Dr. Susan’s Summer Experiment: Ethiopian Cuisine
My First Guest Blogger Dr. Susan Gunn!
Introduction: May 28, 2017
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of blog posts on my summer experiment as I attempt to master Ethiopian cooking. I am most grateful to my dear friend, Dr. Cindy Stevens, for providing the blog space and encouragement to document this adventure.
How This Started
My love for Ethiopian food started about two years ago when my husband and I went out to dinner with a group of friends from our church. Our hostess, a woman who had lived much of her adult life in Africa, suggested that we try Habesha, a local Ethiopian restaurant. To my delight, I discovered that Ethiopian food is both healthy and delicious; strong on vegetables, light on meat (which can be avoided completely if one wishes), free from refined carbs, nutrient dense, and beautifully presented. We went back to Habesha again and again, trying various dishes and marveling at the range of flavors, textures, and colors. However, it never occurred to me to try making our favorite Ethiopian dishes at home until this very week. School is out, I needed a summer project, and that is how the idea first took hold.
There is another reason why this summer seemed like a good time to pursue my interest in Ethiopian food. My husband, at his annual physical, came up with a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. He is not overweight, but his mother developed diabetes at a much younger age than he is now, and so did his grandmother. My reaction to that blood test was, “Oh, hell no! Not on my watch!” If age and family history work against him we may not stave it off forever, but I will not yield that ground without a fight. His mother was 64 at onset, controlled her diet fiercely, and lived to be 99; my goal is to beat it back indefinitely with a two-pronged attack—diet and exercise. This culinary experiment, then, also amounts to a declaration of war.
My main source for recipes is Ethiopian Cookbook: A Beginner’s Guide (Planet Cookbooks, 2011, ISBN 9781468001792), and I will refrain from copying because I respect the author’s copyright. However, this little book is readily available on Amazon for about $10, and proceeds from the sale go toward alleviating hunger in Africa. If one of my Habesha Restaurant (Austin, Texas) favorites is not in the book, I’ll go out and try to find a link to a recipe. If the recipe works out, I’ll hyperlink it. For example, the gomen wat (collard greens) recipe that I used can be found right here !
Saturday night I made my first half-Ethiopian supper. The old USA-style favorites were beet salad (left) and oven-fried chicken (top). By the way, that oven fried chicken is so easy— smear plain nonfat yogurt on your chicken legs, and roll them in a combination of crushed cornflakes, grated parmesan cheese, and black pepper. Bake at 350 F for an hour. That’s it.
The other two dishes are the Ethiopian fare. I decided to start out easy with recipes featuring familiar ingredients and cooking techniques. To the right in the photo is tikil gomen, or hot cabbage salad. It includes cabbage, onion, carrots, and potato cubes mildly seasoned with cumin, pepper, and turmeric and slowly sauted in olive oil in my favorite cast iron skillet (Cookbook 24). I cleaned the vegetables scrupulously, but I did not peel or skin them, and I used Yukon gold potatoes on the medium-to-smallish side. The recipe serves 4 to 6, so I cut it in half for the two of us and still had leftovers. Tikil gomen will be a favorite for my meat and potatoes guy; just don’t tell him there’s no meat in it. Truthfully, I could have made a meal on this all by itself.
At the bottom of the plate is gomen wat, or collard greens. For convenience, here again is the link to the recipe I used . The collards came already cut up in a one pound bag from the store. Fresh collards are also readily available here in the South. One pound of collards will fill a Dutch oven at the beginning, but the greens cook down quickly. I did make one procedural change in the recipe, because I thought it made sense. Instead of draining the cooking water and then adding it back in after the onions and garlic were done, I prepared the onion and garlic in my smaller iron skillet while the greens were cooking in the Dutch oven. I then added the skillet mixture straight into the undrained, cooked greens and proceeded from there. The result was comparable to the gomen wat I’ve enjoyed in the past at Habesha.
The meal is served on a salad plate, and each vegetable portion is 1/3 cup. The husband, who insists that he does not like spicy food, ate every bite and thought it was delicious. Spices can always be adjusted to taste, but for this first attempt I followed the recipes to the letter. Afterward we felt satisfied, but not stuffed.
I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me. Thanks for reading.
I want to take this time to thank Dr. Susan for sharing this with all of us. I know we all want to see more of this journey.
If you loved this blog, please share it, provide comments below, or reach out to me.
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