Our family lived in Ethiopia for almost 6 years and although Ethiopia is a monetarily poor country, it’s culture is both ancient and rich; dance, music, cuisine, art and couture, they’ve got it all. Of course it’s the food and our friends we miss the most!
Ethiopian cuisine is as complex and varied as French or other European cuisines. While Ethiopians are the most carnivorous people in the world, their strictly vegetarian fasting foods are an epicurean’s dream. We looked forward to fasting season/Lent for the huge, round tray of over a dozen different vegetable wots accompanied by a large, whole, fried river fish. It’s practically the only time you see vegetables. Normally it’s meat, meat, meat. When I first arrived in Ethiopia, noticing the lack of vegetables on one restaurant’s enormous menu, I asked the waiter if they ever served any vegetables. He looked at me oddly and came back with a very small plate of salad greens. Okay. Of course Ethiopians do eat vegetables but usually as a penance or maybe when all that meat is blocked up in their systems 😀
I mean guys, for all special occasions; weddings, baptisms, birthdays, anniversaries, they order up and hang a whole side of beef or two from the top of a tent. Standing next to the mercifully headless carcass is a master butcher in a pristine white coat, holding a large, sharp knife. The guest queue up with their plates and the butcher slices beautifully marbled portions of the raw meat onto each plate. I queued up once, thinking that the fired up grills/hibachis would be found just beyond the raw meat tent. Wrong. Everyone just went back to their tables, picked up the knife provided at each place and just ate the meat, fat and all, “au naturel.” I wished for a ziplock bag to take my portion home for a little fire treatment but no luck. My husband ate his and mine. He was hungry and in general will eat anything. Actually that’s a good thing in case of a nuclear catastrophe. He’ll be a survivor and I’ll be dead 😀
Anyway. Seeing that “pining for France” look in my eye, neighbor Caroline invited me to accompany her to another neighbor’s home for Ethiopian food. No they’re not Ethiopian. In fact I think a group of Ethiopians scouted NorthEast Pennsylvania ages ago and decided against any future communities in the area. Obviously they put the word out, so there are no Ethiopians around here and therefore no restaurants. Although it gets cold enough in Ethiopia for fireplaces, I think the Pennsylvania winters may have discouraged immigration and, liking the high life of dancing, singing and partying found in urban areas, they might also have been discouraged by the “city” of Scranton which is just a gap or cleared space in the woods, farmlands and between the hills. No disrespect intended to Vice President Biden 🙂
So. I chose an Alicha dish to make and share because I don’t have any berbere nor mitmita that the spicier Ethiopian wots require and of course I don’t have any of the Ethiopia bread, injera but did have a Mexican tortilla which is not the same but whatever.
For the meat I used about 1 1/4 lbs of beef strips and 4 flanken ribs, cut into individual ribs, because that’s what was in the freezer. 2 1/2 lbs of beef cubes would be fine. I also used ghee because I didn’t want to make a batch of Ethiopian spiced butter, which is ghee with added spices; I just doubled down on the aromatics. The flavor of the finished dish was very close to Ethiopian and delicious but if you have a good, family owned Ethiopian restaurant in your area and have never tried Ethiopian food before, give it a try. You’re welcome 🙂
Ethiopian Sega Alicha with Gomen
4 tbsp ghee
3 large onions, sliced
1 tbsp turmeric
6 really large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 inches fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 1/2 lbs of beef cubes
1 1/2 tsp salt
10 oz baby spinach, vaguely chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced large
Melt 3 tbsps of the ghee in a large skillet, add the onions and saute until they wilt. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown. Stir in the turmeric and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, saute for about 2 minutes, cover the pan and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Add the beef cubes to the skillet and saute for about 3 minutes, add the salt, then cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until beef is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the spinach, cover and cook until wilted. Stir in the last tbsp of ghee, the pepper, cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
Serve with injera or whatever you have.