Having lived most of my working life in West Africa, my arrival in Ethiopia was a pleasant, educational and interesting surprise. Of course I’d heard of Hailie Selassie and his successful heroic efforts, before the U.N. and the League of nations to save Ethiopia from Italian colonization. Otherwise my knowledge vaguely extended to Selassie and his surprising relationship to Rastafarians, who accepted him as their emperor and Messiah. Somewhat dismissive, but still open minded, I discovered that Ethiopia is an ancient culturally rich country with sophisticated language, art, music, dance and cuisine. Especially the cuisine!
After 2 years of tasting Ethiopian cuisine in a of myriad cafes, restaurants and Ethiopian homes, of course I wanted to try my hand at duplicating the rich, savory and spicy flavors. Unfortunately, the cookbooks which were only available at tourist shops and those written by non-Ethiopian wanna bes or, Ethiopians who wanted to make some money, regardless of the fact that they couldn’t cook. One day, bemoaning this disappointment to our friends and daughter’s godparents, Konjit and Tsegaye Bekele, Tsegaye who is Gurage, and served as an Ethiopian Foreign Service officer and ex-Ambassador to Senegal, thought he recalled an authentic Ethiopian cookbook, sponsored by the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute and originally printed for sale to both Ethiopians and tourist in 1980. Unfortunately, this cookbook project, after hundreds of books went to the presses, was abandoned and the books were relegated to a forgotten government warehouse. Tsegaye thought he could get me one. After months of research, one of his colleagues was able to dig up the location of the books. So, 18 years after it was printed, I got one 😀 The historic value of this book will be found in the Ethiopian ingredients, the measuring utensils and cookware. Unless you live in Ethiopia or have access to about 5 restaurants in Washington, D.C. you will probably not have authentic Ethiopian food. Washington is worth the trip!
The mesob or Ethioian table is used to serve food or the freshly roasted and ground coffee at the end of each meal with diners gathered closely around the mesob.
Wine, the local mead(tej) or home brewed beer (tella) is served with the meal. The bottles above are for individual servings of tej. These particular bottles above are antiques and the oldest is the one made of green glass. I believe we have more of these with a raised lion embossed on the front. Probably in France, or the attic or in a box in the garage.
Ethiopians are cultural carnivores and meat is eaten everyday except the fasting days of Wednesdays and Fridays. Otherwise its grilled meat (tibs), beef stews, chicken stews and lamb stews, lentils and many other dishes, served on a round tray, lined with injera (Ethiopian bread). The cuisine is as varied as Italian or French and as delicious. On fasting days, delicious vegetable wats(stews) are served accompanied with injera. The best vegetable wats are served during the 55 day lent fast with fried fish. My favorite season for restaurants! Raw meat(tere sega) sliced directly onto your plate from a hanging beef carcass is a must for large celebrations like weddings or births. Kitfo is minced beef, mixed with spices, herbs and spiced butter, topped with spiced cheese and Ethiopian kale (gomen) served raw or lebleb (barely heated). The royalty of kitfo is Gurage, prepared in a specialty restaurant where only kitfo is served. My husband eats his raw but I like mine rare but hot. He also eats tere sega ….. So anyway, I thought I’d give kitfo a try even if I had to substitute a bit. I knew it wouldn’t be gurage but it would be kitfo.
In order to make the gomen, I substituted collard greens for unavailable Ethiopian kale. I chopped the greens fine in a food processor, then cooked them in Niter Kibbeh(spiced butter) with aromatics and spices.
I didn’t make the cheese (ayib) but intended to use a small curd cottage cheese as a substitute. Try to find whole milk cottage cheese in Honesdale! Boy howdy, what a disappointment. I guess everyone is using 4% or 2% with the additives to make it seem like real milk. SMH Anyway, I used whole milk ricotta which is nothing like homemade Ethiopian cheese but it was okay.
I flavored the cheese with berbere(Ethiopian chilli and spice blend). The cheese can be served plain or mixed with berbere or mixed with gomen, as you like.
Et la voila! The next time when making the kitfo, I will use a round steak grind. This time I used a chuck steak but the texture wasn’t the same. However, this was good and we went through 2 lbs of kitfo faster than we could believe 🙂 The kitfo bowl is served with injera and eaten with a long spoon.
Gomen (Ethiopian kale)
2 lbs collard greens, washed, thick stems removed and finely chopped
6 tbsp Niter Kebbeh (spiced Ethiopian butter)
2 large onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tsps fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp spiced butter
Melt the spiced butter in a large skillet on medium high. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and salt, cooking for 3 minutes. Add the greens with an additional 2 tablespoons of spiced butter and cook for about 7-8 minutes.
Qeyy Ayib (Ethiopian red spiced cheese)
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 – 2 tablespoons berbere (Ethiopian chilli and spice blend)
Mix the cottage cheese and spice blend together. Refrigerate covered until ready to serve.
Kitfo(Ethiopian ground beef)
2 lbs round steak, coarsely ground
2 tbsp Mitmita (hot Ethiopian chilli powder)
1 tbsp cardamom
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Niter Kebbeh (spiced Ethiopian butter), melted
Mix all ingredients together. Serve immediately or heat to preference.