Cookbook Adventures: Vegan Ethiopian Recipes for Exotic Eats
I have a thing for cookbooks, and I relish giving new recipes, ingredients, and cuisines a try. So when I had the opportunity to review Kittee Berns’ new book Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking, I snagged it.
More than Just Vegan Ethiopian Recipes
More than just a cookbook, Teff Love provides a quick primer on Ethiopian culture and cuisine. Ethiopia is a northeast African country populated by a variety of religious groups, including Muslims, Jews, and Christians. I learned that the majority follow the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s practices, one of which involves fasting until late afternoon more than two hundred days a year, after which the fast is broken with ye’tshom megib, or “fasting food.”
Fasting food is required to be free of animal ingredients, so vegetarian and vegan Ethiopian recipes are plentiful. Traditional Ethiopians meals are social events, where numerous dishes are served on a single, large platter, and everyone eats directly from the platter using their hands and fermented sourdough crêpes called injera to scoop up the deliciousness.
Teff Love is a fabulous cookbook for cooks who love Ethiopian food. But it’s also a find for the adventurous cook who has never eaten it. The book provides a great introduction to the characteristics of Ethiopian cuisine. It gives a detailed description of Ethiopian ingredients, many of which were foreign to me before now. My pantry now boasts previously unfamiliar spices and herbs like berbere, ajwain, and fenugreek seeds. It’s overflowing with bags of chickpeas, red lentils, and split peas. I even experimented with tofu.
I appreciated the fact that the book describes how these ingredients are used and where you can likely find them, and it contains a 1-page shopping list to take on-the-go. I have to admit I had a difficult time finding some of the ingredients — there’s not an Ethiopian market near me. But many are optional in the recipes, and they’re easily found online.
The Holy Trinity of Ethiopian Cuisine
Ms. Berns kicks off the recipe chapters with what she calls “the holy trinity” of Ethiopian cooking:
1. Berbere is a spice blend of hot chiles, ginger, garlic, basil, and numerous other herbs and spices. One whiff lets you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. I bought a prepared berbere blend at my local Penzey’s. And Teff Love provides a recipe for making a berbere paste which is called for in later recipes. Be forwarned: Berbere is damn spicy! A few tiny flecks on your tongue lights it on fire!
2. Ye’qimem zeyet is a vegan version of niter kibbeh — a seasoned clarified butter used frequently in Ethiopian recipes. This seasoned oil is likely my favorite recipe in Teff Love. Oil or vegan butter is combined with a variety of herbs and spices and used in a variety of ways later in the book.
3. The last of the trinity is injera — a crêpe commonly used in place of a fork or spoon to scoop up sauces and stews. It can be made of a variety of milled grains — barley, corn, rice, millet, sorghum, and wheat. But it’s commonly made from teff flour. Teff is a super-nutritious, gluten-free grain native to Ethiopia. Teff Love provides recipes for a teff sourdough starter, teff sourdough crêpes, and quick teff crêpes (see the recipe below). Who doesn’t love a good crêpe?
After describing and providing recipes for these three key Ethiopian recipes, the book includes other foundational recipes for items used later in the cookbook. You can make ayib — a soft, uncultured vegan cheese made of soy milk and cashews. Or mitmita — a fiery-hot spice blend composed of cayenne pepper, ground cardamom, ground cloves, and salt. And if you like 5-alarm hot sauce, you must make awaze — a red pepper sauce heavy with berbere.
A Treasure Chest of Ethiopian Recipes
Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals of Ethiopian ingredients and you’ve learned to make the basics, you have a wide assortment of Ethiopian recipes to experiment with. Teff Love lays out the recipes in the following chapters:
- Appetizers and snacks
- Kay Wot: Spicy Red Sauces and Stews
- Alicha Wot: Mild Golden Sauces and Stews
- Shiro: Smooth Legume-Based Sauces
- Cooked Vegetables and Casseroles
- Cold Vegetables, Salads, and Dressings
- Fitfit and Firfir: Injera-Based Dishes
- Tibs: Stir-Fries
- Dumplings and Veggie Proteins
- Beverages and Sweets
The recipes are well-written, easy to understand, and accompanied by options and tips.
If you’re looking for a new cooking adventure with an exotic flair, I highly recommend Teff Love. Even non-vegans will enjoy the wide variety of recipes using fresh, healthy ingredients and new flavors to provide a unique culinary experience.
How to Make Quick Teff Crêpes
Courtesy of Kittee Berns, Author of Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking
- 1 cup teff flour, any variety
- 1⁄2 cup chickpea flour
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups carbonated water
- 2/3 cup unsweetened plain vegan yogurt
- 6 tablespoons cider vinegar
Preheat a nonstick skillet (see cooking tip) over medium heat.
Put the teff flour, chickpea flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously to combine and to beat out any lumps in the chickpea flour. Add the carbonated water and vegan yogurt and whisk well to combine. When the griddle is hot, whisk in the vinegar to combine. The batter will rise and foam, and the consistency will be thin and reminiscent of chocolate milk.
Form each crêpe by using a 1/3-cup measure to scoop the batter from the bottom of the bowl and pour it into a disk on the hot pan. Use a spoon to quickly and lightly smooth the batter into a 6-inch disk, starting in the center and working in concentric circles until you reach the edges (keep the center of the crêpe the thickest and the edges the thinnest; the crêpe should be between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick).
Cover and cook for 1 minute. The crêpe should be dry on the top with a smattering of little holes over its surface. Uncover and continue to cook the crêpe without turning it for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. The total cooking time for each crêpe should be 2 to 2-1/2 minutes. When fully cooked, the crêpe should be dry on top with a few air-bubble holes, and the bottom should be firm, smooth, and lightly browned. Depending on your cookware and stove, you’ll need to adjust the heat to achieve this result. Use a flat, flexible spatula to loosen and release the crêpe, and then quickly transfer it to a plate and cover with a clean, dry tea towel. Repeat the cooking process until all the batter has been used. As the crêpes are made, stack them on top of each other and keep them covered with the towel so they don’t dry out.
As they cool, the crêpes will develop a spongy-stretchy texture. Let them rest until they’re room temperature, then wrap the stack loosely in a clean, dry tea towel and seal it in a ziplock bag until serving time. Be sure the crêpes are completely cool or the bag will collect moisture and they’ll spoil. If you notice any condensation, open the bag to air it out.
Makes 14 (6-inch) crêpes.
Per crêpe: 45 calories, 2 g protein, 1 g fat (0.3 g sat), 8 g carbohydrates, 97 mg sodium, 34 mg calcium, 2 g fiber
Cooking Tip: For the best success, cook these crêpes on a flat, anodized griddle or pan. If you find the crêpes are sticking as they cook, mist the pan with a small amount of oil. Keep in mind, just as with traditional teff injera, the first one cooked is usually a throwaway or a treat for the cook.
Cooking Tip: Halve this recipe if you’d like a smaller yield, and for the best results, eat these the same day they’re prepared.
Thanks Kittee Berns for taking me on an exotic trip to Ethiopia!
Image Credit: Book Publishing Company