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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia - Recipes from Afar and Near"

Somewhere out in the blogosphere, I became aware of a book entitled "Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia - Recipes from Afar and Near" and I managed to find myself a copy, which just arrived yesterday.  

If anyone is interested in some Ethiopian cookbook training wheels, this slim little volume (it has only 48 pages and 16 recipes) would fit the bill perfectly.  It was printed up for the Pacific Science Center (Seattle, WA) on the occasion of Lucy's first-ever tour outside of Ethiopia.  Lucy, or Dinkenesh, as she is called in Ethiopia, is a 3.18-million-year-old hominid skeleton that, for 30 years or so, was the oldest hominid skeleton ever to have been found.  We saw Lucy when we were in Ethiopia ourselves, and from October 4, 2008 to March 8, 2009, she made her home at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.  

The recipes included in this book are:

*  Berbere (red pepper spice mix)
*  Nit'ir Qibe (spiced butter)
*  Injera (traditional bread)
*  Ayebb (Ethiopian cheese)
*  Greens
*  Ginfilfil (injera in spicy sauce)
*  Foul (fava beans with spicy sauce)
*  Doro Wot (chicken stewed in berbere sauce)
*  Kitfo (minced raw meat with spices)
*  Lamb Tibs (lamb in spicy sauce)
*  Shero Wot (spicy chickpea sauce)
*  Misser Wot (red lentil stew)
*  Curried Cabbage and Potatoes
*  Kategna (fried spicy injera)
*  Che'che'bsa (pan bread with spiced butter)
*  Vegetable Sambusas

It's quite a nice, representative mix, I think; you'd be able to recreate an injera platter like you'd get in a restaurant, complete with the little side dishes of Ethiopian cottage cheese and cabbage and potatoes.  And the authenticity factor looks good, albeit they do scale down the berbere measurements in several -- but not all -- of the dishes (the doro recipe only calls for 3 tablespoons as compared to one cup in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, but the ginfilil recipe calls for 3/4 of a cup, exactly the same amount as called for in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking).  

The recipe yields for the "staples", like berbere and nit'ir qibe, are also much more manageable for the occasional Ethiopian cook.  Instead of making 23 cups of nit'ir qibe, like the recipe in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking does, theirs makes two (and as for the berbere recipe, well, let's just say that the one in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking starts out with 15 POUNDS of red chili peppers, while theirs starts with 1/2 cup of dried, ground chili peppers).  

If Exotic Ethiopian Cooking leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed, but you're still interested in trying your hand at Ethiopian cooking, I think this book would be ideal place to start. 

In addition to the recipes, there are also little educational tidbits sprinkled throughout the pages.  At the first mention of fenugreek, the opposite page gives a little history and information on this herb; teff receives similar treatment.  There's some folklore, some cultural information (meals, religion, proverbs), some facts, and even some Amharic words and phrases!  In addition to all of this, it's an aesthetically pleasing book to look at, filled with mostly line drawings, with an occasional charcoal or pastel piece here and there.  

Where to find it?  That would be the question.  Let me introduce you to my favorite book-sourcing website, AddALL.  This link here should pull up sources for Recipes from Afar and Near, but if you just want to do a search for it on your own, the ISBN is 9781933245140.  

Sunday, March 21, 2010

T'ibs We't (Fried Beef Stew)

"T'ibs We't is prepared on occasions as a main dish.  It is very delicious with injera or bread and a little homemade yoghurt or cottage cheese." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 107

Dinner was about two-and-a-half hours ago and my husband and I are still talking about how good the t'ibs we't was.  My husband proclaimed it the best thing I've made yet and even added that it was better than the t'ibs we get at our local restaurant, the Abyssinian.  This was also, by far, the spiciest thing I've made, and it was teetering dangerously on the precipice between "spicy" and "intolerably hot".  I added the cottage cheese because I was worried that it was going to be way too spicy hot for the Ethiopians, but they plunged right in and kept going back.  They'd take a bite, gasp, say it was spicy, and you'd think they were about to cry in sheer misery, yet as they were complaining about it being spicy, their hands were already in there for another bite.  When it temporarily overpowered them, they asked to sit in our laps while they had some milk and plain injera, but within minutes, they'd be back into the we't.  I ended up eating most of the cottage cheese, yet was doing the same thing they were...as spicy as it was, my hand kept going back in for more and I felt my brain being washed in the endorphins that were triggered by the spiciness.  My husband, meanwhile, was calling for a seconds to be ladled onto the injera while wiping sweat from his forehead.  Man, this was good; I am totally blissed out.  

It is also a pretty simple dish to make.  It's not the first time I've made it (it was one of the first dishes I made, as I mentioned in my blog post from yesterday).  This was, however, the best batch I've ever made.  

You start with the red onions:


After chopping, throw them into a dry frying pan and cook them until they turn a brownish-red color.  While I was cooking these, I was also chopping up the beef and wasn't keeping as close an eye on these as I should have and they started sticking a little to the pan. If this happens, just throw a little water in there and stir until the water evaporates.  


Then you add the nit'ir qibe (I had made a fresh batch just last night).  

I mentioned in the blog post about nit'ir qibe that the last several cups from the bottom of the pan were a bit sludgy.  The puck of butter on the left is pure nit'ir qibe without the sludge, and the puck on the right is one of the sludgy ones (the most sludgy one, in fact).  You can see the sludge on the top of the puck, but I can assure you it didn't affect the end result one bit, aside from cutting the butter content a tad.  

all melted

One of the things I find amusing when I find some recipes for Ethiopian food on the web (usually posted by a westerner, not an Ethiopian) is the amount of berbere called for.  The upper limit usually seems to be one tablespoon; occasionally, there is an asterisk mentioning that if you like things really spicy, throw in an extra tablespoon of berbere.  

Mr. Mesfin does not mess around.  Here is his idea of a berbere measurement:

That would be a cup.  A cup.  Most of the we'ts in this book call for a cup of berbere for a dish that serves from six to eight people.  I love my berbere:

It's the same exact stuff we brought home from Ethiopia, but not the exact bag, as the bags are only 1 kg. and three or four we'ts will wipe that out.  Thanks to the generosity of many, I keep finding myself with more bags of berbere from Selam Baltena.  If you're reading this and will be traveling to Ethiopia in the near future, I am always looking for more berbere.  If you'd be willing to bring a bag back, please e-mail me!  

with the berbere added

After the berbere, you throw in some red wine (or t'ej, if you have it). 

Meanwhile, I had taken a bunch of stew meat (it was a "family pack" of mixed beef chunks) and cut it into small cubes, both so it would be more tender and easier to eat.  

I browned the meat in a dry pan.  A lot of liquid and fat was expelled from the meat as it was cooked; I never know whether I should drain it or use it in the stew.  Tonight, I just kept cooking the meat until all the extra liquid had evaporated.  Then came time to add the meat to the onion-berbere mixture.

I added some water to the stew and then the spices:

Moving clockwise from the salt, we have:

~ cardamom (I didn't have any ground cardamom, so I ground some cardamom pods in my coffee grinder)

~  ginger (I forgot I used up all my ground ginger for the yegebs siljo), so I ground some fresh ginger and used that

~  black cumin, which can be found in Asian markets as kalonji.  

I discovered that the Asian market I go to (Patel Bros.) is actually a chain!  So if you're wondering if there's one near you, head on over to here.  Mine is a great little market and I enjoy going there.  

~  cloves

~  garlic (I chopped my own tonight because I was out of my Dorot cubes)

~  black pepper

I should not have put in the salt because I forgot that the nit'ir qibe I made last night had been made with salted butter, and the t'ibs we't tasted a bit salty to me (though only to me, I guess, as my husband thought it was fine).  What I really should have done was used unsalted butter for the nit'ir qibe, but I forgot to specify this when I sent my husband out for butter.  

I wanted to add a note about the water here.  The we't recipes in this book often call for a couple of cups or more of water, and while I used the specified amount tonight, there are times when I feel like I don't want to water it down, and I either leave out the water entirely or use less.  It may take a fair bit of trial and error before you find the consistency and/or intensity you prefer. 

After adding the water and the spices, I let it simmer while we waited for my husband to get home with the injera (the recipe recommends simmering for 15 to 20 minutes; at this point, it can also go into a crock pot for as long as you want).  

Then, it was just a matter of digging in!

It's even later now, and I'm still all blissed out on berbere.  

Nit'ir Qibe ("How to Purify Butter/Herbed Butter")

"Nit'ir Qibe is a basic ingredient in the preparation of authentic, tasteful Ethiopian dishes.  It is used to prepare all dishes requiring butter." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 5

Mr. Mesfin is not kidding here.  The first time I attempted to make an Ethiopian dish, I had been home from Ethiopia for about two weeks with the then-6-month-old Ethiopians.  I pulled out my copy of Exotic Ethiopian Cooking and prepared to make doro w'et.  My eyes scanned the ingredients.  "Chicken, check.  Red onions, check.  Berbere, check (we had brought some home from Addis and, thanks to the generosity of many, I have not yet been forced to purchase berbere via mail order).  'Butter (spiced)'....uhm, what?"  (And that was before I even hit the spices required that I'd have to research and figure out where to find.)

I had no idea what was being asked for.  Eventually, I discovered there was a recipe for it at the beginning of the book, but the fortification that that discovery provided was temporary.  For starters, the first ingredient was twelve pounds of butter.  Twelve.  Pounds.  We don't even go through a pound a year, really, unless I'm baking or something.  Then there was another short list of spices that cannot be found in aisle five of Stop & Shop.  Or even in Whole Foods.  

I was so tempted to skip this step and just use plain butter.  Really, could it make that much of a difference, I wondered?  Was I really going to clarify twelve pounds of butter?  I am a long-time fan of Julia Child and come from a family that is heavy into shellfish worship (if you consider "eating" a form of worship), so I do not fear butter.  But this was twelve pounds of it.  Surely, it had to be illegal to be in possession of that much animal fat at one time.  

If I was going to just be making the doro for myself, I might have taken the easy way out, but this was going to be for a Christmas party with other families with children adopted from Ethiopia and, somehow, I was afraid that everyone there would be bringing some fabulous, homemade, perfectly authentic Ethiopian food and if I just used plain butter, they would all know and judge me.  Perhaps they may even call our social worker, whispering urgently, "but she used plain butter in the doro.  Plain butter.  And she was allowed to adopt?"  

This was also my first time attending a gathering of this type, I might add, as it was easier for us to avoid these things while we were waiting for a referral, so I didn't realize what a great bunch of folks they all are.  And it turned out that not everyone brought homemade Ethiopian food.  Some brought Ethiopian takeout.  Some brought fabulous, authentic Italian food.  Some brought Doritos.  But, by this time, the first batch of nit'ir qibe had been made and I had made and brought doro and t'ibs we't.  I did forget the hard-boiled eggs, but everyone thought I was insane for even trying to bring anything that required cooking after having only been home a couple of weeks with infant twins and they forgave me for forgetting the eggs.  They even forgave me when I forgot them for the Christmas party the following year (well, the adults did; there were quite a few older Ethiopian kids there who were not quite so generous, but I can't blame them because, truly, the eggs are the best part).  To my knowledge, no one even told our social worker about the missing eggs.  

No one would have cared if I had used plain butter instead of the spiced butter; however, it would have been a vastly inferior dish, trust me.  When folks ask how I get my we'ts tasting like they do, I give top billing to the nit'ir qibe because it deserves it.  You can omit something from the rest of the dish, but as long as you have some good nit'ir qibe in it, no one will care.  You won't even care.  I can now tell if a dish has been made with plain butter; it tastes perfectly fine, but there is no "wow" factor.  

This week's random selection is actually not nit'ir qibe, it's t'ibs we't.  But the t'ibs requires nit'ir qibe and I was all out of it, so I thought I'd take the time to document the nit'ir qibe process.  It's not a horribly difficult process, but the skimming of the foam can take a while.  It doesn't, however, require a lot of babysitting, so you can putter around doing other things and just stop by the stove occasionally to skim the foam.  

As an alternative, there are places to find nit'ir qibe on-line (Brundo on my sidebar has it, listed under "Staples to Ethiopian Living"), and if you have an Ethiopian restaurant nearby, they'd probably be happy let you purchase some from them.  I've just always made my own.  

The twelve pounds of butter will yield about 21 cups of nit'ir qibe.  Most of these recipes call for about one to two cups of the nit'ir qibe, so this is a healthy supply; I only need to make nit'ir qibe two or three times a year, at most.  Because it's clarified, it will last for a very long time in your refrigerator, or, if you're very concerned about its shelf-life, you can throw it in your freezer.  I measure it all out into one-cup Glad containers and stack them up in my downstairs refrigerator until I need some.  

To start, procure this:

I highly, highly suggest that you purchase the "cheap" butter that comes in one-pound blocks.  Otherwise, you're looking at peeling the wrappers off of 48 sticks of butter.  I've done it.  It loses its allure quickly.  At least with the one-pound blocks, there are only twelve wrappers to contend with, and they're bigger and much easier to get off.  

Throw those puppies into a very large pot:

And start melting them.  While the butter is melting down, there's plenty of time to pull together the rest of the ingredients:

chopped ginger

chopped garlic

chopped red onion

and the spices

From the top and moving clockwise, the spices are: 

~  azmud ("white" cumin seed; the regular cumin you can find in any grocery or market...sometimes I use ground cumin, sometimes I use cumin seed; the recipe doesn't really specify, and it comes out great with either)

~  besobilia ("sacred basil").  Go to your Asian grocery and ask for "tulsi":

~  cardamom seeds (both plain cardamom and "black cardamom" is mentioned throughout this book; unless it specifically states "black cardamom", I use the regular cardamom you can find in your local store

~  abish (fenugreek) (I get mine at my Asian market, but it has also been found at Whole Foods)

Once the butter has all melted, the tedious part begins.  If you do a Google search on how to clarify butter, there are all sorts of methods, some of which may speed up the process.  I just do it the way Julia does it.  

See that foam that's collecting on the top?  You have to get rid of it.  I just take a spoon and gently skim the surface of the liquid, gathering up the foam.  As soon as you remove some foam, there will be more foam rising from the bottom of the pan to take its place.  From my rough calculations (I start with 24 cups of butter and end up with 21 cups of nit'ir qibe), there will be about three cups of foam that will need to be removed.  I've never timed this step, but it can seem interminable.  Just keep the heat very low so that there's no chance the butter will burn and you'll be able to do other things while you wait for new foam to rise.  

Just when you're sure it'll never end, you end up with this:

There's still some residual foam around the edges, and I took another few swipes after I took this picture, but I'm not obsessive about it.  You really just want most of it gone.  

Now, you add in the chopped onions, garlic, and ginger and the spices and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Some more foam will collect here and there, but not in the same quantity as before.  I just keep skimming it off.  

a bit more foam arises

After it's simmered and skimmed one last time, let it sit for a little bit so that the spices and the chopped savories have settled to the bottom.  Then it's ready to be ladled into whatever container(s) you wish to use to store it.  The recipe says to strain it at this point, but sometimes, I just gently ladle it out from the very top until I get close enough to the bottom that I'm starting to disturb the sludge when I dip the ladle or measuring cup in.  Then I strain the rest.

a colander on top of  a stockpot

the last bit of clarified butter from the bottom of the pan, along with the sludge

To get out every last bit of the clarified butter, I take a spatula and kind of stir/press the mixture to facilitate the straining process.  I'm then left with the remains of the onions, ginger, garlic, and spices:

If you're a purist, you might not want the last little bit of clarified butter, as it does become a bit murky.  I suppose I could strain it further with some cheesecloth or a jelly strainer, but, usually, by this time, I'm ready to be done.  And, frankly, the murky stuff still tastes amazing!  It's just not crystal clear like the unadulterated stuff is.  

For comparison:

the pure nit'ir qibe from the top of the pan

the nit'ir qibe that came from the bottom of the pan

side by side

a side view of the sludgy stuff

The cup on the right is a little bit sludgier than I would usually keep, but what I often do is use the sludgy stuff in recipes that call for two cups of the nit'ir qibe; I use one cup of the pure nit'ir qibe and one cup of the sludgy stuff and it all works out in the wash.  The "sludge", as I call it, is just all of the good stuff that differentiates the nit'ir qibe from mere butter, so there's no reason to let it go to waste.

Tomorrow, I'll be putting a couple of these cups of nit'ir qibe to use in the t'ibs we't I'll be making for dinner!  

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sambossa Pastry

"Sambossa is a delicious appetizer.  Crisp and tasty."  ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 38

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, it's a samsa.  In Turkey, it's a somsa.  In Arabic, it's a sambusak.  It's found all around the world, spanning continents, cultures, and cuisines.  

In Ethiopia, it's a sambossa and, according to Wikipedia.org, whatever it's called, it "generally consists of a fried or baked triangular, semilunar, or tetrahedral patty shell with a savory filling which may include spiced potatoes, onion, peas, coriander, and lentils".  Indeed, we had some lentil sambossas at our local Ethiopian restaurant a few weeks back, though tonight's preparation would use meat.  

Though the pastry preparation is mentioned first, I decided to start with the filling instead, as I had noticed that it had to cook for a little.  I figured I'd start the filling, then prepare the dough while the meat mixture cooked down.  

First came the chopping of the hallmark red onions:

And the chopping of some coriander (cilantro) and mint:

I dumped the onion, cilantro, and mint into a saucepan and added the rest of the ingredients:

~   ground ginger, turmeric, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon (and some salt added separately)

~   and the meat  

The recipe calls for either ground lamb or ground beef.  I don't particularly care for lamb, so I chose beef, but, as noted above, you can also use lentils or any other cooked vegetables if you need a vegetarian option.  

Also added were a couple of cups of water.  

I brought the mixture to a boil and then turned down the heat and let it simmer; the recipe instructs that it's to be simmered until all of the liquid evaporates.  

     simmering away

While the filling was simmering (and I can't even begin to tell you how amazing it smelled), I busied myself with the pastry dough, which was also quite simple.  

~  flour and salt

~  and margarine

I then mixed it with the KitchenAid until it "resembled cornmeal in texture".  

Then I took egg, vinegar, and cold water:

Mixed them together, added the mixture to the "cornmeal" mixture, and ran the KitchenAid some more:

The dough that resulted was much too dry to hold itself together enough for me to be able to roll it out at all, so I called on my meager history with pie crust and added water -- first by the teaspoonful, then by the half-tablespoonful -- until it started pulling together and looking like a pastry dough.

At this point, the dough was ready to be rolled out:

The instructions made it sound like I needed to cut out a circle of dough freehand, but I decided to take the easy way out.  First, however, I needed to raid The Ethiopians' Play-Doh supplies, which happen to double as our cookie cutters (or maybe it's the other way around).  

    don't worry, I washed it first!

After cutting a circle, I was instructed to cut the circle in half to form two semicircles:

Then, it was just a matter of adding the filling, which had cooked down to look like this

and somehow ending up with something that's supposed to look like this.  No problem, right?  

Well, there was a little bit of a learning curve here.  I had it in my mind that these were not too dissimilar from ravioli, and I wasn't wrong about that, but the problem was that I had never actually made ravioli.  All I had was a vast store of knowledge gleaned from watching an embarrassing number of hours of PBS cooking shows: Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Ciao Italia, Lidia's Kitchen, Graham Kerr, even Yan Can Cook (crab rangoons aren't all that different from sambossas). 

What I seemed to remember was that one edge of the dough of the sambossa (or ravioli or dumpling or wonton or what have you) needed to be damp in order to stick to the opposite edge and that under no circumstance should the filling be allowed to come close to the edge, or else all would be irrevocably lost.  That was pretty much the extent of my theoretical knowledge; the rest of the process would consist of trial and error.

The half circles were way too small, and were a little thick, so I rolled them out a bit more and was pleasantly surprised to see them assume the more triangular shape that I recognized from our restaurant's sambossas.  

The instructions say to dip one's finger in water, moisten the straight edge, and shape each semicircle into a cone, but I decided to do it my way, as I've seen similar instructions for cookies and it's always been a little challenging to get the filling into the cone. 

The book says to use between 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons of filling.  That's 2 teaspoons shown above.  It was too much filling and the dough wasn't rolled out large enough.  Thus started a small series of fails.  Look away if you're squeamish.

The top picture shows the perils of too much filling and a piece of dough that is too small. Not too bad, though.  The middle picture shows what happens when you roll out the dough too far in advance of adding the filling (I was trying to figure out the most efficient way of production.  The answer?  There isn't one.  Work with small pieces of dough at a time, enough to make two sambossas; otherwise, the dough dries out too much.)  Still not bad.  

The bottom picture?  Let's just say that They were all right about never letting the filling touch the edges.  *shudder*  I share with you my shame so that you don't head down the same path.  I'll spare you the other fail pictures; these three were pretty representative. 

So I decreased the amount of filling to 1-1/2 teaspoons, rolled out my dough a bit more (and in smaller amounts), and soon found my groove:

     those surface imperfections are nothing, seriously

     a small amount of filling

     dampen the bottom edge of the dough and bring down the top corner

     crimp the edges around the "flap" of the "envelope to help contain the filling 

     dampen the little triangle on the right and fold it up

     then repeat on the left

     soon I was really rolling!

My sambossas were smaller and thicker than those shown in the link above, but I was fine with that. 

With the filled sambossas piling up (literally), I started heating the vegetable oil.  A whole bottle of it:

Unlike with the dabbo qolo, there was no drama with the deep-frying.  A large slotted spoon worked perfectly well in transferring the sambossas into the oil.  I received no injuries and I believe the mess was even minimal!

I cooked until they were nice and brown, and then took them out to drain on some paper towels:

A sambossa in detail:

I was trying to show the flaky layers of the pastry here 

Some of the sambossas opened up a bit during the frying process (and you could tell when it happened because the sizzling of the oil suddenly intensified), but they still held up just fine. 

They turned out great!  I am not a pastry chef at all, so I was pleasantly surprised that they turned out as flaky as they did.  I was a bit worried about the cayenne, especially after I tasted the filling after it had cooked and found it unpleasantly biting, but the pastry offset the cayenne quite a bit.  Even The Ethiopians could tolerate it and they aren't fond of cayenne.  

The sambossas in the restaurant were served with a dipping sauce and the recipe mentioned serving them "with or without" chutney (it also mentioned that they could be served hot or cold).  Since we didn't happen to have any chutney on hand, we chose the "without" option, though I'm wondering how long it's going to take my husband to remember he has a gallon of this stuff in the pantry for the leftovers.