Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vegan Ethiopian Trio with Quick Injera


Ethiopian has been on the kitchen to do list for a really long time now, and I committed to attempting it early last week.  I researched multiple variations of dishes, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and compared dozens of different recipes for injera, trying to balance out authenticity and time efficiency.  Naturally, the first semi-conscious thought I had this morning in the waking minutes between denial and reality was "this is not the day to make Ethiopian."  I dozed for another few minutes settled on the thought that it would be much wiser to put this off until June, when time would cease to matter.  It would be crazy to commit to a cooking adventure that was really four recipes to tackle in a narrow window of time between the day's more pressing activities.

But since I only allow a window between 10am and noon for blogging, and by 9:30 no better ideas had occurred to me, off I went to the store to scrounge together a few ingredients I needed to pull off and Ethiopian feast.  Of course, there was no sign of teff flour (the traditional stuff for injera), and as I expected, no fenugreek or yellow split peas, so I had to make due with a few substitutions.    At this point Garrett wisely decided to head down the street to a coffee shop to get work done, and out of the way of any potential kitchen meltdowns. 

As it turns out, this whole process was so much easier than I anticipated.  The three separate dishes pretty much come together in the exact same process of layering flavors on top of an onion base, so as long as you have a food processor that can quickly mince onions and a stove top with four burners, you're set.  I expected that my first attempt at injera would surely end with a pile of burnt, ripped crepes that were impossible to remove from the pan.  But no, they cooked up quickly and slid right off the pan and on to the plate.  I even did the dishes while I cooked so the kitchen wasn't a complete disaster when all was said and done.  It was the zen of kitchen.

So, how did this compare to going out to an Ethiopian restaurant?  First, Garrett and I agreed that the end result was much better than either of us expected.  We assumed it would be tasty, but not all that reminiscent of the real deal.  We were wrong about that, too.  If anything, these versions are a bit less rich because they're vegan,  specifically because they swap the Ethiopian spiced butter (niter kebbeh) for oil as a flavor base.  As a positive trade-off, we didn't feel like total worthless crap the rest of the day after eating a large portion.  The slightly bigger difference was the taste and texture of the injera.  Despite the addition of vinegar and lemon juice, the crepe didn't have as much of the characteristic sourdough flavor of authentic injera (or as many bubbles).  Given that the real deal would have taken a whole day to ferment with yeast, I think this quick version is a completely acceptable compromise.  The final assessment was a resounding "exceeded expectations," if you're going for a healthier, faster Ethiopian meal.

Thank you to the following for hints and inspiration for these recipes: American Food Roots, Wild Greens and Sardines, Home in Disarray, A Spicy Perspective, Our Journey to Africa, and

Together, these recipes would make a hearty feast to serve 5-6.

Ingredients for Red Lentils (Mesir Wat):
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 3 tbsp. berbere spice mix (see below)
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 4 cups stock (or water)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt to taste
Ingredients for Berbere Spice Mix:
  •  3 tbsp. paprika
  • 4.5 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. tumeric 
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
Ingredients for Split Peas (Kik Alicha):
  • 1 cup green or yellow split peas
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 2 whole garlic cloves
  • 1.5 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1.5 tsp. tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (or 1 cardamom pod)
  • 3 cup vegetable stock (or water)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt to taste
Ingredients for Collard Greens (Gomen):
  • 4-5 cups fresh collard greens, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 serrano chili (or jalapeno), minced
  • 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup stock or water
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt to taste
Ingredients for Injera:
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 cups club soda
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • juice of 1 lemon

An easy way to approach these dishes is to realize that they are all assembled essentially the same way: the onion (salted) is cooked in hot oil until translucent, the wet flavorings are added and cooked for another 2 minutes, the dry spices are added and cooked for 1 minute, and then the wet ingredients  and main ingredient are added.  The pot is brought to a simmer and cooked until done.  Additional seasoning is added at the end, to your liking.

That being said, if you are making more than one of the dishes, start by mincing all the onions, grating all the ginger, chopping all the garlic cloves/peppers, and measuring all the spices first.   That way, the dishes come together quite quickly, each in its own pot.

For example, for the split peas or the red lentils, start by heating the olive oil in a large pot.  Add the onion and season with salt, cooking for about 5-6 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for another 2 minutes.  Introduce the dry spices, and stir for 1 minute.  Add the stock/water and either the split peas or lentils, bring to a simmer, and allow to cook for about 40 minutes (or until thick and soft).  You may notice that as these dishes cook, too much liquid has evaporated but the peas/lentils are still too firm.  If that's the case, just keep adding a bit of additional water until the peas/lentils have softened, and then you can continue to cook off extra liquid to achieve the consistency you like.  Each dish will need additional salt when done, and you can add additional ginger/cardamom to the peas or additional berbere to the lentils.
For the collard greens, start the same way: cook the salted onions in oil, add the ginger/garlic/pepper, then stock and collard greens (no spices in this one).  Cook covered until greens are dark and soft.  Uncover and continue cooking to reduce the liquid.
Lastly, make the injera.  In a large bowl blend the flours and baking soda.  Add the club soda and vinegar and whisk into a thin batter (should be much thinner than pancake batter).  Heat a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat and spray/coat well with oil.  Ladle about 3/4 cup of batter into the pan and quickly shake it around to coat the bottom.  Cover and allow to cook through for 2 minutes.  Uncover and cook until you can see tiny air bubbles coming through.  It should slide right off the pan onto a plate, where you can brush it with a bit of lemon juice. 
To serve, lay a piece of injera on each plate.  Place a serving of each dish on top, and serve with additional pieces of rolled injera on the side. 


  1. This is now on my to-do list! :)

  2. just made this for dinner and it was so delicious and easy to make! Thanks for the recipe :-)


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  5. Other add-ins for the collard (or other) greens are a can of tomatoes and about 1/4 cup of natural crunchy peanut butter. This is from an African recipe. The peanut butter makes it creamy and higher in protein.

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