Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Berbere Lentil & Seitan Stew with Injera and Awase (E.A.T. World: Ethiopia)
Once in a while I get mildly obsessed with finding a food I've never eaten before, and for a few months that's been the case with injera. And it may come as a surprise, but injera isn't exactly easy to find in North Dakota. So in the spirit of E.A.T. World, fasten your seat belts - we're off to Ethiopia.
Injera is a spongy, soft, and slightly sour bread (the batter is fermented, like sourdough) that blurs the line between bread and table cloth. Saucy stews or stir frys are served over injera, and the bread acts as plate and utensil, with scraps of injera used to scoop up portions of stew. It's one of the trademarks of Ethiopian cooking, but since I've never been to an Ethiopian restaurant, or for that matter Ethiopia, it was just one of those things I read about. That's why I was happy to find it at a new east African market in Fargo - it's actually made at the East Africa Injera restaurant down the road in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
I've even tried making injera a couple of times. Once I just ended up with sour pancakes - lame, but edible - and another time with a gooey batter that was impossible to flip over. Just lame. I'm not giving up, and even have a little bag of teff flour - injera's main grain - on the shelf. But for now, I'm happy with the stuff made by the professionals in Saint Paul.
OK, enough with my injera relationship. We've got a meal to get to: an Ethiopian stew of lentils, seitan, onions, and tomatoes, seasoned with a berbere spice blend, and an additional red-hot sauce on the side, awase. I did a little searching online for guides, but this is mostly out of Marcus Samuelsson's beautiful book The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa. It's full of gorgeous photos, and plenty of techniques, spice blends, and ideas to make a vegan cook happy.
Berbere is a wonderfully multi-dimensional spice blend, heavy on hot chili peppers, and another foundation of Ethiopian food. I made my own, first pounding the whole spices - coriander, fenugreek, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves, and onion flakes - to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Then I mixed in the chili powder and other spices.
Here's the quantities I used:
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
6 cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
3 tsp. onion flakes (or powder)
2 tsp. ground ginger
3 tbsp. paprika
1/3 cup guajillo chili powder*
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. salt
I like guajillo for it's balance of bright flavor and heat - it's hot, but not blazing. You can use any chili powder you like, but mind the heat, since a third cup is a lot of chili powder. A third cup of cayenne, for example, would be pretty damn intense. Here's my finished spice volcano, Mount Berbere.
On to the main course. I used brown baby lentils (masoor matki at your Indian grocery) and seitan for a dish based on Samuelsson's recipe for a stir-fried beef stew. Thin sliced red onion and seitan are sauteed in 4 tbsp. (you know you love that) of Earth Balance margarine, standing in for the traditional butter. When the seitan and onions are browned, add 1 cup of diced tomatoes, 1 cup of cooked lentils, 3 cloves of diced garlic, 2 heaping tbsp. of berbere powder, a dash of ground cumin, and a half cup of dry red wine. Simmer for another few minutes, letting the alcohol from the wine cook off.
The sauce in the little plastic bowl is awase, a hot condiment that lets each diner regulate the spiciness for individual taste. It's a couple tablespoons of berbere powder, with a heaping teaspoon of cayenne pepper to make for serious heat. The spices are mixed with a tbsp. each of water, lemon juice, and red wine. Tear off a piece of injera, scoop up a bit of stew, and dip the roll in awase to your liking. One final note: if you're not a fan of seitan, or have a problem with wheat gluten, this is also excellent with diced eggplant replacing the seitan. I made that too, and it was every bit as good as the seitan version.