Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking

Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking by Kittee BernsAbout a month ago, I received a copy of Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking
by Kittee Berns. I received it from the publisher for the blog tour, but I can promise you that if I hadn’t, I would have been buying it as soon as it was available. (And as soon as it was, I ordered a copy for a friend.)

I knew without question that I was going to love it. I’d already immersed myself in the recipes of Kittee’s Ethiopian zine that preceded the book and had fallen hard for it. (You may remember that her mac and cheese from the zine was one of my favorite meals of last year.)

I have it bad for Ethiopian food, but it’s not available where I live. The closest Ethiopian restaurant is four hours away. But with Kittee’s recipes, it became possible to have the flavors I crave in the convenience of my own kitchen.

Ethiopian platter from Teff Love by Kittee BernsAfter making an absurd amount of recipes from Teff Love, I can safely say that it delivers restaurant-quality food and better. It is crazy, crazy good. Plus, the food is very inexpensive and pantry-friendly. I recently had an Ethiopian dinner party, and the grocery list included a variety of lentils, beans, onions, garlic, peppers, mushrooms, and the like. It’s easy on the pocketbook and full of no frills, good-for-you foods.

So like I said, I’ve had Teff Love for about a month. In that time, I’ve made over 20 recipes. That’s seriously more recipes from a single cookbook than I’ve made from some cookbooks I’ve had for years.

So let’s get started!

Teff Love starts with a bit of Ethiopian history, a description of the spices, grocery list, and menu ideas for cooking for a crowd.   It then breaks down the recipes into sections including breakfast, appetizers and snacks, various wots (stews) and vegetable dishes, beverages, and sweets.

If you get a copy of Teff Love, the best place to start is with the seasoned oil, ye’qimen zeyet. I made it with organic Earth Balance, but it can also be made with coconut oil, canola oil, or a combination of both. The oil is cooked with onions, garlic, and lots of spices, until it is completely infused with flavor. It is then strained and kept in the refrigerator, where it adds deliciousness to everything it touches.

Just with the oil alone, you can cook intuitively. If you sauté onions and garlic in it and then add vegetables of your choosing or a can of drained beans, it is guaranteed to be tasty. I like making polenta for breakfast and then using the oil in place of extra virgin olive oil.

Teff Love: Adventures in Ethiopian CookingAfter that, head to the ye’abesha gomen (tender, stewed collard greens) and Ethiopian-style mac ‘n’ cheesie. They are two of my favorite dishes and wonderful together as a meal. Above I served them together with ye’shimbra duket kwas. They are chickpea tofu dumplings, which are kind of like a spicy Ethiopian falafel.

The nice thing about these recipes together when you’re just getting started is that they don’t require injera, the fermented pancake-style bread that is used for scooping the stews. There’s an injera recipe in the book, including a quick crepe version. Or you can track it down at Ethiopian grocery stores or restaurants, if there’s one in your area.

For a while I was buying injera on trips in large packs, dividing it into portions of three with parchment paper in between, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and freezing it. When I needed injera, I let it thaw on the counter, or put it straight into a warm oven. However, I hit some seriously good luck recently, and a friend of mine connected me with a local lady who makes and sells injera from her home for friends and neighbors. Both times I’ve gone to pick it up, it was still warm from being freshly made. Heavenly.

Breakfast

For a savory breakfast fan like myself, Teff Love has lots to offer.

Teff Love by Kittee Berns - shehan fulTwice already I have made a refried beans-style dish called shehan ful with small brown fava beans cooked from scratch. The tender beans were topped with tomatoes and avocado for a substantive and delicious start to the day.

Ethiopian tofu scramble from Teff Love by Kittee BernsYe’tofu enkulal firfir is an Ethiopian spin on a tofu scramble, cooked in seasoned oil and with spices like coriander, berbere, and turmeric. I served it with leftover bozena shiro and ye’atakilt alicha, which I’ll cover a little later.

Injera firfir from Teff Love by Kittee BernsWhen my first batch of injera was past its prime and getting dry, I used it to make injera firfir. It’s like a spicy stuffing recipe, but made with injera. I served it with a roasted cabbage recipe that I’ll be sharing later this week.

Chickpea flour pancakes from Teff Love by Kittee BernsThese chickpea flour pancakes, ye’shimbra chechebsa, have delicious layers of flavor. I made them twice – first topped with seasoned oil and berbere and then later stuffed with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. It’s a hearty and warming start to the day.

Dinner

For appetizers, I made sambusas, which are crunchy, chickpea flour pastries that are stuffed with lentils. I tend to shy away from dough recipes, because I don’t have great instincts there. I’ll admit that it did take some fussing to get the water ratio right. However, the end result was terrific, and I served them with three kinds of dipping sauces. (The sambusas flew at our dinner party, and I didn’t get a great picture of them. However, you can see the finished result on Instagram.)

Ethiopian platter from Teff Love by Kittee BernsWhen I’m serving an Ethiopian platter, I like to dish out the stews in several small repeating portions, instead of in one single pile.  That way it’s like theatre-in-the-round; wherever you’re sitting, it’s a good seat.

One evening for dinner, I made bozena shiro, which is a spicy legume sauce with tomatoes and veggie meat. I used plain Upton’s seitan for the veggie meat. I served it with ye’ingudai awaze tibs, which are spicy mushrooms in a wine sauce, and ye’atakilt alicha.

The ye’atakilt alicha is a combination of cabbage, potatoes, and carrots in a mild sauce. It’s an especially handy recipe, because it’s cooked in the oven. A lot of the recipes require a stovetop, and so when you’re making several things at once, it’s nice to have a dish that you can throw in the oven and forget about it.

Ethiopian platter from Teff Love by Kittee BernsAnother night I used leftover chickpea dumplings to make ye’duket kwas be’siquar denich alicha. The dumplings are cooked in a mild sweet potato sauce that is outrageously good. This was one of my favorite recipes from the book so far. Highly recommended. I served it with ayib be’gomen, which is collard greens mixed with tangy homemade cashew cheese, and ye’misser wot, a winning red lentil dish in a spicy sauce.

For our dinner party, I made gomen, ye’misser wot be’ingudai (a spicy red lentil dish with mushrooms), and ye’nech bakela alicha. The ye’nech bakela alicha is a creamy, garlicky white bean dish. White beans are surprisingly amazing in Ethiopian dishes, because they are so mild in flavor. That means they just soak up all of the seasonings and spices like a sponge.

White bean stew from Teff Love by Kittee BernsWe had some leftovers the next day, and so I slathered the beans onto injera, rolled them into pinwheels, and cut them in sections. I served them with awaze (red hot pepper sauce), roasted dat’a (roasted green chili hot sauce), and senafich (spicy hot mustard sauce). The hot mustard sauce went especially well with the mild beans, and it was incredibly easy to make.

Spicy lasagna from Teff Love by Kittee BernsFinally, one day I made spicy lasagna roll-ups. I realize that may seem completely different from all of the aforementioned foods. However, Italy tried to conquer Ethiopia and failed. They did manage to leave behind some Italian remnants, which is obvious in this dish of tender kale with carrots, onions, and spices, homemade cashew and soy milk cheese, spicy tomato sauce, and noodles.

As you might have guessed from the name, the cookbook calls to make these as roll-ups. However, I made the dish like a standard lasagna, because my noodles didn’t need to be boiled first. It seemed easier to just put everything in a baking dish and call it a day. (Since the noodles needed to soak up more of the liquid, I doubled the amount of tomato sauce.) The end result was excellent with a spicy kick that’s a break from ordinary lasagna.

So after a month of endless Ethiopian dishes, am I ready to take a break?

Absolutely not. I have awaze tofu marinating in the refrigerator right this second, and I had chickpea flour pancakes for breakfast.

If you love Ethiopian food or trying new things, I absolutely recommend this cookbook. The recipes may look daunting at first, but after the seasoned oil has been made, many of the dishes are surprisingly weeknight-friendly, especially if you can pull frozen injera out of the freezer.

I also think that some people may be intimidated by the unfamiliar names of the dishes; however, there are full descriptions of all of the dishes. Just flip through the book, press on some post-its, and get started. You won’t regret it.

To see more from the blog tour, Vegansaurus is giving a copy away, and Windy City Vegan will post next on February 19th.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of Teff Love for review.  The thoughts and opinions are totally my own.  The post contains an Amazon affiliate link.

How Ethiopian Food Became Weeknight-Friendly & My Love Affair with Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsIt is no secret that I love Ethiopian food.  (Although wouldn’t that be a weird thing to try to keep secret?  Psst…  Don’t tell this to anybody!  I love Ethiopian food!)  The spicy stews with layers of complex flavor, the spongy sour injera bread for scooping, the tactile pleasure of eating hand to mouth, the communal experience of sharing a platter with friends, and the combination of textures makes it my favorite cuisine.

However, in the past Ethiopian fare has been mostly limited to restaurant outings.  That was fine when I lived in a place where I could reach my favorite Ethiopian restaurant via a 40-minute car trip, but now the closest Ethiopian restaurant is 3 ½ to 4 hours away.  That moves a dinner of wots & basket of injera very much to the special occasion category.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsI’ve made Ethiopian meals at home many times, but it requires a lot of steps.  The first step requires making niter kibbeh (infused vegan butter or oil) that is the base for the stews (called wots).  Then, while a person can eat the wots on their own or with rice, it’s simply not the same experience without the injera for scooping.  I’ve never tried to go all out with one of the traditional recipes that require letting the batter sit for days until sour.  Instead I’ve used recipes calling for a yeast packet, and then waited for an hour for the batter to be ready (while hoping that the packet of yeast was good and I wouldn’t have to start all over again).  I’d stand over the stove, as if I was making pancakes, making each injera one by one.

Next, I’d have to make a couple of different spice blends, and then after that was all done, it was time to start cooking…  For a real meal, you need at least two stews, and all of that took time.  I’d typically have about one or two days a year when I felt like going to all of that work, and then I was pretty much spent.

Injera freezes well for an Ethiopian feast on a weeknightThen two things happened.  First, I realized that when I was traveling to places with Ethiopian restaurants, it wasn’t difficult to find grocery stores that also had injera for sale.  (I’m sure I could have bought it from those restaurants as well.)  I could take the injera back home with me, separate it into batches of three, and then freeze them.  If I wanted Ethiopian for dinner, I’d just have to pull a grouping of three out of the freezer and put it on the counter for a few hours, or in a pinch, I could take it straight from freezer to warm oven for thawing.

Three injera was enough for dinner that night for two and for one person to finish off leftovers the next day.  The injera wouldn’t be quite as moist as it was freshly made, but when you go the thawing-on-the-counter route, it thaws remarkably well.  And it’s certainly better than standing over the stove making hot injera when you’re hungry and ready to eat.

I’ve picked up injera in Chicago at Kukulu Market, in Minneapolis at Midtown Global Market, and yes, I even had two big packages of injera in my carry-on on my return trip from Los Angeles.  In L.A. I purchased it in one of the little markets in Little Ethiopia across the street from Rahel.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsThe second thing that happened was that I finally cracked open my copy of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian by Kittee Berns that I bought long ago.

Kittee and I became blog buddies during some Vegan MoFo in years past, and then we met in real life at Vida Vegan Con last year.  One of the best and most unforeseen benefits of blogging has been creating friendships with readers and other bloggers.  Kittee is a good example of that.  In addition to loving her colorful and unique blog, Cake Maker to the Stars, that feels like such an extension of her own playful spirit, I’ve gotten to know Kittee over the years.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsSometime last fall I asked her where she found her big Ethiopian platters that decorate the walls in her kitchen, and on which she also serves Ethiopian food for large groups or uses for bake sales.  She said that they could be found in Ethiopian markets, and offered to keep an eye out for me since none of those exist in Iowa.

After many texts and pictures, she sent a platter my way along with berbere, one of the spice mixtures essential for Ethiopian cooking.  She told me that it was “the good stuff.”  I’d planned on paying Kittee back, but she surprised me by offering these as gifts.  (I can only imagine how hard it must have been to box up that huge platter!  It’s not exactly a size people just have laying around!)  It was such a wonderful surprise and so generous.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsPapa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsThen I pulled out my copy of (the now sold-out) Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine, and I started by making a big batch of niter kibbeh.  Using the recipe in the zine, this infused butter or oil can be made with vegan butter or canola oil.  In Kittee’s upcoming cookbook (more info on that to follow at the end of this post!), the niter kibbeh recipe will be made with a coconut oil blend, which sounds so good.  She advises making a big batch, so that way you always have it on hand for making wots.  This very cold winter, I’ve already worked my way through one batch of niter kibbeh and made a second batch last week!

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsHaving easy access to this very flavorful base of Ethiopian cooking has been life-changing.  Now instead of Ethiopian being pushed to a rare treat, it’s seriously one of the simplest things to make during the week.  Most of the time it takes 30 minutes or less.  I just sauté onions and garlic in her niter kibbeh, add whatever other ingredients the recipe calls for, and plate it up with some thawed and heated injera.

It also makes for a tremendously inexpensive dinner, because the ingredients are really cost-effective things like red lentils, brown lentils, split peas, potatoes, carrots, collard greens, and the like.  Sometimes I’ll make one or two wots one night and then finish off the leftovers with a new wot the following night.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsAll of the Ethiopian platters in this post were made using various recipes from Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian.  Recipes I’ve made include azifa (brown lentil salad), ye’abesha gomen (mild collard greens), ingudai t’ibs (sautéed mushrooms), ye’takelt allecha (gingery mixed vegetables), ye’kik allecha (mild split pea puree), ye’miser allecha (mild red lentil puree), ye’kik w’et (split peas in a spicy gravy), and ye’miser w’et (red lentils in a spicy gravy).

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsI’ve also started adding the niter kibbeh anywhere I can in my own recipes.  I love having Great Northern beans sautéed with garlic and onions in the infused oil since the flavor of the beans is very mild.  It just lets all of the spices shine through.

Polenta made with Ethiopian infused butter, niter kibbehMy most recent favorite way to use it is by making my easy breakfast polenta, but then sautéing the garlic in niter kibbeh instead of extra virgin olive oil before following the rest of the recipe as is.  Sometimes I’ll have that for breakfast, or I’ll make it a hearty lunch by adding greens and chickpeas.  (The chickpeas are dark here, because I added Indian gooseberries to this batch when I was making them from scratch.)

Seriously, every recipe I’ve tried in Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian has been fantastic.   I don’t know how Kittee is going to improve on them for her Ethiopian cookbook that’s coming out late this year or around New Year 2015, but somehow that’s happening along with a lot more recipes than were in her zine.  (All of the recipes will be gluten-free and vegan just like she is.)

In the meantime, the zine is not available for purchase any longer, but I highly recommend picking up a copy of the cookbook when it comes out.  I know I’ll be preordering when the opportunity presents itself!  I’ll keep you posted when the time comes!