Dr. Susan’s Summer Experiment: Ethiopian Cuisine Blog #6
Ethiopian Summer Experiment 6
Weekend Cookery: Learning to Trust Myself
Last Saturday, fresh from our successful field trip to Habesha the night before, I got to work on a new recipe. In my beginner cookbook, it is called simply “Sega,” which is translated “lamb” (Cookbook, 14-15). It is a main dish consisting mainly of meat and mustard greens, which I actually like even better than collards. I simply had to try it out.
However, my bitter lesson from the failed fish tibs taught me that not all recipes are to be trusted and that, indeed, sometimes my own experienced judgment is best. That lesson gave me the courage to deviate from the recipe and try things that I thought might work better for me in my own kitchen. My goal shifted a bit; I still value authenticity to Ethiopian culinary tradition, but I also trust myself to vary the recipe in ways that suit our own tastes, preferences, and dietary needs.
My Take on The Recipe
To begin with, when the recipe called for 4 pounds of mustard greens I did a double take. I had one large bag of greens, one pound exactly, and I knew exactly how much tamping down I would have to do to get all of that into my Dutch oven. Either the recipe had to be wrong, or the cook who invented it had an ENORMOUS cooking pot and liked a much larger ration of greens to meat. And speaking of meat, I decided to use beef stew meat rather than lamb. Furthermore, I cut the amount of butter down from the 6 Tbsp. called for in the recipe to only 3 Tbsp. Finally, I skipped the serrano peppers, because Charlie prefers a milder taste.
In the accompanying photograph, you can see me at my kitchen stove pouring the chopped onion and green bell pepper into the hot butter in the Dutch oven. Next, I’ll add the meat and brown all of that for a while, then finally the precooked mustard greens and seasonings. Looking back, I think I might have done just as well to stir in the raw greens on top of the browned meat because in the finished product the greens seemed a little overdone.
Next time I make this recipe, I’ll try that. Even so, the meal turned out very well as you can see from the photograph of the finished Sega in the Dutch oven. We have enjoyed leftovers for several days (I’m writing this the following Tuesday), and will probably have one more meal from this batch. Servings are small, no bigger than ½ cup, and I always serve with one or two sides.
Speaking of sides, one of our favorites is quia, a tomato, and cucumber salad to which I add a little bit of romaine lettuce. I make the dressing with one tsp. lemon juice, 2 tsp. white wine vinegar, and a dusting of lemon pepper. Another traditional Ethiopian side dish is “lab” or “fresh cheese.” The recipe calls for mashing large curd cottage cheese, yogurt, and lemon juice together. I find it easier and just as delicious to use plain old low -fat small curd cottage cheese from the store. Charlie hates cottage cheese, but I enjoy it. More for me!
Tonight I’m serving a plain old USA entrée, scrambled eggs, and I’ll make some tikil gomen, the hot cabbage salad with potatoes and carrots, to go with it. Since one of our dietary goals is to reduce carbs (hoping to bring Charlie’s blood sugar down out of the borderline range), I will increase the proportion of cabbage in the recipe, but use much less of the starchy potatoes and carrots. I’ll season the same as usual and see how that goes. You’ll have a report in a few days.
One more matter of old business before I close this blog for today; our kitchen sink drain is restored thanks to Pat the Plumber, my new hero. He was quite sure that my disposing of the inedible fish was not the origin of the problem, but was, in fact, the last straw on a pile of trouble that had been building for some time. He found that the folks who installed our “new” kitchen six years ago had taken some shortcuts with the plumbing, and the only reason we hadn’t had a complete backup before now is that I only use the garbage disposal a few times a year.
We compost most of our kitchen waste, so unless there’s a big family gathering or a “special project” like that nasty fish, the thing sits idle. Long story short, Pat rerouted some of the pipes under the sink, fixed those shortcuts and redid them correctly, and now I’m no longer blaming myself for the Sunday night fish stink disaster. Order is restored, and Pat charged a very reasonable fee and was worth every penny and then some. I wish every cook reading this had a plumber like Pat as a resource.
I’ll be back in a few days with more goodies, and probably a few goof-ups. Happy cooking!
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