A white (faranje) adoptive mother to two Ethiopian (habesha) girls wends her way through
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking by D. J. Mesfin

Monday, April 12, 2010

Iskunfur (Stuffed Tripe Stew)

"Iskunfur is a delicious sauce prepared for special occasions.  It may be eaten with injera or bread as a main dish or served with rice and vegetables as a side dish." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, pp. 132-3

Iskunfur, top, with its sauce on the left; on the right is ye'assa t'ibs.

I dreaded this day.  When I first looked through Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, I noticed there were a few recipes that involved offal.  According to Wikipedia, "People in some cultures shy away from offal as food, while others use it as everyday food, or even in delicacies that command a high price."  Let me be perfectly clear that I am in firmly embedded in the first camp: those that "shy away from offal as food".  Indeed, I actually shy away from it even when it's merely a concept.  I don't even like trimming meat at home, though I do it.  

I figured it would be inevitable, though, and, sure enough, suddenly page 132 was staring me in the face.  What to do, what to do?  I am fairly confident in believing that few, if any, of my followers would blame me if I just skipped a recipe, but I felt like to do so would be entering morally ambiguous territory.  Julie Powell didn't skip over the less-appetizing recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Not only that, but she then moved on to write a book about butchering, which is is officially where any resemblance between us falls away.  Far, far away. 

So, in the interest of full accountability, I bring you iskunfur, or stuffed tripe stew.  While making this recipe, I had to totally dissociate myself from what I was handling, but if you're interested in details, you can head here

The beginning of the recipe is quite familiar:

 Cook the onions in a dry pan, then add the nit'ir qibe and berbere.


I used one tablespoon less of butter than was called for in the recipe simply because the sauce called for one cup and the stuffing called for a tablespoon.  I really hated to dig into a whole container (holding one cup) of nit'ir qibe just for one tablespoon, so I decided to just take it from the sauce's allotment.  

To this was also added (clockwise from top) some false cardamom (black cardamom), ginger, black pepper, and garlic.  

False (black) cardamom is an interesting creature and entirely different than the cardamom that you can find in your grocery store (which is green cardamom).  Unlike the tiny, fingertip-sized green cardamom pods, false cardamom pods are about an inch long.  They carry the strong scent of antiseptic (camphor some would say, but despite being a devotee of Campho-Phenique as a child, I don't quite pick up the camphor notes).  

I have to run them through my coffee grinder to get them into a powder form:

After setting the sauce mixture aside, I assembled the stuffing for the tripe, which involved using one tablespoon of the nit'ir qibe, a small amount of chopped red onion, some more false cardamom, ginger, and black pepper, and some cooked rice.  I cheated on the rice and used already cooked, frozen rice:

This was all combined together, but it seems I neglected to snap a picture of it by itself in the bowl.  

Next, I finally had to confront the tripe.  I'll understand if you need to leave now:

I had no idea Ethiopian cooking would involve geometry problems, but sometimes it does.  For instance, I needed to cut 4- to 6-inch squares from something that most assuredly is not square.  Or even regular in shape.  I took out the ruler and measured 6 inches, but thought that was too big, so I elected to go with the 4-inch squares.  I just used my scissors to cut the tripe into the squares. 

Into this, I put a tablespoon of the stuffing (now you can see what the stuffing looks like):

I was then instructed to "sew them up with needle and thread".  I was a bit uncertain as to what kind of thread to employ and what kind of stitch (running? blanket? back?) and worried about how easy it would be to undo the thread so that it wouldn't be eaten (I did plan on trying some).  I also didn't really want to be in such close, sustained contact with this stuff, so I opted for toothpicks, which did the job, even if they left a bit to be desired aesthetically.

this was the first one I did

I eventually changed my technique and more or less 
just folded over the square, securing it on three sides with the toothpicks

These little packets were then added to the berbere sauce to simmer while I went to the Abyssinian and picked up the injera:

I knew my husband wasn't going to even try the tripe, so I made another dish -- ye'assa t'ibs -- to go with this one (due to Easter, I was a bit behind with the recipes, anyway, so it was also an opportunity to catch up a bit; the post for the ye'assa t'ibs should be up later today) and plated them together on the same injera.  I knew the berbere sauce would be eaten, so I ladled some of that out separately.  

a cross section of the stuffed tripe

The Ethiopians loved this and even ate the tripe.  They will turn their nose up at boxed macaroni and cheese and SpaghettiOs, but will eat stuffed tripe.  Sad to say, they won't be getting a lot of it.  I gave it a try, but couldn't get past the texture.  I rank all of my culinary adventures next to one I had in Thailand, which involved eating something called "jumping shrimp salad".  And the reason the shrimp were jumping was because they were still alive.  I'll take jumping shrimp over tripe any day.  

The sauce, however, was very good.  I think I prefer a more traditional we't sauce; this one had a bit more false cardamom in it than the others and the flavor definitely reflected that, but it was good in its own right and it did make a great dipping sauce for the the ye'assa t'ibs!  

In other news, the stinging nettle leaves have come into season and I have ordered some for the samma we't that I had to skip over earlier in the year (precisely because the nettle leaves are only in season for about a month, and February was not the month).  

And if you're wondering where the yebunna t'ej went, it's done and I meant to decant it at Easter, but forgot all about it.  My husband and I will have to have our own private t'ej tasting and I'll get a post up (and if anyone wants me to send them some, just e-mail me with your address and you can join in the tasting, too).  

Look for a post about the ye'assa t'ibs a bit later in the day!


  1. Christina & SamaraApril 12, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    Good for you! I'll pass on the sample of this one, if you don't mind. ;)
    I'm going to follow in your footsteps one of these days, so you've gotta keep posting! Cheers!

  2. I bet the stuffing for the tripe is good...Don't know if I'd go for it myself. Can't wait to see how the t'ibs went.

    You're a hero for sure. Keep 'em coming!
    FYI, we got our referral and will be traveling in a few months. I will be sure to check in with you in case you need me to bring you home anything. :)

  3. Berbere, Staci! We can always use more berbere. I think most agencies give you an opportunity to shop; we ourselves were brought to a spice place. If you see anything else that looks interesting, feel free to pick it up and I'll put it to good use.

    I am also looking for tena adam (rue) seed, though it seems to be difficult to come by (it's used to make berbere, among other things). A few kilos would be great if you do happen to find it; it's insanely expensive here, so if it's the same in Ethiopia, forget about it. But don't stress yourself out to get anything; just enjoy the trip and the new kiddo. Congratulations on the referral, by the way!!

  4. I have to admit that if i didnt know it was tripe I totally would have eaten this with gusto. It looks so good!

  5. Whoa! I have had tripe once and it was disguised as a pasta dish at a restaurant in San Francisco. I think they cooked it forever, sliced it into thin ribbons and ladled some spicy tomato and olive sauce over the top. I actually had seconds; I just tried not to think about what I was eating. Your picture of the raw tripe is really...ummmm...something else. Bravo to you!

  6. Bravo to you is right! For someone who hates offal to cook it anyway and taste it is a brave thing! I actually eat tripe regularly Tuscan style, but today, as it happens I am boiling a whole tripe for a recipe from Time-Life Foods of the World: African Cooking. This version used chopped round steak and toasted bread cubes in the stuffing; I can't wait to see how it turns out.

    I found your blog with great interest, because my son was adopted from Ethiopian six years ago and I have cooked lots of Ethiopian food before and since his arrival.

    Thanks for sharing your Ethiopian cooking adventures. I look forward to reading the rest of your blog!!!