I’ve advanced to Round 2 of Project Food Blog. A big THANK YOU for all of your supportive comments, tweets, and of course for the votes…

For this challenge, the folks at Foodbuzz asked participants to cook a classic dish from another culture…something unfamiliar and outside of our comfort zone. This, my friends, is my kind of challenge.

If I had my education to do over again, I might choose to be a food historian. Or a nutritional anthropologist. I adore delving into research about what people around the world eat (and why).

So I pondered. And then pondered some more. What type of food have I never done on this blog? What type of food have I never cooked, period? And then it hit me. Ethiopian food.

I’ve only eaten Ethiopian food once, maybe twice. It was about 15 years ago, when I was a graduate student in Seattle. But I’ve never forgotten it. The spongy, sour flatbread and the array of spice-laden dishes were unlike anything I’ve tasted before or since.

Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in the world and it has a very rich food history (influenced by its distinct geography as well as its location on ancient spice trade routes between Asia and the Middle East). For this challenge, I made the classic sourdough injera with wot a traditional Ethiopian stew. I also made something called lab, an Ethiopian cheese spread customarily served with the other dishes.

About Injera

Injera is made from teff flour. Teff is a tiny seed that is native to the Ethiopian highlands: it has been cultivated there for thousands of years. Nutritionally-speaking, teff is high in protein, calcium and iron: it is also gluten-free. Injera appears at nearly every Ethiopian meal: it does double duty as both a serving and an eating utensil. Teff flour is fairly easy to find these days (marketed by Bob’s Red Mill). You should be able to purchase it at any natural foods store, or try online at iHerb.

Making injera is pretty simple. The only challenge here is that you use a sourdough method, so you need to plan ahead. I started my batch 6 days before making the injera. I used this recipe for inspiration, but because I wanted to keep the end product more authentic (and gluten-free), I didn’t add any self-rising flour (I used teff flour exclusively).

I also consulted Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas, where I learned that injera is traditionally cooked on an ungreased clay pan that is 18 inches wide. I approximated the cooking surface by using a cast-iron skillet lightly greased with peanut oil.

Ingredients:

*3/4 cup lukewarm water, plus an additional 1 1/2 -2 1/2 cups
*1/2 cup teff flour, plus an additional 1-2 cups
*Pinch of active dry yeast
Peanut oil for cooking

Directions:

Day 1: Combine ingredients in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Allow to sit at room temperature for 48 hours.

Days 3, 4, and 5: Add an additional 1/2 cup water and 1/3 cup teff flour on each day. Stir well after each addition. Keep covered loosely during this time.

On Day 6: Add additional flour and water (about 1 cup of each) so that the mixture resembles crepe batter (a thinner version of pancake batter).

Heat pan until a bit of water dropped on the surface sizzles. Drizzle a little oil into the pan. Use a ladle to pour a very thin stream of batter in a circle in the pan, then tilt to fill in any empty spots.

As each injera cooks, you will see bubbles form on the top and the edges will darken…

…at this point, you should flip and allow the injera to finish cooking on the other side.

You should be able to make 5-6 injeras with this amount of batter. Spread your cooked injeras out onto a large platter and serve your wot on top, then break off pieces to eat with the stew.

About Wot

Most Ethiopian meals feature several differents wots served atop injera. Wots feature numerous spices and can be quite fiery (though there’s a mild stew called allecha in the Ethiopian repertoire, as well). Wot may contain meat, and it’s typically chicken, beef, lamb, or goat: pork is generally forbidden for religious reasons. Because most Ethiopians are either Muslim or Orthodox Christian and observe numerous fasting days when it is prohibited to eat meat, vegetarian wots are also very common. Sometimes vegetarian wots are prepared with lentils or chickpeas; they may also be made with hard boiled eggs.

It is worth noting that there is a community of Ethiopian Jews, most of whom now reside in Israel, who adhere to Kosher dietary laws and frequently eat vegetarian meals: it is their style of wot which I chose to make.

My wot featured all seasonal and locally grown ingredients.

Please note that wots are meant to be spicy; omit one or both of the jalapenos if you’d like a milder dish.

Recipe for Vegetarian Wot

Ingredients:

*2 large white onions, peeled and chopped (about 2 1/2 cups
*2 shallots, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
*1/2 cup peanut oil
*6 cloves garlic, minced
*1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
*1/2 teaspoon paprika
*1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
*1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
*1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
*1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
*1 large carrot, thinly sliced
*1 tablespoon tomato paste
*1 cup plus another 1/2-1 cup water
*1 1/2 cups diced summer squash (I used pattypan)
*1/2 small head of cabbage, cored and sliced
*8 very small potatoes, cubed
*1-2 small green chiles (I used jalapenos)
*8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
*1 teaspoon ground tumeric
*2 teaspoons course sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
5-6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and pierced 1/2 inch deep all over with a toothpick

Directions:

1. Over low-medium heat, cook the onions and shallots in a large dry saucepan. Stir frequently until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Turn the heat up to medium, and add the peanut oil. Add the garlic, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, caraway seeds and coriander and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the carrots and cook for another minute.

3. Add the tomato paste and 1 cup of the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the liquid has thickened, 5-8 minutes.

4. Add the squash, cabbage, potatoes, chiles, green beans, tumeric, and the other 1/2 cup of water. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the vegetables are tender and cooked through.

5. Add the eggs to the stew and stir gently so that everything is combined. Serve warm, with the injera.

Serve the wot spooned over the spread-out injeras (I cut the eggs in half to make eating them a little easier) and feel free to garnish with some chopped herbs (I used fresh basil and mint).

To temper the spices in the wot, you can top with a little yogurt or Ethiopian cheese spread (lab), if you like. To make the lab, I turned once again to Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World. I adapted a recipe from the book and mixed 1 cup goat cheese with 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, a pinch of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon each of fresh minced mint and basil, and a pinch of course sea salt and fresh pepper. It’s delicious, and perfect served with the wot.

This was a wonderful meal, and a really fun post to put together. Thanks for the challenge Foodbuzz!

If you’d like to vote for my blog to advance to the next round of this challenge, you can do so here!