Sunday, February 14, 2016

Random Recipes 15.06

Today's experiment - Ethiopian food

There was once a restaurant in Berkeley that I went to for years as a child.  It was an amazing Ethiopian restaurant, and it was called "The Blue Nile."  Critics might say it was not perfectly authentic, but you know what?  For two kids (my sister being autistic and very picky about her food) who have sensitive palates, somehow we gobbled it up every time.  Their injera (flat foamy bread used to pick up food) was so delicious my sister and I would basically just eat it by itself.  It wasn't as hard, dark, or sourdough-y as all the other injeras I have tried since.  Their chicken was yellowish and buttery, their beef was in a dark red-brown sauce, they had buttery spiced carrots, and a couple other curries and lentil dishes that I can't recall perfectly.  When people asked me what kind of food I like, I would answer, "Japanese and Ethiopian" and they would usually answer with something stupid like, "What?  They have food in Ethiopia?" and I'd glare at them and sigh.  I don't particularly like Italian food (blame the pastas I had as a child...), Mexican food (hot stuff - meh), or Chinese (except dim sum).  

At any rate, that restaurant has closed and I have not eaten food similar to it for about ten years.  I desperately wanted to share it with my (now) husband, but even when he was at Berkeley eight years ago, it had closed.  Hard to believe it has been so long.  I have tried a couple places, but never found quite the same flavors and definitely never found the same injera.  I suspect they used some variation without Teff (the standard grain of Ethiopia used for injera).

Finally, I bit the bullet and decided to attempt it.  Injera, I'd been told by several Ethiopians, is actually quite challenging to make.  I didn't doubt that, so I put this off for longer partly due to that.  After all, without the injera, you might as well make curries.  The following recipes were ones I used - Beef Wot (Zilbo, but not dried)Chicken Alicha, and African Roasted Carrots. I know Doro Wat Chicken is THE dish of Ethiopia, but the chicken I remembered getting frequently was yellow, not the brownish red of Berbere spices, which I'll get to in a minute.  Perhaps in the future I'll try Doro Wat Chicken, but not at this moment. 

The other cornerstone of Ethiopian cuisine is Berbere, their blend of spices.  It is to Ethiopian food what "Cajun blend" is to Cajun food, or barbecue sauce is to Texan grilled meats.  It requires several spices that we can't quite find here in the US, or at least not easily, so I approximated it as best I could.  This website was helpful in differentiating berbere from mekelesha, a 'finishing' spice.  The blend (though there is a lot of variation) tends to include paprika (sweet Hungarian), paprika (Spanish), chili pepper, ajwain, dried basil, cardamom (Ethiopian or black), fenugreek, ginger (powdered), and black cumin (nigella).  Mekelesha is a sweeter blend, as seen on the website.

Another new thing I learned about Ethiopian cuisine is that it is often finished in the last 5 minutes or so with Ethiopian spiced butter, which contains the spices koseret (closest sub I could find was marjoram), korerima (black cardamom being a next best equivalent), tumeric, and ginger.  In my cooking, I didn't exactly make it spiced butter, I added the spices and the butter at the same time near the end - effectively it's somewhat close and saves on the work.  In the future perhaps I'll make the butter as shown here.  

Here's a picture of most everything in progress - the beef takes the longest time, so I started it first and worked on the other items while it simmered.

Here is the injera - it looks good from this angle, but I did run into a problem with the batter - it was plenty bubbly, and I used a Teff-free version, but it was too thick - as a result, I didn't want the one side getting overly cooked but the top stayed somewhat raw and didn't have the best 'eye' (holes) distribution.  The texture was legit, but the rest... leaves a lot to be desired.  It also wasn't as savory as it could have been.  Perhaps just using a different blend of flours and adding a little sourdough would be better.  

Ultimately, the food came out fairly well - the flavors were Ethiopian, the chicken was nearly the same as I remembered, the beef - similar, but not slow cooked quite enough, and the carrots were slightly different, I think due to the absence of butter.  Next time, adding butter.  

Overall, it came out better than expected, despite the injera not quite working out as well.  It'll take a little trial and error.  Overall, pretty delicious, and will consider making again.  Kit gave his verdict as well, as essentially the same and approving of the spice blends, just wishing the injera were better.

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