In 2005, I was amazingly lucky enough to travel to Ethiopia. It wasn't a place I had ever considered visiting, but when the offer presented itself, I couldn't get it out of my head. It wasn't just that it was a free trip, paid for through a travel grant from my undergrad university, which was won by my Ethiopian-raised but 20 years American sociology professor. It was the mystique of the place - I knew almost nothing about it. I'd never eaten the food, never heard the language, never seen the flag. I set about learning as much about Ethiopia as I could, through history books, mainly, because the internet didn't have much to offer about the country when I was looking. Still, I was surprised and awed the whole trip.
From the capital city, Addis Abeba -- which means 'new flower', and is between 2300 and 3000 meters (that's up to 9,800 feet) above sea level, and packed with both shanty towns and flash new developments...
And where thick traffic, spewing black exhaust which coats your face, competes with animals for right-of-way...
To the country-side, where the noise comes from birds (and mosquitoes!), and the slippery-feeling water of the volcanic Lake Langano washed all our city-stress away...
This trip was more than five years ago now, but my love of Ethiopian food is forever. But, a severe lack of Ethiopian restaurants in North Queensland has led me to create my own versions of the delicious meals I ate far too much of in my month in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian spiced vegetables from Fat Free Vegan. The rice and tortilla are a poor substitute for injera, the slightly-sour, spongy flat bread that normally accompanies Ethiopian meals. But the mesir wat tastes as good as I remember, thanks to a slightly complex recipe involving a homemade spice mix, and homemade spiced oil. If you refrigerate this stew, it gets very thick and wonderful, and the flavours develop even further, so I recommend cooking a day early and then re-heating. But if you don't have the forethought, or patience, or whatever else is required for this, it is still very delicious on the day it's made.
1 c. red lentils
1/4 c. netir kibbeh (or vegetable oil, but the spiced oil makes a big difference)
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 T. berbere, separated
1 small tomato, cored and chopped
4 c. water
salt to taste
Rinse and drain the lentils. Heat netir kibbeh in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onions until they go golden brown. Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. Then add lentils, 1 T. berbere, tomato, and water. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until stew is thick and lentils are tender, about 45 to 50 minutes. Add remaining berbere, season with salt, and serve hot.
3/4 c. ricebran oil (or other un-flavourful oil)
4 cardomom pods, seeds removed from husks
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
In a mortar&pestle, spice grinder, or Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker, grind together cardmom seeds, fenugreek, and nigella. They can be coarsely ground for this, just break them up a bit. In a small saucepan, heat oil gently, stir in the spices, and then remove the oil from heat. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, and then pour into a glass jar, straining if you don't like chunks, and store in the fridge.
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
6 cardomom pods, seeds removed from husks
5 dried chillis (or more or less, to taste)
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 c. onion powder
3 T. paprika
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
In a skillet over medium heat, toast coriander, fenugreek, peppercorns, cardamom and cloves for several minutes until they smell fragrant and toasty. Remove from the pan, let cool, and then add to chillis and grind to a fine powder. Stir in remaining powdered ingredients, store in an airtight container. Also delicious on potato wedges, tofu scrambles, etc.