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

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dabbo Qolo (Wheat Nuts/Snacks)

dabbo qolo

Friday's recipe is actually still in progress and I'll post more about that soon.  But on Sunday, we're going to a Timkat party in Providence with other adoptive families.  Normally, I'd make my doro wot for something like this, mainly because there is no way humanly possible to ever get enough doro wot; but this is a very large gathering -- I believe 150 people went last year -- and the logistics would be too much.  So, I decided to make an appetizer and settled on dabbo qolo (wheat nuts/snacks).  No exotic ingredients; it seemed pretty straightforward.  

I didn't, however, trust the recipe.  It called for 2 cups of water and a cup of oil to 2 lbs. of flour.  My 2 lbs. of flour wasn't even going to take all of the water suggested; I couldn't see it accepting any of the oil, so I skipped it.  At first, I thought I found other recipes that corroborated my belief that it should be a much smaller amount of oil or fat, if any, but I was doing some math wrong and now believe that my recipe was actually correct.  Next time, I will try it exactly as is.  I was too worried that it was wrong and I needed to get these done!

The dough was straightforward and I let my KitchenAid stand mixer do the heavy work of mixing and kneading.  

Things then became difficult on a couple of different levels.  The first trial was the shaping of the dabbo qolo pieces.  The recipe explains that you roll it into roughly the diameter of a pencil (1/4" thick), then cut it into tiny pieces.  I have no idea what tiny entails, but I do know that they're supposed to be crunchy, not doughy.  

So I started out as instructed:

(excuse the remnants of the babies' afternoon snack)

After a very short time, I thought I was going to be spending the rest of my life making these things.  They're small:

The going was tedious.  It was difficult to roll the dough out without it kind of bunching back up, and it was difficult to get it fairly uniform in diameter (maybe the oil in the dough would have helped?).  When cutting it with the scissors, the dough often stuck to the scissors.  Dipping the scissors into flour helped a good deal, but they needed to be dipped after every couple of snips.  I tried spraying them with cooking spray, but that didn't really help.  I also tried dipping the dough into flour before cutting it, which helped the most, but I still felt there had to be a better way.  

That plastic container up there at the top?  It's an 8-cup container.  The first two cups of that container?  They took me about 3 hours to make using the roll-and-scissor method.  At about 9 o'clock at night, I was starting to believe that I was going to never, ever be done, that I'd be snipping pieces of dough for all eternity.  I wondered how my girls' mother would have done it, because the way I was doing it certainly wouldn't leave much time for the myriad other tasks she'd need to perform in a day.  

Then, a flash of inspiration came:

Perhaps not the way it would be done in Ethiopia, but my productivity soared through the roof.  The last 6 cups of that container took about an hour and a half.  I was putting out dabbo qolo faster than I could deep fry it!  I was also obtaining much better results in the frying.  

What I did was just rolled it out, cut it with the pizza cutter to about 1/4" widths, dipped the strips in flour, and then used the pizza cutter to cut the strips into tiny pieces:


It was beautiful!  After my experimentation with the scissors and finding that the cutting went much more quickly if I kept the dough finely coated in flour, I decided to keep that step when I moved to the pizza cutter.  Having the coating of flour was also handy in keeping the little pieces from sticking together, like this:

And ending up staying stuck together in the oil, resulting in Ethiopian fried dough:

The second trial was the deep-frying.  I used more oil tonight than I think I've used in the past year.  I don't deep-fry, and am actually a little afraid of deep frying.  The recipe instructed that I get the oil boiling, but I wasn't keen on the idea of a pan of boiling oil on the stove and Target didn't have any Fry Babies in stock.  So the oil was heated -- enough to break my candy thermometer, as a matter of fact -- just not to boiling.

As I've said, I'm not a deep-frying kind of cook, and I don't have any of those little mesh baskets or spoons that are often used for deep frying.  So getting the pieces of dough into the hot oil required a bit of trial and error, and a few burns.  I tried a slotted metal spoon, which worked well enough, but it was awkward to get the dough pieces into it without them somehow sticking together, and it was the same spoon I was using to take the cooked dough out and I wasn't managing to remember to not put the raw dough on until I had already taken the cooked dough out.

At one point, I tried cutting the pieces directly into the oil (when I was still using the scissors).  I wouldn't recommend that.  I also tried gently dropping the pieces in by hand, one by one.  Also not the best approach.

This is what ended up working great for me:

I would bring the cutting board over to the pan, situate it so that it was nearly covering the pan (preventing the oil from splattering me), then take a plastic spatula and gently ease the little pieces off of the cutting board and into the little space left for them.  No problem with pieces sticking or adhering to each other, no need to worry about whether I still needed the slotted spoon to take out the cooked dough, and no more splatter burns for me!


There they are in the oil and draining on some paper towels.

I added some salt because it seemed like they could use them.  The recipe suggests adding some berbere, which I thought might be good, but my husband thought that they didn't really lend themselves to berbere.  Next time I make these again, I might try adding some berbere to half of it.  I'll also be sure to follow the recipe exactly and include the oil!

If this process seems tedious even after my discovered productivity enhancements, there is an easier way.  You can order some from here, though they only have a sweet version:

Enter "kolo" in the search box.  

Thursday, January 21, 2010

But'ech'a (Chick Pea Paste)

I only took this one photo of this dish, in its finished state.  

Things started to get a little interesting with this recipe, in the same way as they were interesting with my first batch of qibbe.  To start with, it called for powdered chickpeas or powdered lentils.  My husband is allergic to chickpeas, so powdered lentils it was going to have to be.  But I wasn't certain exactly what powdered lentils are.  Are they lentil flour?  Or some other preparation?  I could find lentil flour in a local Indian grocery store (where I'm able to find almost everything I need when I make Ethiopian food), but wasn't sure that sounded appetizing.  So I bought lentils and thought that I'd just attempt to grind them -- dry -- in my food processor.  

I have mentioned that I am NOT a professional cook, right?  

After several minutes with only a very fine coating of dust on top of the still-mostly intact lentils to show for it, it became clear that grinding them in the food processor wasn't working, so I added some water.  This also didn't work.  In hindsight, I should have pulled out the coffee grinder, but, instead, I decided to cook the lentils and then kind of mash them.  I think this worked fine, but, never having had real but'ech'a, I wouldn't really know.  I plan on asking the proprietor of our local Ethiopian restaurant about the correct preparation for this.  He's quite helpful and is always willing to answer a question or help you find a source for something.  

This dish had some berbere in it (but not much) and some mustard.  Thanks to the generosity of many, we are still using berbere purchased in Addis.  There is a recipe for homemade berbere in the book, but I haven't tried it yet.  With the mustard, I at least figured they were talking about dry mustard, not a prepared mustard, like Gulden's or French's, but after rifling through the book later that night, I discovered there was a recipe for Ethiopian mustard mentioned in the beginning of the book.  Live and learn.  

The but'ech'a had quite some kick to it and was so dense that it didn't take much to fill us up and we had some leftovers.  This time, we used some of the injera from EthiopianSpices.com, which we just don't like half as much as that we get from our local Ethiopian restaurant.  But, EthiopianSpices.com delivers to our door and, some days, that's all it takes. 

T'ibs Alich'a (Mild Fried Beef Stew)

Because we were out of town for the first Friday of the new year, our first official Ethiopian Friday took place on January 8th.  The chosen dish was T'ibs Alich'a (Mild Fried Beef Stew) on page 117.  

     red onions (left) and more beef than my husband usually sees in a week

The recipes in this book call for vast quantities of chopped red onion.  At least a couple of cups.

Qibbe is a spiced butter and, personally, I think it makes all the difference in the world in Ethiopian cooking.  I make my own, and I'll write a post on qibbe itself in the future.  I make about 12 cups of it at a time and keep it in my freezer in cup-sized Rubbermaid containers.  Then, when I need it, I just pull as many out as I need.  Some recipes can call for a couple of cups of this pure gold!  The brown layer you see on what is actually the bottom is all of the spices that are simmered in the butter as you clarify it.  It's absolutely gorgeous stuff!!

     the qibbe and the red onions

     everything combined and ready to simmer

One of the things I love about most Ethiopian cooking is that once everything is combined, it can be put in a crockpot or on the back of the stove and left to slowly simmer for the day.  The house smells amazing when an Ethiopian stew is gently bubbling away and to walk in and catch a whiff is the best thing ever.

     the finished product

The injera was purchased from our local restaurant, which is our favorite.  I have also ordered from here and always have some in my freezer, in case our local place chooses not to answer their phone (true story).  I hope to tackle injera on my own this year!

     the aftermath

The t'ibs alich'a was a hit, though we all decided that we much prefer the dishes with berbere in them!

January 1, 2010: A Resolution I Can Keep Up With!

I am an adoptive mother to two beautiful Ethiopian girls.  We all love Ethiopian food in our household, even the non-Ethiopians, and I make a mean doro wot, if I do say so myself.  But I really wasn't breaking out the Ethiopian cookbook except for special occasions, or to make a dish for a potluck.  This just seemed silly.  We all drool in anticipation of a meal at our local Ethiopian restaurant and the girls have shown perfect injera technique since they first started solid food.  Why not have it more often?  Like every week?  

I also wanted to branch out beyond doro and tibs, as happy as we are with them.  I have "Exotic Ethiopian Cooking" by D. J. Mesfin, a full 238 pages of Ethiopian cookery, yet I have only used about 10 pages, of it, at most!  

So, the idea of Ethiopian Friday was born.  Every Friday in 2010, I will randomly choose a recipe from the book and chronicle its making.  Even with potlucks and other special occasions thrown in, I won't make it through the whole book in one year, but that leaves plenty for 2011 and on!