Assignment 103: Ethiopia

ETH mapLocation: East Africa
Population: 117.9 million
Capital: Addis Ababa
Geography: A geographically diverse nation comprising mountains, deserts, and tropical forests
Language: Amharic, Afar, Oromo, Somali, Tigrinya
Signature flavours: Teff, berbere, nigella seed, ajwain, pulses, beef, garlic, ginger, leafy greens, hot peppers

The Menu

I was SO EXCITED to take on this assignment. Eric and I both got to reserve one country each that we would get to do no matter what. Eric chose Italy. I chose Ethiopia. Ethiopian food is my absolute favourite; I love the smells, flavours, textures, and colours of the various Ethiopian stews, the sour smell of soft injera bread, the earthy aroma of coffee at the end of the meal. I love eating with my hands and the communal nature of a shared platter. I was determined to give this assignment my very best, and crafted a menu that I felt would show off what I so love about this cuisine. I used the cookbook Teff Love almost exclusively, except for the fish dish (Teff Love is a vegan take on Ethiopian food) and the coffee.

ETH injera

Injera: A sourdough flatbread made from teff flour, used to scoop up stews and salads, or torn up and served in sauces as a dish of its own.

Prep and cooking time: 6 days (including fermentation)
Difficulty: 4/5

ETH lentils

Ye’misser Wot: A stew of spiced red lentils, flavoured with garlic, ginger, and the ubiquitous berbere.

Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Difficulty: 2/5

ETH peas

Ye’ater Kik Alicha: Split pea stew, made from yellow or green split peas, garlic, ginger, and fresh basil.

Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Difficulty: 2/5

ETH cabbage

Ye’atakilt Alicha: Cabbage, potatoes, and carrots baked in spiced ghee.

Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Difficulty: 2/5

ETH collard

Ye’abesha Gomen: Collard greens stewed until tender in spiced ghee, garlic, and ginger.

Prep and cooking time: 25 min
Difficulty: 2/5

ETH asa

Asa Goulash: Chunks of juicy fish in a spicy tomato, onion, and berbere sauce.

Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Difficulty: 2/5

ETH salad

Selata: A fresh green salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing.

Prep and cooking time: 10 min
Difficulty: 1/5

ETH jebena

Coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee ground finely and poured from a jebena and served sweet.

Prep and cooking time: 10 min
Difficulty: 1/5

The Shopping List

Since this assignment has been in the works in my mind since the start of the blog, I already had nigella seed and berbere spice in my spice cupboard, purchased in Toronto long before we moved away. With those items in hand, the rest was easy to find at our local supermarket and bulk store.

ETH spices

The Meal

My Ethiopian feast started with two things, days before the meal itself: ersho and ye’qimem zeyet. Ersho is a teff flour sourdough starter that after three to four days is ready to make into injera (which itself takes another 3 days). It’s a fairly standard starter process involving flour/water ratio adjustments, mixing, and monitoring over a few days until an active, sour organism is achieved.

ETH ersho

Ye’qimem zeyet is spiced oil or clarified butter used in almost every Ethiopian stew. It contains oil or ghee and onions, garlic, ginger, ajwain, cardamom, cinnamon, fenugreek, turmeric, nigella, basil, clove, and nutmeg, which are strained out once the flavours have infused. Once these two elements were ready, I could finally begin making my meal.

I was in the kitchen for about five hours, and had all the dishes going at once, since nearly everything had to be served hot. I arranged my dishes in the manner I had often seen them presented in Ethiopian restaurants: whole injera breads layered beneath mounds of each colourful stew and salad.

ETH platter

We dug into each and every pile with gusto, and I was thrilled with the results of my efforts. We wrapped up our spicy meal with small cups of sweet coffee.

Everything was incredible, and I think it was one of my best assignments ever, in part because of how enthusiastically I dove into this culinary adventure. For years I have wanted to learn how to make Ethiopian food, and this was a crash course in injera, berbere, and wot that I will never forget.


Asa Goulash

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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