This ancient country, old even before the time of Christ, is called the land of thirteen months of sunshine, (the Ethiopian calendar having twelve months of thirty days and an extra month of five days called Pagume). The climate is balmy and pleasant with rain falling rarely except in the summer months.
Here, where the Queen of Sheba once ruled, primitive and modern cultures exist side by side. In the villages, families live in "tukels" made of stone with thatched roofs, and life goes on today much as it has for centuries. In Addis Ababa, there are new white buildings of reinforced concrete in the midst of bustling, energetic people. Women with exquisite facial bone structure wear shamas, a gauzelike white fabric covering them from head to foot. Men wear either Ethiopian robes or Western dress.
The open-air market of Addis is the largest and most exciting in all of Africa. The market seems to stretch for miles. Everything is on display, from clothing and household wares to treadle sewing machines. And the food! Women sit cross-legged on the ground with tiny scales to measure spices for the Wat-the stews cooked in every home. Grains, called Tef, in huge bags are ready for the housewives who make Injera--the unleavened bread prepared today as it was a thousand years ago. The low stands are heaped with citrus fruits, bananas, grapes, pomegranates, figs, custard apples (a delectable tropical fruit), and vegetables of all kinds, including the wonderful red onion of this area and Gommen, a kale-like plant used in the Alechi: the stews of the fast days. The meats on sale are beef, lamb, and goat. You'll find a sort of rancid butter cut from a large block and sold in chunks wrapped in wax paper, along with lab, a soft cheese wrapped and kept cool in banana leaves.
The Coptic Church, the dominant religious sect in Ethiopia since the fourth century, dictates many food customs. There are fast days when meat is prohibited and pulses-lentils, peas, field peas, chick peas, and peanuts-are used in making the Wat and Alechi. No one is permitted to eat pork. The hand washing ceremony before and after meals is a religious ritual. Even the manner in which meats are prepared is dictated. The hottest, most peppery food in all of Africa is found in Ethiopia. The foreigner, not accustomed to the hot spice Ber-beri or Awaze, specially prepared with red pepper and containing as many as fifteen spices, cannot take it. But if you cut down on the pepper, you will find the food to be as interesting and exciting as anything you have ever eaten.
A meal in Ethiopia is an experience. When you have dinner in an Ethiopian home or restaurant, you eat the tablecloth!
One or two of the guests are seated on a low comfortable divan and a mesab, a handmade wicker hourglass-shaped table with a designed domed cover is set before them. The other guests are then seated round the table on stools about eight inches high covered with monkey fur.
A tall, stunning woman with characteristically high cheekbones and soft skin, dressed in a shama, carries a long-spouted copper ewer or pitcher in her right hand, a copper basin (which looks like a spittoon) in her left hand, and a towel over her left arm. She pours warm water over the fingers of your right hand, holding the basin to catch the excess, and you wipe your hands on the towel that hangs over her arm.
The mesab is taken out of the room and returned shortly with the domed cover. She removes the dome and the table is covered with what looks like a gray cloth overlapping the edge of a huge tray. But it is not a "tablecloth" at all. It is the Injera, the sourdough pancake-like bread of Ethiopia. Food is brought to the table in enamel bowls and portioned out on the "tablecloth!" When the entire Injera is covered with an assortment of stews, etc., you tear off a piece about two or three inches square and use this to "roll" the food in-the same way you would roll a huge cigarette. Then just swoop it up and pop it into your mouth. Your host might "pop" the first little "roll" in your mouth for you. It takes a bit of doing to accomplish this feat but once you master it, you cannot help enjoy It.
Our server returns with individual long-necked bottles from which you drink Tej, an amber-colored honey wine. It is put on a little table close by. Or she may bring a weakly carbonated water or Tella, the homemade beer.
You learn that you are eating Chicken Wat and Lamb Wat-two peppery stews- Iab-cottage cheese and yogurt with special herbs giving it an acidic lemon flavor; and Kitfo-ground raw beef, which we are told is considered the dessert of the meal.
No other dessert is served. Coffee comes in on a tray in tiny Japanese cups served black with sugar.
Dinner is concluded with hand-washing again and incense is burned.
You'll need the largest Teflon skillet you can find and a high round tray, at least fifteen inches in diameter.
It would be impossible to make Injera, the pancake which serves as a "tablecloth," for it is made in Ethiopia with Tef, a flour not available here. The closest substitute devised in our test kitchen is a large buckwheat pancake which does not taste exactly like Injera but is similar in texture and color. (You will like the buckwheat pancake more than the actual Injera.)
Make four or five 9- to 10-inch pancakes as the recipe directs and overlap them on the 15 inch tray to look like a "tablecloth," letting the outer edges overlap the tray. Place the tray on a bridge table or a small round table around which your guests are crowded side by side on bridge chairs or stools. (If you prefer you can use a low coffee table with small stools all around and have two or three of your guests sit on the sofa.) Conduct the hand-washing ceremony as described earlier before you serve the meal.
The tray containing the large pancakes should be covered with aluminum foil. Remove the foil when the tray is placed on the table.
Bring in the bowls of Wat, one at a time. Ladle out right on the Injera one portion of Doro (chicken) Wat and one hard-boiled egg to each guest- then serve the Lamb Wat, the lab (a cottage cheese and yogurt mixture), and the Kitfo until the Injera is covered with individual portions of food. Everyone eats from the tray but has his part of the dinner in front of him.
Keep folding tables handy at easy access to each guest for his beverage- Tella (beer) or just plain carbonated water. If you can find attractive decanters with round bottoms, small enough for one cup, it might be fun to serve the honey wine to each guest in this manner. He would then drink it right from the bottle.
Provide forks for the uninitiated who may give up before they learn to eat in the traditional way. One important warning when using buckwheat Injera; the stews should be thick enough so that they do not soak through the pancake.
When the food and the Injera "tablecloth" are completely consumed, dinner is over.
Coffee in demitasse cups is served right after dinner. Later, much later, you can serve slices of fresh pineapple or melon, and Dabo Kolo, the tiny, fried, snack-like cookies so popular in Ethiopia.
Fruits and Vegetables
Combine: 1 cup BUCKWHEAT PANCAKE MIX
Add: 1 Tbs. OIL
Bring a 10-inch skillet or a handled griddle pan to medium heat uniformly over the flame. Do not let the pan get too hot.
Spread 1/2 tsp. OIL over the pan with a brush.
Fill a measuring cup (with spout) or a large cream pitcher with batter.
Pour the mixture on the hot pan or griddle in a thin stream starting from the outside and going in circles to the center from left to right. As soon as it bubbles uniformly all over remove from heat. Pancakes should be 9 inches in diameter.
Place the pan in an oven at 325' for about 1 minute until the top is dry but not brown.
Arrange the five pancakes overlapping each other so as to completely cover a fifteen-inch tray, thus forming the Injera "tablecloth."
This unleavened bread of Ethiopia is really a huge pancake made by the women in special large pans with heavy covers. The Tef batter is saved from an earlier baking and added to the new batter to give it a sourdough quality. It is poured at a thin consistency and baked covered so that the bottom of the pancake does not brown. The top should be full of air holes before the pancake is covered. The heavy cover steams the pancake so that when it is finished it looks like a huge thin rubber sponge. Since Tef is not available here, we had to find a way to simulate Injera in our test kitchen. The combination of buckwheat flour mix and biscuit mix seems to produce the closest substitute. Making it is easy, but getting the Injera texture takes a bit of experimentation, first, because not all pancake mixes are alike and secondly, it is important to cook the pancake at just the right temperature. This takes a bit of practice.
Iab is a white curd cheese very much like the Greek feta. Special herbs are added (and sometimes chopped vegetables) which give it its characteristically acid taste. Since the cheese used in Ethiopia is not available here, this recipe is an attempt to simulate lab.
In a 1-quart bowl:
Combine: 1 Ib. SMALL-CURD COTTAGE CHEESE or FARMER CHEESE
The mixture should be moist enough to spoon but dry enough to stay firm when served. Drain off excess liquid. One or two heaping tablespoons of lab is placed on the Injera before each guest.
In Ethiopia, about 4 tablespoons of Ber-beri, Ethiopian red pepper, is used in each recipe. It is extremely hot. In our adaptation, we use cayenne pepper and paprika (which is not Ethiopian) to bring it to the characteristic dark color and flavor. Even cayenne pepper should be used sparingly.
In a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven or heavy stewpot:
Brown 3 cups BERMUDA ONION chopped finely, without fat, until quite dark, stirring constantly.
Add: 3 oz. BUTTER or OLIVE OIL
Blend the seasonings into the onions.
Add 1 cup WATER.
Soak: 1 3-lb. CHICKEN cut in 1-inch pieces, bones left on and including neck and gizzards, in
Drain the water from each piece of chicken.
Add chicken to onion mixture, stirring it through. Cover.
Simmer over low heat until chicken is tender.
Add more water, if necessary, to bring to stew texture (or if Wat is watery, thicken with 2 tablespoons of flour dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water).
Add 8 PEELED HARD-BOILED EGGS a few minutes before serving.
Proceed as above but use 2 Ibs. of lamb (from leg) instead of chicken and only 1 cup of chopped onions. The lamb is cut in l/2-inch cubes, the water is not added, and the lamb is sauteed on all sides until quite dry and well done.
Chopped beef should be freshly ground just before serving. It is served raw.
In a 9-inch skillet:
Melt 2 oz. BUTTER.
Add: 1/4 tsp. CAYENNE PEPPER
Add 1 1/2 Ibs. LEAN ROUND STEAK, freshly ground,
Mix thoroughly. Serve immediately. Do not cook.
If your guests prefer the Kitfo cooked, saute it over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Chef Linsi serves this salad when he prepares an Ethiopian dinner, as he feels that a salad is lacking in the Ethiopian presentation. It's pretty hot too, so be careful with the hot-pepper sauce and hot chilies.
In a 1-quart bowl:
Combine: 1 1/2 Ibs. FIRM TOMATOES, cut in tiny wedges with seeds removed
Combine: 1 cup KETCHUP
Marinate the tomato mixture in the sauce. Serve in sauce dishes without lettuce or drain well and place in the center of the Injera.
They will look like flat peanuts, and are served as a snack or with cocktails; and like peanuts, once you start eating them you can't stop.
In a 1-quart bowl:
Mix: 2 cups ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
Knead together and add WATER, spoonful by spoonful, to form a stiff dough. Knead dough for 5 minutes longer.
Tear off a piece the size of a golf ball.
Roll it out with palms of hands on a lightly floured board into a long strip 1/2 inch thick.
Snip into 1/2-inch pieces with scissors.
Spread about a handful of the pieces on an ungreased 9-inch frying pan (or enough to cover bottom of pan). Cook over heat until uniformly light brown on all sides, stirring up once in a while as you go along.
Continue until all are light brown.
The Copts in Ethiopia have many fast days on which they are not permitted to eat meat. Vegetables Alechas and Wats are substituted on these days. (The Wat differs from the Alecha in that it is made with a spice called Ber-beri or Awaze.)
In a 4-quart saucepan:
Saute: 1 cup BERMUDA ONIONS in
Add: 4 CARROTS, peeled and cut in 1-inch slices
Cook for 10 minutes covered.
Add 4 POTATOES cut in thick slices.
Plunge 2 TOMATOES in boiling water, remove skins, cut in 8 wedges each, and add to stew.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Add 8 CABBAGE WEDGES, 1 inch wide.
Sprinkle with SALT and PEPPER.
Cook until vegetables are tender.
Correct the Seasoning.
Place in an attractive bowl and portion out uniformly.
Tej is the Ethiopian wine made from "honey raw with comb" cooked with hops (Gesho), and it takes a special talent to make it. We simulated Tej for our Ethiopian dinner as follows:
Combine: 1 pint WHITE WINE, light, neither dry nor sweet.
Chill and serve in 1/2-cup decanters or wine glasses.
Be sure it is very cold. Whatever white wine you use should not have strong characteristic taste of its own. A mild white wine of the Soave or Riesling type thinned with water and to which honey is added is as close to Tej as one can get without going through the fermentation process. (You may be able to find honey wine ready to use. Ask at your local liquor store. If not available proceed as above.)
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