Sunday, March 29, 2009

Friday Night Ethiopian Extravagana (Recipes 15-17)

So my guy Curtis and I had an Ethiopian food night on Friday. We had decided about a week ago that we wanted to get together and cook something new, and we settled upon Ethiopian food because neither of us had ever attempted that at home and there were tons of vegetarian options for Curtis and meat options for me.

The Menu:
Since neither of us had had Ethiopian food for a while, I found a few menus online for Ethiopian restaurants and Curtis picked 2 veggie dishes (Atakilt Wot and Shiro) and I picked 1 beef dish (Tibs Wot) since I had beef in the freezer that needed to be used. In addition to the dishes we, of course, had to have some Injera and I made a little cocktail for us as well.

Ingredients of interest:
Ethiopians use a LOT of spices in their cooking. The only spice that neither of us had ever cooked with was Fenugreek seed. Fenugreek seed seemed to provide an essential flavor to 2 of the staple components of Ethiopian cooking, Niter kibbeh and berbere (more about those later). Fenugreek is native to India and is often used in Indian, Mediterranean and Northern African cooking. By itself fenugreek has a slightly bitter taste. Incidentally I had become familiar with fenugreek a few years earlier when I ordered a "grow your boobs big" kit online. It came with a bunch of herbs and berries that were supposed to make your boobs bigger. One of them was fenugreek! I believe you were supposed to make tea out of the seeds AND use a lotion on your boobies that was infused with fenugreek. Obviously this didn't work out for me, but now that I have stock of seeds I may give it another shot... Anyway moving on...

The Process...
So before Curtis came over I decided to make 2 elements of the meal, the niter kibbeh and the Tef. Niter kibbeh is a clarified butter that is infused with ginger, garlic and a ton of other spices. To make the niter kibbeh I just melted a 1/2 pound of butter with a couple slices of fresh ginger, 2 cloves of garlic, cardamon pods, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and fenugreek, let it simmer for an hour and then strained out the solids. It smelled AMAZING! The smell was very warm and "comforting" (for lack of a better word) from the cloves, ginger and cinnamon, with a certain spiciness from the fenugreek and tumeric. it smelled SOOo good... i wish this blog had smell'o'vision so I could share it.

Tej is a sweet wine that is made from fermented honey and the leaves and twigs from a special kind of hops called gesho. Obviously i wasn't going to be fermenting honey in Bed Stuy so I decided to go with this rough approximation of tej that was basically honey, water and wine. It was tasty... I'm sure it didn't taste ANYTHING like real tej, but it was sweet, refreshing and got the job done. I think I'm going to try and get some real tej sometime soon then just so I can try it.

Curtis came through around 7:30 and we quickly got started on the berbere. The berbere, along with the niter kibbeh, seemed to be the most important, quintessentially Ethiopian, elements of the meal. Berbere is a hot pepper baste (or dry powder) that is made from a TON of spices (cumin, cardamom, allspice, cloves, turmeric, nutmeg, paprika, cayenne, etc etc). Curtis and I had most of the spices on hand in ground form, but we decided to be authentic as possible and purchase the whole form of each spice, and toast and grind it into powder ourselves. The berbere was really easy to make.. we just toasted the spices until they became fragrant, ground them up in my coffee grinder, and then threw them in the blender with some onion, garlic, ginger, oil and water. So easy and so tasty! I can't really describe the taste of the berbere itself it was similar to Indian curry but sharper... not quite as muddled. Ours wasn't that hot, but i don't think I got the right kind of peppers for it. I have about a cup of berbere left over and I'm definitely going to keep it on hand. It would make a fabulous marinate for fish or chicken, or just an additive to stews for an extra kick of flavor. Yumm....

The actual dishes were probably the least excite portions of the meal to make. To prepare Tibs Wat (Beef stew) you cook up some pureed ginger, onion and garlic in hot niter kibbeh, add some paprika and berbere paste, red wine, beef stock, cayenne and beef chunks marinated in lemon and salt and let it cook for about 40 min. Nothing terribly exciting but this mess was hella tasty. I was very concerned because I tasted the mixture after the addition of the paprika and berbere and it was REALLY disgusting. If it weren't for Curtis calming me down I might have chucked it... it was that nasty, but obviously the addition of the wine, stock and beef created some sort of culinary magic because in the end it was fantastic... spicy, complex, creamy, and a tad bitter.

Curtis took the lead on preparing the veggie dishes but they also didn't seem that difficult to make. The atkilt wot was basically a bunch of cut up veggies (carrots, green beens, cabbage) and potato cut up, COVERED in niter kibbeh and baked until tender, buttery and delicious... and it was.. Seriously that niter kibbeh is no joke because those veggies were excellent. The taste was much milder than the tibs wot, but i liked it because it allowed you to really taste the complexities of the niter kibbeh. Also the flavor wasn't so overpowering that it couldn't be combined with other types of cuisine. I would totally make this as a side dish to go along with baked chicken and brown rice... I think a lot of people would enjoy their veggies prepared this way. Not particularly healthy (veggies doused in spiced butter) but definitely delicious.

Lastly Curtis made the Shiro Wot which was spicy green pea stew. As written the Shiro Wot was simply peas, onion, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. The flavor was obviously really mild and not particularly Ethiopian... I think I dropped the ball on this recipe. I should have looked for a better one. I think niter kibbeh should have been subbed for the oil and there should have been some berbere in there. We ended up adding a few tablespoons of berbere at the end and it really kicked up the dish.

Lastly we tried our hand at injera... injera is a spongy, sour, crepe-like flat bread that is used as a utensil for eating the stews. Proper injera is made from teff (a cereal grain indigenous to Ethiopia) flour mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days. Because of the fermentation, injera is very sour. After fermentation the injera is baked into large flat pancakes. Soo... we decided on our Ethiopian theme late Wednesday and I didn't figure out how to make injera until Thursday so obviously the fermentation was out. Instead we decided to make this "quick injera" recipe that I saw online which was basically a batter made from whole wheat and white flour, baking powder, club soda and a little lemon joice. This was not injera. These were very bland pancakes. They definitely LOOKED like injera and were spongy like injera... but they tasted like very bland pancakes. Thankfully neither of us really like injera so we were pleased with our pancakes.

Overall I give the meal a solid A and the company an A+. Although we didn't actually eat until 11:00 we had a great time cooking and chatting and it was just really nice to be able to share an activity that I like so much with someone who enjoys it just as much as I do. By the end of the night i was EX.HAUSTED but the learning and company was totally worth the effort. Hopefully we can make this a monthly or bi-monthly activity. Here are a few shots of our finished products:
My Plate...

Curtis' Plate...

The table:

I think I'm going to use my leftover berbere to make some doro wat next weekend or later on this month and try to make a proper injera. If anyone interested in coming over for dinner just let me know. :-)


1 comment:

Media Man said...

Great (and very detailed) write-up of the night! Yeah, I was a bit let down by the peas too, but it was a great effort (was thinking we should've added some of the butter too). But I still prefer OUR injera!

- C.