One of my all-time favorite restaurants is Meskerem in the Adams-Morgan District of Washington, DC. That's where I first learned to sit around the table, in the restaurant's upstairs dining area, and share a common vessel of food with family and friends by tearing off pieces of injera, an Ethiopian bread made from Teff flour, to which I'm providing the recipe for in this blog post, and using that injera to pick up the food and eat it. To Ethiopians, sharing a common vessel of food, which is usually placed on the injera itself, signifies loyalty and friendship. Going even further, the Ethiopians have a term "gursha," which means to use your own hand to pick up the food with injera and feed another person by placing the food in that person's mouth. This is perhaps the ultimate in loyalty and friendship to that person. As you try the recipes here, consider eating that way with your loved ones and friends in your own home.
While I have always loved eating at Meskerem, I never tried making Ethiopian food myself until I went to the Global Roots Cooking Summit put on by Dr. LeAnne Campbell's (Dr. T Colin Campbell's daughter) Global Roots organization at Lake Lure, North Carolina this past October. There, while Hurricane Matthew was beating on my home in the Hilton Head area of South Carolina, I learned to among other things, cook Ethiopian food. Side note -- I was fortunate and found my home undamaged upon return. But having the cooking summit to go to was timely given that I needed to evacuate the area around my home.
Danielle Boussone, who is a graduate of the eCornell T Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, runs the website, with her husband Rich, called Time for Change Kitchen. She also maintains an older website called Veggin Out and About. I first met her and Rich in October at the Global Roots Cooking Summit where she was teaching two separate classes, one on plant-based Italian cooking and one on plant-based Ethiopian cooking. I was very excited by the prospects she offered in learning to cook Ethiopian food, since that was a definite favorite of mine. And she did not disappoint. I learned to make injera, and I will share that recipe here. I will also share one other recipe from her that I learned.
In some ways, these two recipes are teasers. She is working on a second book, her first excellent book being Time for Change: Whole Foods for Whole Health, which will be a cookbook for cooking Ethiopian foods. I get excited just thinking about that. But keep in mind that Ethiopian food is meant to be shared. These recipes are best made for dinner parties and large family gatherings. It can be quite elaborate for one or two people to do. That's my opinion anyway.
Let's start with injera because that is so basic to Ethiopian cooking. You really can't eat Ethiopian without eating injera.
And I'll start with a couple pictures from the Global Roots Cooking Summit and then provide the recipe for the injera. These pictures are of another one of the Global Roots instructors, Leslie Haas who is also a PCRM-certified Food for Life instructor. Making injera is a delicate process that takes patience and practice. Here, Ms. Haas demonstrates skillfully how it's done.
Ingredients for Danielle's "Fool-Proof Injera"
- 4 cups water (945 grams)
- 1 cup teff flour (160 grams)
- 1-3/4 cups unbleached organic all-purpose flour (230 grams)
- 1 cup sourdough starter (250 grams)
- 1 Tbsp baking powder (12 grams)
- 1 Tbsp organic corn starch (12 grams)
Directions for Danielle's "Fool-Proof Injera"
Add the water and teff to a blender and blend on slow initially, just to get the ingredients combined. Use a rubber spatula, as necessary, to scrape the dough from the sides of the blender. Test the teff by rubbing a bit of it between your fingers. It should feel grainy, like fine, wet sand. Then turn up the blender gradually until at high speed and blend for one to two minutes. The teff is ready when it is no longer grainy. It won't be perfectly smooth, however, so don't expect that.
Add the all-purpose flour and blend on low to combine. Turn off the blender and scrape the sides. Resume blending on high just long enough to remove the lumps. That will be about 15 to 30 seconds. Do not over-blend.
Add sourdough starter and blend to combine. While the blender is running, add baking powder and cornstarch. Gradually increase the speed to high and blend for 30 seconds.
Allow the mixture to rest for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a non-stick skillet with a lid on high. It will be ready when on the surface of the skillet beads up and rolls around on the pan.
Pour 1/2 to 3/4 cup of batter into the hot pan and tilt the pan on all sides until the batter spreads evenly across the bottom of the pan. The amount of batter you use will depend on the size of the pan you use. The pan should be 12" to 16" in diameter with a flat bottom and straight sides.
Cook on medium high to high (this varies depending on your appliance, so you may need to experiment) for 15 seconds or until holes form on the top of the pancake and the batter begins to firm. Cover and continue cooking until the edges of the pancake begin to lift from the sides of the pan and start to curl. This whole process will take 1-1/2 to 3 minutes. During the process, moisture will accumulate on the inside of the lid. When that occurs, it is vital that you wipe it off so that the water does not drop back down on the injera and cause gummy spots.
When the pancake is filled with little holes, referred to as "eyes" by the Ethiopians, and easily slides in the pan, then slide it onto a clean cloth on the counter or a tabletop. While that injera is cooling, you can begin another and as you finish each injera, they can be stacked on the tabletop (see photo above). However, the injera must be cool to the touch before stacking. Otherwise, they will stick together and become unusable.
Let me note that it will take practice to make a perfect injera. There's the possibility that you may cause it to fold over on itself at some point. When that happens, let it cool before trying to fold back. Otherwise, you will create a gummy spot in the injera.
Missir Wot (Spicy Red Lentil Stew)
One more Ethiopian recipe that I will offer, since you need at least one dish to pair with the injera, is Missir Wot. It's a spicy red lentil stew. And as I said, it should be served on top of one round of injera and then the injera should be used to pick up the stew with your hands and eat it.
One reason I've selected this recipe is it is the spiciest of the vegan Ethiopian recipes, and I like spicy. It just seems like spicy and ethnic foods like this go together. But when eating with the injera, the spiciness is tempered. Of course, you can adjust the spiciness of this recipe as you see fit.
This recipe makes 6 servings.
- 1-1/2 cups dried red lentils (washed until water is clear)
- 1-1/2 Tbsp minced ginger
- 1-1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 medium red onion, diced small
- 3-4 cups vegetable broth
- 3-5 Tbsp Berbere spice blend
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste (optional)
- 3-5 Tbsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp salt (optional)
Cook lentils in broth as you would normally cook lentils.
While lentils are simmering or cooking, transfer onions to a saute pan with a lid. Saute on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until translucent and beginning to brown. Stir constantly at this point and add a tablespoon of broth or water to prevent burning.
Add garlic and ginger. Stir constantly for two minutes, adding broth or water as needed to prevent scorching.
Add the onion mixture to the lentils. Stir in Berbere spice and paprika (start with 3 tablespoons of each). Cover and cook at a fast simmer for 5 minutes.
Taste and add more spice as desired. If using tomato paste, add it in at this time and stir. Cook at a fast simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, adding broth or water as necessary to keep the lentils from becoming too dry.
Stir in cardamom and salt, if desired.
With those two recipes, you can get started on Ethiopian foods. This is definitely one of my favorite food groups. That is a food group, right? LOL!
J Lanning Smith