Never fear, the Heirloom Tomato Harvest Dinner photo tour is still coming!
When I start cooking dinner, sometimes I just get carried away — and the whole evening is gone, having been intensely but pleasurably spent cooking. Like last night's Ethiopian feast: faux injera, berbere-spiced potatoes, collards, spicy lentils, and cabbage.
I had this craving, you see. It started with lentils and collards, and then I looked at the huge piles of potatoes I've been collecting, and there was this cabbage in the "use it or lose it" category... and before I knew it I had an Ethiopian feast!
Ethiopian dishes are always a challenge. While I've eaten a fair amount (okay, a lot) of Ethiopian food in restaurants, I'm not so intimate with the cuisine that I can replicate the dishes without a recipe. And the recipes I do have rarely create the full-flavored dishes I know, so I have to modify them heavily to get something approximating the taste I'm looking for.
Is this is a cuisine that is passed down from mother to daughter, each family with its own distinctive take on the dishes, and there simply isn't the tradition of recording standard versions of common dishes? Is there some key thing I'm missing that's so obvious to a native they don't bother including it? Or are these recipes deliberately sabotaged, like something out of the Anarchist's Cookbook, so they're useless to the lay person?
I have two cookbooks that focus on Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine, and a handful of pan-African cookbooks that include some Ethiopian recipes, but I have yet to find a truly good Ethiopian cookbook. What I would really love is a decent Ethiopian or Eritrean cookbook that's written for people who didn't grow up with the cuisine and has been adapted for Western kitchens, but that isn't dumbed down either in flavor or in ingredients. (Does anyone know of one?)
The potatoes and cabbage and lentil dishes come from Taste of Eritrea. The recipes are simply written, but they are generally underspiced, and often the oil amounts seem very high, so I do a lot of modifications on the fly. (Perhaps the high oil content is traditional, but I often get away with using less than half the listed oil.) Also a significant portion of the recipes are Italian or Italian-influenced. (Eritrea was once an Italian colony.)
The collards are from Exotic Ethiopian Cooking. This book's strength is the breadth of traditional recipes and a very nice chapter on culture and hospitality, but its flaw is its often poorly written instructions. And again, now and then but less so than the other book, I get the feeling sometimes that spices are being left out. There are many places where chopping or mashing by hand can be replaced with a food processor. The texture won't be quite the same, but the time and effort saved may be worth it, especially if you're slow with a knife.
I don't feel confident enough about the lentils, cabbage, or potatoes to post recipes, but I like this basic collards recipe, which comes from Exotic Ethiopian Cooking. I customize it a fair bit, reducing the oil and increasing the garlic and adding a touch of berbere. I also use a food processor — no hand-chopping the collards into fine bits! The collards have a mild sweet flavor, and they contrast nicely with a spicy dish like lentils.
Collard Greens (Yeabesha Gomen)
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking
(I'll put my take on this below)
1 lb. collard greens
1 cup red onions, chopped
4 medium green peppers sliced in strips (chili anaheim) (I've used jalapenos.)
2 cups water (for boiling the collards)
1/2 tsp. garlic, chopped (only 1/2 tsp garlic? I use more.)
16 oz. butter or oil (I've used as little as 1/2 cup)
salt to taste
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking's directions: Wash collards, boil in the water medium pan until soft. Remove from heat, drain, and cut into small pieces. Wash green peppers, remove seeds, slice lengthwise and set aside. Cook onions over low heat until brown adding a little water to prevent sticking and burning. Add oil. Add collards and cook until the water disappears. Add "all the spices" and stir gently. One at a time, add the green peppers slices about 10 minutes before removing from fire. Serve hot or cold.
Kitchen Chick's interpretation: Wash and pre-chop collards in large pieces. Often I discard the tougher stems. Boil in water until desired doneness. Stir now and then to make sure the collards on top get cycled to the bottom. (A lid on the pan can help speed cooking by trapping the hot steam.) Drain. Meanwhile, cook the onion in a pan until brown. You can try the "water method" described above, or add a little oil to keep them from sticking. Chop green peppers, remove seeds. In a food processor, process collards and green peppers to desired texture. I tend to process them more rather than less, especially if I undercook them a bit to keep them bright green, to make sure any tough stem bits are chopped up. Add 1/2 cup oil and collard mixture to onions, add garlic (to taste! 1/2 tsp isn't enough in my opinion). Heat through and salt to taste.
(For completeness: the faux injera is from The Africa News Cookbook, which is a pan-African cookbook with recipes adapted for Western kitchens.)