Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ethiopian-Indian fusion

I hosted my book group Thursday night for our discussion of  Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. This debut novel is a beautifully-written, expansive story of family, loyalty and profession set in three continents and featuring well-developed characters from four nationalities. Mr. Verghese, who was born in Ethiopia of Indian parents, is a physician and professor of medicine at Stanford. That would be more than enough success for most people, but now he can add "best-selling author" to his achievements. I'm impressed.

Trying to keep our book group dinner on theme, I looked for some Ethiopian recipes. I remembered a few in my trusty old Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant (Cookery), and since I have no dedicated Ethiopian cookbooks in my vast collection (an oversight that must be rectified!), I chose the recipes for two vegetarian stews and injera, a spongy flatbread. I also attempted to make t'ej, an Ethiopian honey wine, from the method described in Sander Katz' Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

T'ej to be, maybe
I started the t'ej about three weeks ago, but I think it's not quite ready. I had to skim some mold off the surface a couple of days before the book group dinner, so I didn't dare serve it to my guests. This is my first attempt at wine-making of any type and I'm not sure how I'll know when it's good.

Both of the stews turned out well and the homemade spice blend (berbere) and spicy clarified butter (niter kibbeh) I used in cooking gave off the most intoxicating aroma. My friends said they smelled it from outside and couldn't wait to taste.

Being a slacker, I didn't read the Moosewood recipe for injera until the morning of the dinner and discovered that it required three days of fermentation! Not to be dissuaded, I googled for "quick injera" and was pleased to find several instructions for approximating its taste by using wheat flours, lemon juice and seltzer. This quick version was no more difficult to mix than the average pancake batter. None of my guests seemed disappointed.

glorious Meadowlark spinach
Saag Ethiopia
Anyway, last night I was reflecting on the cultural blend of Ethiopia and India in the novel, and recalling the delicious Indian saag paneer that Jodi contributed to our dinner, and looking at a large bag of Meadowlark Farm spinach in the refrigerator, when I had a sudden inspiration: why not make Ethiopian saag? I still had berbere and niter kibbeh. So I diced an onion, sauteed it in a couple of tablespoons of niter kibbeh, added about a tablespoon of berbere and then the spinach. It was simple and delicious!

P.S. Check out the May/June Oryana newsletter for my story on local food and why organic still matters. The story was prompted by this article by Ronnie Cummins and colleagues published by Organic Consumers Association.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for hosting, Sharon. A memorable evening, indeed!