Expanding my cultural palate - Ethiopian cuisine

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started expanding my “cultural palate”. Dietetics really opened a lot of doors for me, food-wise, but I was still hesitant to try foods I was unfamiliar with. So my friend, Sydney, started walking me through the different types of foods that are out there. Each time we hung out we would go to a different ethnic restaurant. I started trying all kinds of new foods from Thai to Asian to Ethiopian. Imagine my surprise when I started craving Thai or Ethiopian food as opposed to American food (which in my opinion really sucks now that I’ve tried all of these other amazing ethnic foods and flavors).

I haven't had the pleasure of having any Ethiopian food recently but when I did go last, i posted my experience on facebook and received quite a response so I turned that response into a blog post.

So first off, I have to mention the bread. If you’re not familiar with Ethiopian cuisine, you typically sit at a round table and the food is placed on the table and instead of using utensils, you use your hands. You are provided with injerawhich is a type of spongy bread that tastes quite amazing despite its simplicity. Injera is typically made with teff flour and it is really just a yeast-risen spongy flatbread. No dairy products, eggs or shortening are used.

You can also order Ethiopian tea (which I highly recommend as it is delicious!) The tea has a nice subtle spice to it and it is naturally sweet. In the Ethiopian diet, there is no cane sugar yet this tea is very sweet and very light tasting. It is made of natural ingredients such as rose hips, cinnamon, orange and lemon peels, cloves, and chamomile.

I looked up some info about Ethiopian cuisine and thought I would share some of the tidbits I found out:

- The Ethiopian diet is based on removing excess fat content from food before serving. Historically this low fat diet was not predicated on low cholesterol intake, but on practicality. Originally, in Ethiopia there was no refrigeration, therefore in order to lengthen the shelf life of food, special techniques were developed to preserve foodstuffs as well as maintain the authenticity of our ancient cooking tradition.

- when poultry is used, the skin is removed and the mean is marinated in fresh lemon juice overnight. The citric acid breaks down excess fat, turning the chicken a salmon color. The chicken is then rinsed and cooked in either our berbere sause – a dark, rich and tangy “barbeque style” sauce or alecha style – a savory lighter sauce preparation.

- when beef is used, only lean, red USDA choice cuts are used. The fat-trimmed beef is cooked in purified butter and berbere sauce producing a most tantalizing barbeque-like beef stew called Zilzil Wat

- the butter that is used is called “Niter Kibbe”. More than ten different herbs are used in this preparation. The butter is then boiled, the top fat layer is separated and only a purified, flavorful, low-fat product is left.

Now for the food itself. At the restaurant I go to, you can eat there either at lunch (11-2pm) or you can go at dinner time (5-9pm). The last time I went, I went with a friend. Since my friend and I chose to go at dinner, the only meal options were an all-you-can-eat option. You choose from either a meat and vegetable option or just the vegetable options. Since my friend was there, we chose to do the meat and vegetable option but typically I would go with the vegetable options.

So this is what our meal looked like:

And now here is everything labeled:

The foods on the outer rim are either lentil or vegetable based. The three foods in the center are meat based. Below, each one will be explained in greater detail.

Meat Dishes – the meat dishes were actually quite good and had a nice spice to them. However, my favorite dishes are all vegetable dishes.

Doro Wat:Tender chicken gently simmered in niter kibbe herbed butter, berbere sauce and onions

Dora Alecha:Chicken cooked in niter kibbeh herbed butter, with onions

Vegetable Dishes (the ones marked with an * are my favorite ones)

Gomen:Chopped spiced green cooked with onion, garlic and jalapeno peppers

*Tekil Gomen:Cabbage sautéed with onion, garlic, jalapeno peppers and spices

*Mixed vegetables: Potatoes, carrots and green beans cooked with onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers and spices

Metin Shiro Wat:Ground roasted yellow split peas cooked in berbere sauce

*Kik Alecha: Pureed split read peas flavored with onions and herbs

*Yemisir Kik Wat: Pureed split red lentils cooked with berbere sauce

Defen Yemisir Alecha: Pureed lentils harmoniously blended with spices and herbs

NOTE: I accidentally Labeled the picture above wrong. The Metin shiro wat and the yemisir kik wat should be switched. I’m too lazy to fix the picture though :p

I am always in heaven whenever I have the pleasure of eating Ethiopian food. If you ever have the opportunity to try Ethiopian cuisine, take that opportunity and run with it.

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