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Dr. Susan’s Summer Experiment: Ethiopian Cuisine Blog #5

Ethiopian Summer Experiment 5

Friday Night Field Trip (with postscript: The Revenge of the Inedible Fish)

Last Friday night, Charlie and I ventured out to a delightful dinner at Habesha Ethiopian Restaurant with Stan and Steve, a couple of great foodie friends who are always up for an adventure.  Besides the obvious pleasure of their company, the timing could not have been better for my purposes.  After two weeks of experimenting with the recipes in my beginner cookbook, and particularly after the colossal fish tibs failure, I needed to be reminded what authentic Ethiopian food prepared by real Ethiopians actually tasted like.

Our Night

The meal was delicious and beautifully presented, although Habesha was slightly off its service game that night.  Steve and Stan never did get their appetizer, and Charlie got the wrong entrée the first time.

Let me begin with the beverages:  Steve and Stan ordered red wine, while Charlie had coffee, and I ordered Ethiopian honey wine.  Ethiopian coffee is rich, flavorful, and spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and goodness knows what else.  The honey wine is light and leaves no unpleasant aftertaste as some sweet wines do.


Our appetizers were supposed to be sambusas, little turnovers with meat filling, but the server forgot to order them.  When our meals came we inquired about the sambusas, the server beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen, and Charlie and I finally got ours, although Steve and Stan did not.  They were very small, expensive ($3.99 for two), and nothing to write home about.  The recipe in the beginner cookbook looks like a lot of work (see photo, Cookbook 20-21), and if what we tasted Friday night is the best the experts can produce I doubt that sambusas are worth the trouble for an amateur like me.

The Meal

For their meal, Stan and Steve ordered a combination platter for two.  This was presented on a square platter covered with an intricately woven colorful straw basket.  Stan lifted the basket, revealing (clockwise from top left) spicy beef stew, chickpea wat, sautéed beef, mild beef stew, collard greens and (center) quia green salad served on an enormous injera.  There is also a basket of fresh injera on the table.   That platter was clean at the end of the night!

Fish Tibs

Charlie and I have ordered the combination platter before and probably would have ordered it again had I not been so intent on figuring out what went wrong last week with my inedible fish tibs.  That left poor Charlie to fend for himself. He ended up with a dish of collards and beef that he found disappointing.

Habesha’s fish tibs were simply delicious.  The tiny fish nuggets had the mild flavor and texture of cod, bathed in a delicately seasoned tomato-based sauce.  It was delectable with rice, with injera, or all by itself by the plain fork full.   Alas, I failed to ask what variety of fish it was.  I dutifully offered nibbles to my table mates and began to devour until I remembered my obligation to my readers and paused long enough to take a photo.  Notice the julienned green pepper and carrot garnish—nice touch!  I ate that too!

After Dinner

After dinner the four of us repaired to a family owned Mexican ice cream shop for dessert, making our evening a truly international, indeed intercontinental experience.  Good friends, good conversation, good food—what more does one need?


Postscript: The Revenge of the Inedible Fish

After this field trip to Habesha, I am now entirely convinced that the fish tibs recipe I attempted was flawed in at least two respects. 1) the lime juice marinade should never have been added to the cooking juices.  2) the berbere spice was too overpowering, at least for our tastes.   Even our dogs hated it.  But that wretched fish was not finished with me yet.  Oh, no!

A portion of the failed fish remained after all human and canine family members turned their noses up at it.  Being a thrifty Midwesterner to the core, I dutifully packed the remains up and stuck them in the refrigerator until enough time had passed to lessen the guilt of throwing away anything resembling perfectly good food.

What Happened!

Finally, a week went by. On Sunday night I found the courage to shove the whole mess down the garbage disposal.  Wrong thing to do!   The machine promptly froze up, and the kitchen sink is now hopelessly clogged.  Two doses of Liquid Plumber did not budge the mess.    As I write this on Monday morning my kitchen sink now holds an inch of standing water, the garbage disposal churns and churns uselessly, my house reeks of Liquid Plumber and rotting fish, and we are waiting for a call from a local plumber.

Charlie wanted to open the trap and see if he could free the drain, but I raised a ruckus about that.  First off, he really hates plumbing, and there’s always a chance the clog could be worse than it appears.  Moreover, he just had eye surgery. He does not have protective clothing and equipment that professionals who handle caustic liquids routinely use.  Finally, it is likely that any savings on plumbing fees would go to pay the chiropractor, after all, that crawling around underneath the cabinet.

I am grateful that my bad decision is mitigated by our good credit.  I remember many a year in our long married life when fixing broken things ourselves was the only choice we could afford.  So, I’ll pay the plumber, and maybe I’ll complain a little, but I’m grateful.  And I’ll never stuff fish down the garbage disposal again.

Dr. Susan

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