now on to the real stuff! Ethiopian food is pretty distinct from other cuisines. Its high terrain makes transportation and trading difficult, thus their cuisine has remained pure with little influence from their neighbors. The cuisine is really about living off the land (which it should be everywhere…). The temperate climate allows for the flourishing of grains, such as millet, sorghum, and teff (which is what injera is made out of).  

The unique variety of spices used in Ethiopian dishes lends a complex and memorable dimension to its exotic cookery.  Prominent components to Ethiopian cooking include, berbere, a spicy red pepper paste used in stews, niter kibbeh, a spice-infused clarified butter used in almost every dish, and injera, a sourdough pancake-like bread of Ethiopia, made from fermented teff batter. Turmeric, cumin, ginger and garlic make also frequent appearances in Ethiopian dishes.  Other staple ingredients include vegetables and legumes, such as lentils, split peas, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, collard greens, peppers, tomatoes, egg plant, and onions, and meats like chicken, beef, and lamb.  Pork is hardly used because of the large Muslim population.  For all you coffee lovers (and addicts like myself) let us get on our knees and praise Ethiopia, for it is this beautiful land which coffee originated.

One of the best parts of Ethiopian cuisine is they way which it is eaten. I am absolutely in love with countries that make dining an intimate experience. I think all eating should be an experience, not just a shallow memory in the depths of the brain. As I learned from an Ethiopian restaurant in the Bay Area, Addis Ethiopian Restaurant, “Dining in Ethiopia is characterized by sharing food from a common plate, signifying the bonds of loyalty, family, and friendship.”  A traditional Ethiopian meal served on a large plate that is draped with injera with a variety of dishes decoratively arranged on or around the injera.  As I learned via first hand experience, to eat, all you simply do is tear off a piece of injera, and use it to scoop up some of the food, and in the mouth it goes. Not only is this a great way to reduce the dish-cleaning amount, it creates a memorable experience to share between the people you care about.

To get ready for Ethiopia week and to figure out what I wanted to make I obviously had to go eat some Ethiopian food! As recommended by my boyfriend I went to Lalibela Restaurant and Bar with food partner in crime, Colin. Colin and I are big foodies and can spend large amounts of time talking about food, wine, and beer. We can both be spotted sniffing cheeses at Whole Foods, one of our favorite past times. Do not let the appearance of the restaurant deter you from going in; many good meals are served in hole in the wall places that seem slightly sketchy. Colin ordered Beyaynetu, a vegetarian combination of gomen (collard greens), tikil gomen (cabbage), kik  (yellow spilt peas), and mesir (lentils).  I ordered marinated chicken with onions and berbere. We washed our meals down with some Ethiopian beer, which was tasted like most lagers, however a bit pricey (about $4 for a bottle, but hey, how often does one drink Ethiopian beer?). All of it was delicious, filling, and under $8.00 a dish. The portions were huge, and if Colin and I had any restraint, we could have easily split dish. If you want affordable food, and don’t mind adding to your waistline, without a doubt try Lalibela, they have food everyone can appreciate.  


Angie likes injera 
Ethiopian food is all about sharing with friends and family so this week I made a big dinner for my roommate, my sister Jennifer, and two of my good friends, Angie and Helen. My boyfriend got me the recipe for tibs (sautéed beef) from his mom. I also recreated the gomen (collard greens) that I had my boyfriend’s parent’s house and Lalibela, and tikil gomen (cabbage) that I tasted at Lalibela. I was told that Ethiopian food takes hours to complete, and now I no why! There are so many things to prep, and it takes a while for food to stew and extract flavors. Good thing I had Angie and Helen helping me, or we wouldn’t have eaten till midnight! I bought the injera from The Blue Nile, my local Ethiopian Restaurant.  If you go in the day before they will make you fresh injera for $1 a piece.  I was happily surprised by how delicious everything was! I was quite proud of my friends and me. If you are bored, and have a few hours to spare, try the dishes, you will be amazed on how good it taste!

 Tibs, Gomen, & Tikil Gomen
serves 5-6

Grocery List:
  • 1 ½  lb of boneless beef chuck eye roast, cut into medium size cubes
  • 3 red onions, chopped
  • 3 yellow onion
  • 4 yukon gold potatoes, cut in half then sliced into 1/4-inch pieces 
  • 1 head of green cabbage
  • 3 carrots, julienned
  • 1 lb of collards
  • 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 8 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 12 pieces of Injera (found in African grocery stores, I bought mine at Blue Nile)
  • Rosemary
  • Turmeric
  • Dried basil
  • Cumin
  • Vegetable oil (or nieter kebbeh if you can find it!)
  • salt and pepper
First make Tikil Gomen:
with so many onions to cut
we had to wear eye protection
  • 3 onions
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil (or nieter kebbeh)
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 4 tbsp turmeric
  • 3/4 water
  • 4 yukon gold potatoes, cut in half then sliced into 1/4-inch pieces 
  • 1 head of green cabbage
  • 3 carrots, julienned
  • 2 tbsp dried basil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • salt
1.     In a large pot cook onions on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
2.    Add oil to onions until oil gets hot.
3.    Add turmeric, and stir until it is evenly distributed and aromatic. 
4.    Add water and bring to a boil.
5.    Once water is boiling add potatoes, stir, and cover and let cook for about 10 minutes.
6.    Start Tibs while potatoes cook.
7.    Add carrots and let them cook for several minutes.
8.    Add cabbage and let them cook until cabbage softens. 
9.    Add salt.
10. When the potatoes are soft, add basil, cumin, ginger, garlic, and cook until all vegetables are tender.
11.  Leave in pot to serve later.

  • 1 ½  lb of boneless beef chuck eye roast, cut into medium size cubes
  • 2 red onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp of dried rosemary
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • salt

1.     In a skillet heat oil on medium-high heat.
2.    Add beef and cook for about five minutes, or until golden brown.
3.    Add onions and garlic, stirring occasionally.
4.    When beef is tender, add rosemary and salt and stir occasionally for 2 minutes.
5.    Remove from skillet, set aside, and move onto gomen.
  • 1 lb of collards
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil (or niter kebbeh)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • salt and pepper
1.     Bring a large pot of water to boil.
2.    Cut stems from collard greens, and wash.
3.    Add greens to boiling water, and boil about 10 minutes. 
4.    Drain, and squeeze water from greens.
5.    Slice thinly once cool enough to handle.
6.    In a large skillet add oil.
7.    Once the oil is hot add red onions, ginger, and garlic for about 5 minutes.
8.    Add greens, broth, cardamom, salt and pepper. Cook until most of the liquid is evaporated from the pan. 

Put as much as you want of the dishes and eat with injera. Un-button your pants, and take a nap soon after.


  1. You did a great job, now you can cook ethiopian food for me whenever i want!

  2. Another eye-opening piece about a country and a palette that many people do not know about. Great work, Stephanie:-)

  3. hey stephanie.. i would recommend you to visit INDIA some day... u';; love da cuisine of this country...