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

Friday, February 19, 2010

Yegebs Siljo (Barley Paste)

"Yegebs Siljo is a popular dish during fasting.  May be eaten with injera or bread.  It is a vegetarian dish." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking

There are 250 Ethiopian fasting days in the year, according to this site, although fasting only means not eating until after 3 p.m., not fasting all day.  Fasting also means "no meat, fat, eggs or milk".  Many recipes in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking are mentioned as being "fasting" recipes, and this is one of them.  

I have probably had yebaqela siljo, a broad bean paste, when dining at an Ethiopian restaurant, as it is often served as an accompaniment on the injera, along with Ethiopian cottage cheese, some green salad, tikil gomen (cabbage and potatoes), yekik alich'a (a mild yellow pea stew), and various other items, all arranged daintily and prettily along the outside edge of the injera platter (the main dish goes inside the ring of side dishes).  However, I'm not entirely sure, as I don't have any memory of that dish.  I wish I did, if only so I knew what texture actually constituted a "paste" in this context.  I have a sneaking suspicion I came closer to a thick barley soup or a slightly thin barley hummus.  

This dish needed to sit (in the refrigerator) for three days prior to eating it, so I started earlier in the week.  As mentioned here, the first step involved making barley flour, but I was unable to find a reasonably priced (read as "under $200") flour mill, though I now have an eBay search on for the KitchenAid grain mill attachment (and, believe it or not, though it's in stock now, it wasn't on Monday).  I do wonder if this would have come out much better if I had been able to make my own flour, instead of buying packaged barley flour.  

The second step was to make the suff, or sunflower juice.  This is some seriously good stuff, but we have a liberal concept of "milk" in this house (I believe that, right now, we have cow milk, rice milk, and soy milk in the refrigerator, and we sometimes also have almond milk or hemp milk or coconut milk, as well).  The suff may as well have been called sunflower milk!  Between myself and the 2-year-olds (who decided they liked it after they tasted it again), there was no leftover sunflower juice, even though I didn't need it all for the recipe.  I'm not sure I'd say it was a refreshing drink, as advertised in the cook book, but it's good.  

On Tuesday afternoon, I was ready to bring it all together.  I started by roasting some fenugreek in a frying pan:

I find my fenugreek at my local Indian grocery store.  I love the smell of it as it roasts, as it smells faintly of maple syrup (random bit of trivia: fenugreek is often used to improve a nursing mother's milk supply, and the recommended dosage is "until your perspiration starts smelling like maple syrup").  

After roasting it, it was time to grind it up in The Poor Coffee Grinder:

Next came time to boil the barley flour and the water, and I didn't realize there was a discrepancy as to how much water should be used until I was done.  In the ingredient list, it calls for two to three cups of water, yet in the instructions, it says to boil the flour and the fenugreek in four cups of water (and another cup of water is called for at another point in the process).  This also may explain my results!

I was to boil the mixture "until it thickens", a nebulous concept, indeed.  


I boiled it until it started forming a thin layer of what I can only call a pancake on the bottom of the saucepan, then decided that would be enough:  

      the bottom of the pan after I had decided the mixture was finished

From there, I put it into a bowl and poured some cold water over it; the instructions direct one to "not mix" it; the water just sits on top of the mixture until it's cooled:

After draining the water off, it came time to add the spices.  When I make a shopping list, I'm pretty particular about making sure I have enough of whatever I need, to the point of measuring it sometimes...except when it comes to spices, because, usually, spices only need a tiny amount: a teaspoon, at most, maybe a tablespoon on the rarest of occasions.  When spices are involved, I simply look into the spice cabinet and look to see if I have whatever is called for; I don't worry about how much I might need.  So when I came to add the spices and looked at how much was called for, I was a little shaken.  Instead of being by spoons or parts of spoons, the measurements were by parts of cups.  To be specific, I needed 1/2 cup, each, of garlic powder, ginger powder, and dried mustard.  One-half of a cup.  Fortunately, I had a nearly new tin of mustard from the but'ech'a and I had just recently purchased a new jar of garlic powder because we go through garlic powder with astonishing rapidity.  I also had more or less enough ginger from the Christmas-cookie baking.  I called it close enough, as the babies were napping and I couldn't run out to get more right then and there.  

Now I am out of pretty much all of these spices, save for a tiny amount of garlic powder that is left:

The spices were mixed into the flour mixture, by hand, as instructed.  

Then I was instructed to add the suff "until mixture thickens".  I have no idea how adding a couple of cups of liquid to what is, at best, a slightly viscous mixture is supposed to thicken it, but I thought maybe sunflower juice reacts with flour and jarsful of spices in some way that is binding.  It doesn't.  After the suff came more liquid in the form of several tablespoons of lemon juice, after which my dish bore rather little resemblance to even a very liberal definition of paste:

At this point, I sealed it in airtight container and placed it in the refrigerator for three days, as instructed.  Perhaps during this time, it would somehow turn into a paste?  

Not quite:

But it did seem a bit firmer than when I left it on Tuesday.

This is definitely more of a condiment/side dish, meant to be eaten in small amounts.  It's just too overpowering as a main dish and I think it actually upset my stomach a little!  And while the two-year-olds can eat a level of spicy that I can't, they don't like sinus-emptying harshness like that of dried mustard, so I prepared a second option for them (to their credit, they did give the yegebs siljo a try):

It's called "Dinty Moore Wet".  Seriously.  My husband suggests I add berbere to it next time.  However, the two-year-olds revolted against the injera that I had purchased from EthiopianSpices.com.  Even when it was fresh, they weren't enamored with it...it left a funky residue on the fingers and wasn't all that supple; freezing it just made it worse, despite thawing it gently.  Though I still have 20 more pieces in the freezer, I think I'm going to save it for some fitfit (stew mixed with pieces of injera....my favorite is doro fitfit) and go back to getting the injera from our local Ethiopian restaurant.  I can't have the Ethiopians unhappy with their injera.  

What's next?  The next recipe is a bit daunting, mainly because of the quantities involved.  Fifteen pounds of this, five pounds each of x and y, and a pound of something else, just for starters.  I also have to source a couple of things, so it might not be coming next week, but it will be coming!  It's considered a basic ingredient, so it will be good to have on hand as for future recipes. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Suff ("Refreshing Drink Made from Sunflower Seeds")

"Suff is a delicious, refreshing drink consumed primarily during Lent or fasting.  The liquid can be mixed with injera to make Yesuff Fitfit." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking

This Friday's dinner (Yegebs Siljo, or barley paste) has a few steps to it and it has to sit for three days, so I needed to get started early.  The first step involved making barley flour, which I'm totally game for, but, unfortunately, I don't have a flour mill and couldn't find one locally (a neighbor suggested using my coffee grinder, but I think grinding up four cups of flour is too much to ask of it).  By the time I get a flour mill in, it will be too late for this recipe, so I simply bought another package of barley flour at the store.  Easy enough!

The second step was discovered as I read through the ingredient list for the yegebs siljo: sunflower juice.  A Google search yielded not sources, but recipes, including this one.  If you have a chance, visit the blog of the person who submitted it, Yewoin's Family Cooking.  It's in my sidebar, but I felt it deserves special mention, as it's truly the real deal: an Ethiopian woman and her recipes.  

This was the recipe I used, though I later discovered that there is a recipe in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, on page 72.  Of course there is.  I do wish this book was cross-referenced; it would make some things much easier!

There wasn't much to this recipe.  You get some sunflower seeds (raw, I assumed):

Bring them to a boil for 15 minutes:

Drain them:

Throw them into a blender with some more water:

And blend:

After blending it, you need to sieve the liquid to remove the sunflower seed mush:

It looks like sunflower milk!

At this point, you're supposed to add some rue (also known as "tena adam" in Ethiopia).  The recipe I referenced above mentioned using rue or ginger, so I went with the ginger.  I think I'm going to have to convert one of my raised beds into an Ethiopian herb garden this summer!  And maybe another into a teff field.  

I just peeled the ginger on the non-nubbly sides and dropped it into the sunflower juice.  The instructions state that when you're ready to drink it, you add sugar or honey to taste.  The two-year-olds demanded a taste and I forgot to sweeten it for them; it didn't go over very well.  I haven't yet tried it because I want to make sure I have enough for the yegebs siljo! 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Yebunna T'ej (Coffee-Flavored Honey Wine), part IV

Today was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of day.  I needed to make coffee, and I needed to move onto the next step with the t'ej, which included adding the coffee!  

Yesterday, I had strained the t'ej mixture, then returned it to its place on top of the stove, covered.  Approximately 24 hours later, it was looking a little less green/muddy than it had yesterday:

Today's first step was roasting the coffee, which is covered in the prior blog post.  I should have purchased two pounds of green coffee beans, because I needed an entire pound for the t'ej alone.  And because I really wanted to brew what I roasted, I needed to use a cup of the beans originally intended for the t'ej.  To make up for it, I pulled out some coffee beans that were purchased in Addis Ababa.  This coffee comes from the Sidama region, the region where the girls were born.  

I'm glad I only needed a little bit of it, because it looked so inadequate next to my home-roasted stuff:

(the dark stuff is mine; the lighter stuff is the coffee we bought in Addis)

I never realized how much coffee beans expand after they're roasted.  The pound of green beans I received was in a little rectangular pouch not much larger than two Pop-Tart wrappers side by side.  The volume of those beans roasted filled a colander.  Ground, there was simply a TON of it!

The challenge today was how I was going to get cheesecloth-ensconced coffee grounds into a giant carboy with a neck that was approximately only an inch in diameter.  I started with the idea of making a sort of coffee-ground/cheesecloth string of sausages, but there were just way too many grounds and it quickly became clear that I wasn't going to be able to get the "sausages" narrow enough to fit into the neck.  

So, I went with my husband's idea of making a sort of pouch with the cheesecloth, poking it down through the neck, and adding the coffee grounds through a funnel.  

I quickly discarded the funnel because it wasn't very large (yet it was the largest I had) and the bottom was narrow enough that it got clogged quite quickly.  Plus, the grounds just weren't flowing smoothly through the cheesecloth-lined neck.  I ended up tediously spooning the grounds into the neck with one of the girls' old baby spoons.  Every few spoonfuls, I'd need to loosen the cheesecloth, shake it to settle the grounds, and release a bit more cheesecloth into the bottle to make more room for more grounds.  To reduce the risk of grounds seepage, I originally doubled the cheesecloth, which actually made it even more difficult to get the grounds in.  About halfway to three-quarters of the way through, I lost control over an edge of the cheesecloth and grounds started leaking out.  At this point, I tied it the best I could, realizing that it was going to be inevitable that the grounds would be leaking out.  I'll just have to filter the t'ej again later on.  

Because I hadn't gotten all of the coffee grounds into the carboy, I grabbed another piece of cheesecloth, except I kept it to one ply and it was still damp from being rinsed out yesterday.  This made a huge difference; while it was still slow going, it went much more quickly than it did before, and I was able to tie the cheesecloth so that there would be no leakage at all from at least that group of grounds.  

After getting all of the grounds into the carboy (I have no idea how I'm going to get them OUT again....I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it), I added the t'ej.  It is actually starting to take on a nice honey color.  

the cheesecloth-covered grounds floating in the t'ej

A notation in the recipe mentioned adding some brewed coffee to impart some coffee color to the brew, so I took some of the coffee I had made in the previous post and poured it on in.  It didn't give me any idea of how much to put it, so I just poured it in until I thought it looked good. 

with some brewed coffee added

Then, it was just a matter of adding a water lock (recommended by the dude at the home brewing supply store) on the top:

Now it gets to sit for 20 days!  And though I mentioned yesterday that today's step would be the final one, I discovered that I missed one additional 2-3-day step, so this is the penultimate step.  

If anyone is at all interested in having a taste in 3 to 4 weeks, please feel free to e-mail me with your address and I'll be happy to send you a small sample!  That offer stands for anything I make, as long as it's something that can tolerate shipping.

Bunna (Coffee)

an Ethiopian coffee ceremony set-up

The first day we were in Ethiopia, at around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the entire guest house filled with smoke.  Indeed, we were half afraid that perhaps it was on fire, except no one seemed concerned in the least, so we decided we weren't concerned.  Upon our return from Chuko (in the Sidama region), we noticed this phenomenon again: a guest house visibly full of smoke and absolutely no one showing any signs that this was anything about which to worry.  This time, though, we investigated and discovered that it was the staff's afternoon coffee ceremony.  

At the end of the recipe, there is a brief notation stating that "In most household [sic] coffee drinking has a ritual beyond explanation."  I'm certainly not even going to try an explanation myself, but a Google search on "Ethiopian coffee ceremony" can yield plenty of information (including here) and some beautiful photos.  

What we were smelling was the roasting of the green coffee beans (which doesn't actually smell overwhelmingly like coffee, more like the chestnuts roasted on the sidewalks of New York, but nicer) and what we were seeing was the smoke that ensued from the process.  Once we poked our heads into the common room, we were of course invited to join in, and every day thereafter, whenever we smelled the smoke, we made sure to make it downstairs.  

I came to coffee late in life, perhaps not even 10 years ago, and the reason why seems to be that I had never tried any good coffee.  It turns out I am a coffee snob; once I had had good coffee, I was converted.  Fortunately, I don't need coffee every day, so it's not a crisis if I can't find a cup of good coffee.  

Sinadu was the cook at our agency's guest house and she was at the helm of the coffee making every afternoon.  Even just thinking back to her afternoon coffee (the coffee she made for us in the morning and kept in the carafe was not even in the same league), my hands start shaking.  It was that good.  The cups are tiny, but the stuff is potent!  Exactly what a new, sleep-deprived parent needed at 4 in the afternoon.  

The coffee-making in Ethiopia starts with the green coffee beans (technically, it does here in the US, too, but for most of the coffee-drinking population, the earliest in the process we start doing it ourselves is with the roasted coffee beans).  At coffee time, the beans are roasted in a little cup over a brazier and, when they are done, they are passed around so that everyone can take a whiff.  They are then ground with a mortar and pestle, added to boiling water, and boiled for a few minutes before being poured into demitasse-type cups, usually with a good amount of sugar in the bottom.  Incense is often burned during the ceremony and popcorn is almost always served.  It all smells divine.  

Thus, I was beyond thrilled when I turned to page 66 and discovered I'd get to try my own hand at making Ethiopian coffee, from scratch!  I ordered the beans from Brundo.com and had planned to make this last weekend, but ended up with a stomach bug.  I thought about doing it a couple of times during the week, but the only time I could do it was in the afternoon, and now that I no longer have two babies waking up every two hours during the night, I try to avoid strong coffee after noon or so.  

Late this morning seemed the perfect time.  We were home after gymnastics and a late breakfast/early lunch, and had some time to kill before afternoon naps!  

We started properly, with green coffee beans:

While I waited for my coffee beans to arrive, I did a little research on home roasting.  There are home coffee roasters out there, but they start around $80 and only have the one purpose.  While it was clear that I could just use one of my cast-iron skillets, in several articles, I saw mentioned this apparatus:

It's called a "Whirly Pop" and in addition to doubling as a coffee roaster, it can also serve its intended purpose as a popcorn popper (I like appliances that serve multiple uses, whether intended to or not).  We like popcorn in this household, especially the toddlers, one of whom just this past week announced, as we were making popcorn (which we do on the stove) "I love popcorn.  Because I'm 'opian."  Investing in the Whirly Pop made more sense to me, as it's important to maintain plenty of airflow around the coffee beans as they roast.  Plus, I'd read that the skillet method often leads to uneven results.  

green coffee beans in the Whirly Pop, waiting to be roasted!

Also in my reading, it was stressed that ventilation would be important when roasting the coffee beans, especially inside.  From our experience in Ethiopia, I knew that this would be true.  The articles I read insisted that a stove hood would be more than adequate.  I was a little dubious, so also opened the kitchen door and my husband turned on the fan and disabled our smoke detector, which is a little overzealous even on a normal day.  

It seems that 450 degrees is the ideal coffee roasting temperature, but I'd broken my thermometer when I made the dabbo qolo, so I just turned our electric cooktop stove element to about 7 or 8 and started cranking (or would that be "whirling"?).  Though the recipe only called for a cup of coffee beans, I threw in the whole pound, as I also needed to roast a pound of coffee beans for the yebunna t'ej (when I went to work on the t'ej, I had to augment with a cup of already roasted coffee beans that came from Addis; I should have ordered two pounds of the green coffee beans, rather than one).  

The whole roasting process only took 10 or 15 minutes, tops.  

after maybe about 5 minutes of roasting - the color's changing!

After the above picture was taken, things started picking up.  The beans started softly popping, the chaff was flying off, and our kitchen was completely filled with smoke, despite the stove hood going full blast.  It smelled exactly like the guest house at afternoon coffee time!  

(I kept the lid up so I could keep an eye on the color)

One trick to roasting coffee beans is that they continue roasting a bit more while they cool down, so it's very easy to overshoot the roast for which you're aiming.


I was using as my guide my Starbucks Ethiopia Sidama (I know, it says "Sidamo", but we use "Sidama", and here's why), which is on the left.  On the right was the roast I ended up with...a little bit darker.  It really didn't end up mattering, but if I was aiming for a roast like the Sidama, I should have pulled it off of the heat a smidgen earlier.  It amazed me how these green, dull beans just metamorphosed into these gorgeous, shiny pieces of onyx.  

Once the coffee's roasted, you have to cool it because it's hot:

See that smoke?  Multiply it by about three and imagine it filling our entire downstairs.  Mmmmmmmmm.......

To cool it off, I took the colander outside and gently tossed the beans up and down.  While you can't see it, the coffee beans have fine outer hulls that pop off with the roasting.  They're very light, and while tossing the beans to cool them down, the chaff blows right off.  

I cannot adequately describe how great my house smelled.  Six hours later, and it still smells amazing!  My husband went out to sand and salt the sidewalk and came in saying that it even smelled like roasting coffee outside (with all the windows open to try to clear the smoke, it's no wonder).  

Grinding freshly ground, still-warm coffee beans?  Sheer decadence.  

At this point, I could have just fired up the Mr. Coffee, but I was going to do it the Ethiopian way, which, according to the cookbook, means adding some ground cloves and ground cinnamon:

I was a little worried about adding the spices.  I'd had the spiced coffee in Ethiopian restaurants before, and I didn't like it as much as I had liked Sinadu's un-spiced coffee.  But, I decided to stick with the recipe and I added the spices (I added them to the beans in the grinder before I ground them).  

Then I brought some water to a boil on the stove, added the coffee, and boiled for five more minutes.  I have no pictures of this stage because once you add the coffee to the water, it threatens to overflow the pot and I had to keep taking it off the heat and putting it back on as I adjusted the temperature so that it would boil, but not overflow.  My hands were a little occupied!

By this point, the toddlers were clamoring for some coffee.  It's not unusual for them to get a tablespoon or two with their milk; after all, their father in Ethiopia grows coffee himself and their family's coffee set had a place of honor in their tukul (a hut like the ones I have pictured to the right of the top of the posts).  As the girls watched me roasting the coffee beans this morning, I couldn't help but picture them watching their mother in Ethiopia roasting the family's coffee, had their life taken its originally intended course.  

(I transferred it to the Mr. Coffee carafe just to make it easy to pour)

Isn't it gorgeous?  I didn't fill the coffee cup all the way up, as I would with my regular coffee, because I assumed it was going to be strong, and I wasn't disappointed!  This particular mix of spices was perfect.  It didn't overpower the coffee (cloves, especially, can be quite overpowering), but instead lightly spiced it.  Because the coffee was boiled, not filtered, there were, of course, grounds:

the grounds left over at the bottom of the carafe

even the babies' cups had a fair amount of grounds

I don't know what it is about Ethiopian coffee, but it has this way of making me feel completely serene and all Zen, even with the accompanying palpitations, shaking hands, and weak knees.  This was really good stuff.  So good I'm wondering why I'm not roasting my own beans every time I want a cup of coffee (I read somewhere that, until the late 1800s, everyone roasted their own coffee).  Oh, yes, perhaps it's that smoke issue.....  

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yebunna T'ej (Coffee-Flavored Honey Wine), part III

This week's recipe, Samma We't ("Spinach Like Plant Sauce 'Nettle'" -- that subtitle needed to be placed in quotes, as that is exactly what it says in the cookbook) will need to wait.  The good news is that, believe it or not, I found a source for fresh stinging nettle leaves.  It's even sold in 2-lb portions, which is exactly how much I need for the we't.  The bad news is that it's only available during April.  I haven't ruled out my local Asian market, yet, but suspect this may be a highly seasonal item.  So, be assured it's coming, but I'm issuing a rain check for the time being.  

Meanwhile, today was time for another yebunna t'ej intervention.  This step was supposed to be performed on Wednesday; however, I was in Rochester for work.  I was originally scheduled to fly out of Rochester on Wednesday night, but that was before my flight was canceled in preparation for Winter Storm Barbara (we name our winter storms here in CT), who dumped all of 1/2 of an inch of snow on us.  I didn't get home until after 6 Thursday night, so I'm just getting around to the t'ej today.  

There really wasn't all that much that to this step.  All that needed to be done was to strain the hops from the brew, which was looking like this:

after another week of sitting

We stocked up on cheesecloth at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, after being directed to the dishcloths by a member of the Target sales staff.  I folded the cheesecloth into about four plies, then laid it into the smallest-holed colander I have; this set-up was then placed on top of a stock pot:

After two passes through the cheesecloth, I still wasn't all that impressed with the results:

still looking a little murky

So I decided to try putting it through a coffee filter, first through the rigged-up Mr. Coffee (my poor appliances):

Then through a colander lined with coffee filters:

Though there was a fair bit of silt left over in the coffee filters (and I even replaced them all once during the process because they clogged up):

I'm not sure the t'ej is any clearer:

Side by side (or top/bottom) comparison:

That gesho kitel is quite difficult to filter out.  Perhaps it clears a bit later in the process.  For now, it sits for 24 hours and tomorrow, I move onto the penultimate step, part of which also involves the recipe I was supposed to have covered for the 5th!