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

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lemlem Zigin (Raw Beef in Spicey [sic] Sauce)

"Lemlem Zigin is a delicious meal for people who like their meat rare and at the same time favor the spicy sauce." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 121

If I were ever to write a children's book with a concept completely stolen from someone else, it would be titled Llama Llama's Injera Drama.  It's like I've never, ever made a decent batch of injera in my life and I'm not understanding it!  I know there's a learning curve, and I'm okay with that.  But I seem to be encountering learning peaks and valleys.  I know the adage "two steps forward, one step back"; it's just not a favorite of mine.  

I had put some buckwheat injera mixture together to ferment a day or so before we were going to be making it, and I stuck to the recipe, rather than adding my husband's sourdough starter to the mix.  After last week's injera mess, I thought it was time to get back to basics.  However, I had never just used this basic recipe -- I had always added about 4 to 5 ounces of my husband's sourdough starter (his blog is here, but he isn't the best about updating it; just trust me when I say we are up to our necks in sourdough and bread around here).  I don't know why I thought I should skip it this time, but I think it was a mistake.  The morning of Ethiopian night, the dough smelled like something that had been partially digested and regurgitated.  This may have been normal, as it happened to one of my husband's starters at one time (and we could smell it from upstairs); he mentioned something about a war between good bacteria and bad bacteria.  In the end, his starter turned to the light and it stopped smelling like something had died.  If I had left this injera starter alone for another day or so, it, too, might have turned for the better, but I needed something for dinner that night, so I turned to a new recipe that didn't require any sitting, a recipe taken from Marcus Samuelsson's The Soul of a New Cuisine (there are two different links here; his name brings you to his website, while the book's link takes you to Amazon).  While the process was more than approachable, the result was disappointing.  I really think I need to move towards an injera with less teff; the more teff injera I make, the more I think I understand why our local Ethiopian restaurant's injera is more buckwheat than teff.  Meanwhile, my husband has taken up the gauntlet and has started work on his own injera.  Between the two of us, we have to meet with success!  The other night, I was at a book discussion at the Ethiopians' school and was talking to a fellow committee member, who happens to be from Ethiopia; until then, I hadn't really had a chance to talk with her, so, as we talked, I seized my chance and asked what she does for injera.  She smiled sheepishly and admitted that she brought injera back from Ethiopia with her after their every-other-year visits and, in between that, she brings it up from Washington, DC.  She said she tried for years, but just gave up.  That makes me feel a little better, but I still refuse to believe that I can't figure this out.  Maybe I'm delusional.  

Onto dinner!  Tonight's dinner was a minimal-berbere-added dish: just one teaspoon instead of the usual 1/2 cup.  I wasn't wild about it.  It seems that, the more dishes I make from this book, the more I realize I prefer the berbere-intensive dishes.  Considering that I don't really like spicy-hot foods, in general, this comes as a complete surprise.  I can't tolerate cayenne or hot sauce or anything like that, but I sure love berbere!

I've photographed the cooking red onions so many times, I decided to try a different photo.  I just love the contrast in colors here!!

Red onions in a green bowl...is there anything prettier?  Even with the chip on the rim?

By now, I'm sure you know what is done to the onions: they're browned without grease or oil in a pan.  

After the onions were done, some meat was added.  At this point, the recipe called for "meat with bones".  I hate meat with bones, so I just cut up some steak.  

Then came the berbere, some red wine, and some nit'ir qibe.  

I love the color of nit'ir qibe!

The spices were simple: black pepper, garlic, ginger, and cardamom.  I added some water after adding the spices and let the stew simmer for about 20 minutes.  

Once done, the hot (in temperature) sauce is supposed to be poured over raw ground beef so that it cooks a little, but remains quite rare.  I would have loved to have done this, but I hadn't been able to get to Whole Foods for some very fresh ground beef and I didn't want to take a risk with supermarket (all right, I'll admit it, Aldi's) ground beef.  Instead, I put the ground beef in and let it cook.  

the end result

on the injera

And after uploading my pictures, I realize that the injera didn't look all that bad.  

But the taste was lackluster and the texture wasn't exactly right, so the quest continues!


  1. I had also heard somewhere that most Ethiopians don't make their own injera, even many in Ethiopia itself, they buy it at the store like we buy bread. Oh, wait...

  2. I know! Though I think that "store-bought" injera is much better than store-bought bread!! Except for one mail-order brand I tried, which I didn't care for. But yes, in our house store-bought is anathema otherwise. I made bagels last night and my husband has a zillion starters going!

  3. I'm headed to Mass this weekend and will make a special trip- with or without the Ethiopian to the South side Market Liz turned me onto for store bough Injera. I will buy all they have and bring it home and freeze it. This is the plan here forth until you can put a stamp of approval on a recipe with detailed instructions.

  4. Shannon, if I ever come up with something that comes close to perfection and can be replicated reliably time and time again, I promise to provide a recipe and instructions!! We're just not there yet!

  5. If you figure this out and provide a recipe with instructions you will be my hero! Eating injera in Ethiopia sort of ruined the mail order version for me...

  6. Sheila, another great post. Mary at the Owlhaven blog wrote a post about injera, I don't know if you've tried her recipe but she adopted a few older kiddos frmo ET and they were able to help her with technique.

    Thanks for sharing... and on a side note, Shannon is in so much trouble for being in MA and not telling me.