Vegan Lunch Box: Making an Ethiopian feast

You know what they say, you never forget your first.  Fear and excitement intertwined, wondering if it will be a successful venture, and those awkward first fumblings…  I’m talking, of course, about cookbooks.  When it comes to recipe tomes, I’ve known more than a few.  Some were eye candy – more trouble than they were worth, some were returned before they knew what hit them.  Others were in it for the long haul.  There was the ever-faithful, the tried and true, the sassy and spicy…

But even after all of these years, it was with a fair amount of sentimental value that I pulled out my well-worn copy of Vegan Lunch Box.  As I flipped through its splattered pages recently, I remembered what have come to be known as my Bento Days.  I didn’t have a child of my own for whom I was making lunches, but regardless, for those few weeks I searched Japanese sales sites, Ebay, and Little Tokyo to find sauce containers, multiple tiered bento boxes, and insulated stacked bento jars that kept the warm food warm-ish.  While I never made any lunches that remotely rivaled the cartoon-character creations gracing the bento blogs of the day (often involving black sheets of nori and a delicate touch), I liked to dip my toe in the tamari, so to speak.  Then as quickly as the fascination arrived it was gone, but one thing that remained in its aftermath was Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann.

It had been a long while since I made anything from VLB when I recently had a hankering for Ethiopian food.  Ethiopian is my favorite cuisine, but finding this culinary treat, let alone of the good and authentic variety, in the middle of Small Town America isn’t the easiest of obstacles.  Luckily, Jennifer has recipes for two wats (stews), Split Pea Alecha and Mixed Vegetable Wat, that are made with niter kebbeh (spice-infused oil).  The flavorful stews fill the house with the pleasing aromas of garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The split pea alecha has always turned out as more of a soup for me and since one of the best parts of having Ethiopian food is going hands-free, I prefer to reduce the amount of cooking liquid by a cup or so.  The vegetable wat can be made using a variety of vegetables, but I often stick with Jennifer’s suggestions of bell pepper, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli.

Jennifer also has a recipe for the spongy bread used for scooping those succulent wats called injera.   Since the recipe calls for yeast instead of leaving the batter for days and creating a sourdough-like quality, it has less of a tangy bite.  Something I’ve learned along the way about injera:  to make beautifully large injera rather than small pancake shapes, don’t be afraid to get your pan hot.  Pour a half cup of batter into a hot pan with one hand while the other swirls the pan, getting the liquid to spread evenly across.

Regardless of how many you’re feeding (even if it’s only one or two), I recommend making the full amount on the recipes.  They keep and reheat well, and they make for filling and tasty lunches and leftovers.  From start to finish – making the infused oil, letting the yeast rise for an hour, getting the split peas to soften, chopping vegetables, and then frying injera one by one – is a long process.  You might as well get as much out of it as possible.

What was your first vegan cookbook?  Do you still use it today?  If so, what are your favorite recipe(s)?

4 thoughts on “Vegan Lunch Box: Making an Ethiopian feast

  1. This looks so delicious! Ethiopian is one of my favorite cuisines at the moment, I have never eaten at an authentic restaurant but love making it at home. I usually keep a supply of Nitter Kibbeh and Berbere (spice mix) on hand so when the mood strikes the preparation doesn’t take as long. I do try to plan ahead as my latest Injera recipe takes 5 days from start to finish.

    My first vegan cookbook was Vegan Yum Yum. I still use it for old favorites like Hurry Up Alfredo (which I have tweaked over the years) and have recipe bookmarks that I still haven’t tried yet. The photos always make me drool too!

    • You’re so prepared keeping berbere and niter kibbeh at the ready! What spices do you use for your berbere? When you make your niter kibbeh, do you use oil or non-dairy butter? I’m impressed that your latest injera takes five days from start to finish! That puts my hour wait to shame. Are your Ethiopian recipes of your creation or from a particular cookbook?

      I’ve looked through Vegan Yum Yum many times. There are a lot of good looking recipes inside. I’ve been especially interested in trying the collard leaf dolmas.

  2. I’ve been reading Vegan Dad’s posts about Ethiopian foods (I’m waiting for the thermometer to dip a bit before I spend that much time at the stove!)and I’ve been meaning to try the injera. I was thinking it would be good with Indian dishes, too – I love the idea of eating with dipping bread. Your plate of food looks so good I may not wait that long!

    My first…cookbook? (you crack me up!) Twenty-odd years ago (pre-Google) I bought Fit For Life II and The American Vegetarian Cookbook. I don’t remember the word “vegan” ever popping up in those books, but, if I recall correctly, they were for all practical purposes vegan cookbooks. Happily, I replaced those books with much better ones (I was disgusted when I saw a later cookbook by the same co-author at a used book store that was chock full of meat photos). I started with Robin Robertson back in the day, but mostly I just “veganize” any old recipe that strikes my fancy. Of course, anything by the PPK crew or Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a good investment.

    • I’ll have to check out Vegan Dad’s posts about Ethiopian foods. I’ve missed those. I love using bread for dipping, but there’s just one problem. I get full too fast! Injera would be good for Indian food. I also like to make my own paratha. Manjula from Manjula’s Kitchen has a video and recipe that is easy. http://www.manjulaskitchen.com/2009/04/01/paratha-whole-wheat-flat-bread/

      You know, I don’t have any cookbooks by Robin Robertson. I don’t know how I’ve missed her! I enjoy her blog. You’re right, anything by Isa, Terry, and Colleen is sure to make a happy kitchen for a long while.

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