I’ve really been craving Ethiopian food lately. Maybe I’m deficient in pulses, or just have a jones for hallucinogenically spicy food. The first time I tried Ethiopian food, I didn’t really know much about it other than its reputation for being hot, that it leans heavily toward vegetarian proteins like lentils, and that it’s eaten with the hands, using a spongy flatbread to scoop. This all proved to be true, but my preconceived notions were such gross understatement of this cuisine. Looking around the kitchen, I noticed that I’d depleted my stores of berberé, and I wanted to smell chiles, ginger, toasted onions and fenugreek in my Sunday kitchen.
The Ethiopian culinary identity is somewhat contradictory: it’s fraught with an impoverished history (and still heavily associated with famine), yet known as the cradle of civilization; the original land of milk and honey. Doro wat is the National Dish of Ethiopia – a rich stew of chicken and hard boiled eggs, flavored with berberé and niter kibbeh (an eloquently-spiced, clarified compound butter with garlic and ginger), served with injera, a spongy flatbread made with a fermented teff flour dough.
I basically followed the Congo Cookbook’s recipe for doro wat, and through a bit of browsing elsewhere on the interwebs found another good recipe for a vegetable side dish. Ye’abesha gomen (or gomen) consists of collard greens simmered with onions, peppers and ginger, and appears to have variations of different names all over Africa.
The injera was a problem. Problem #1: I couldn’t find teff flour anywhere (I did end up finding it at a hippie store today, locally-grown, ironically). I should’ve trusted my hunch that similarly gluten-free buckwheat flour would’ve worked, but I kind of feel like there’s no point in making generic flatbread, when I could just buy some fucking tortillas.
Problem #2: Even if I had gone for the buckwheat flour, injera is made of a fermented batter, like sourdough. I did not have the two weeks to get some dough fermenting on my counter, and evidently it’s illegal to sell sourdough starter. I asked the New Seasons bakery, and when they denied to sell me any of their sourdough starter for “legal reasons”, I asked if they could just give me some instead (they didn’t think this was as funny as I did). I didn’t feel it would be authentic enough (or taste the same at all) to use chemicals to achieve the spongy bubbles.
Problem #3: No one sells injera. The fuck? Why can I get ten types of artisanal boulé, pain au levain, focaccia or ciabatta, but I only get tortillas, pita or naan for non-Eurohonky unleavened bread alternative? Not even the hippies could help me out here. I didn’t want to insult the nice people at the Ethiopian restaurant by coming in to only buy injera. I thought a brown rice tortilla would be a reasonable facsimile, but I was totally fucking wrong. Next time I’ll drive across town to the Ethiopian bakery.