22 February 2009

Joan's Culinary Tour Stops in Ethiopia

Chick Pea Fritters (Yeshimbra Assa)

Joan of Foodalogue, is helping to promote hunger awareness through her event, A Culinary Tour Around the World. Joan has been travelling virtually wherever her imagination has taken her these past few weeks. Her journey ends in April. If you haven't already, why not join Joan on her culinary tour around the world!!!!! How about meeting her in any one of her itinerary stops and presenting your interpretation of the cuisine from that destination. Who wouldn't enjoy taking a journey around the world even if it is from the comfort of your favourite armchair??

This weeks stop is in Ethiopia!!!!

Ethiopia is located in Northeast Africa. It is a country more commonly associated with political upheavals and drought, rather than for it's cuisine. Yet Ethiopian cuisine offers an exceptional and exquisite array of flavorful food that is unique to Africa and the world.

Ethiopian food is the ultimate in spicy cookery!!!! Their food is spicy hot but cooks also use a wide variety of spices. One of the essential spices in Ethiopian cooking is fenugreek. This hard seed gives a unique flavor to their food. The cuisine of Ethiopia is one of the world's best kept secrets!!!! Ethiopian food is a spicy mix of vegetable and lentil stews and slow-simmered meats. Straddling the Rift Valley of East Africa, Ethiopia has been called the "Land of Bread and Honey."

Ethiopia, once known as Abyssinia, is a place of high plateaus and low-lying plains. Dietary restrictions in religion satisfied both my vegetarian and meat eating ways. Essential components of Ethiopian cooking are injera bread, berbere (a spicy red pepper paste), and niter kibbeh (a spice-infused clarified butter). Most foods have a stewy consistency. Alicha indicates a mild stew. Wats are stews with the spicy flavor of berberé.

Whenever we sat down at a table in an Ethiopian home we were enthralled by the customs. After the ritual washing of our hands we sat down to use the injera as an eating utensil to scoop up our spicy food. Injera is a large, flat sourdough bread. In fact, the "plate" on which the food was served was this spongy flat bread and is eaten as well. Spicy, flavorful dishes were ladled onto our injera "plates" and we rolled up the food in much the same way we would roll a cigar and popped it into our mouths. I mixed all of this down with some honey wine, beer or telba (a flaxseed drink)....depending on the time of day.

My week in Ethiopia was spent on a tour with Responsible Travel. This tour group also has many other tours available throughout Ethiopia focusing on eco-tourism. They have been highly commended and received the 2007 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Award - the largest awards of their kind in the world!!!! The tours are also arranged in conjunction with The Times, World Travel Market and the Geographical Magazine, of the Royal Geographical Society.

My cultural adventure took me on an amazing and surprising journey through the rich historical, archaeological and religious heartland of Ethiopia, showcasing a country steeped in beauty and diversity.

Tourism here is in its infancy, but the people of Ethiopia welcomed us warmly. Our journey focused on the historically important regions of Bahar Dar, Gondar, Askum and Lalibela and wove the story of a once great and powerful kingdom. Some of the conditions encountered on our journey were basic, as tourism and the country's infrastructures are not yet well developed, but witnessing it all sure left me filled with wonder at the incredible accomplishments of the Ethiopian people throughout their proud history.

I saw Ethiopia through the eyes of the locals because our Ethiopian tour leader gave us a first-hand insight into the rich and colourful tapestry that makes up this unique country. Visiting historic island monasteries and rock churches led us be aware of these important cultural relics and ensured that they are earmarked for protection, so that future generations can continue to appreciate them.

Dear Joan,

"Our guide was knowledgeable, devout and passionate about the history and the sacred symbolism of the structure, decoration, icons and other treasures in each church. I particularly enjoyed the singular and colourful style of Ethiopian religious art. It has a fresh naïve quality with an emphasis on the eyes. Saints for example, are painted full-face, and therefore have two eyes. Evil persons are always, with few exceptions, painted in profile and have only one visible eye."

A walk in the Simien Mountains led to an awareness of the country's natural splendour and unique wildlife, such as the colourful gelada baboon.

Dear Joan,

"Driving up into the Entoto Mountains north of the city through eucalyptus forests was a precursor to the steep climbs we were to have in our later trekking in the Simien Mountains. On Friday afternoon, I saw the wood-carrier woman for the first time. I was to learn that as in most of Africa, bio-fuels, ie wood, charcoal, dried cowdung, etc., are used daily in 90% or more of homes for cooking, and in most of Africa, it is the wood-carrier women who travel far outside cities to collect the wood and bring it into the city for sale. Tinier than I could have ever imagined, these women carry enormous loads, suffer harassment and abuse at the hands of the guards who are supposed to protect the scarce woodlands, and the women earn mere pennies a day, not even a subsistence wage."

Tourism in Ethiopia is new and to support programs there Responsible Travel is training their local tour leaders on a variety of issues, from environmental awareness to First Aid. This not only assists in the conduct of a tour but also provides the local tour leaders with important life skills and gives them a means to support themselves and their families.

Dear Joan,

"The highlight of our trip was a visit to the Ploughshare Project in Gondar, designed to support single mothers. The centre provides training in traditional and modern pottery, traditional weaving and vegetative production. It now provides permanent work for 43 women, as well as training six more women every five months. The ultimate aim is to create year-round food supplies, as well as eventually support a kindergarten for the children of these women.

The first stage is the purchase and transportation of a large water container to catch and hold rain water for use through the dry season.

We were also invited there to participate in the magical Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The ceremony involves a special green grass spread on the floor, the aroma of fresh coffee beans roasting over the coals, the thuck-thuck-thuck sound of coffee beans being ground with a mortar and pestle, and the smell of incense wafting through the room. The coffee is accompanied by popcorn. An invitation to "buuna", or coffee, sometimes two or three times a day, is a leisurely ritual I would have loved to indulge in more often. In a typical village, the "buuna" ritual is a time to stop, chat and bond with your neighbours. You just have to love a country where a well known saying is: “Coffee and love are both best when hot!"

Joan has linked her virtual journey with our Social Network BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine. Hopefully this trip to Ethiopia has increased your hunger and thirst for knowledge of a different culture you may never have the good fortune to know. It makes us realize how lucky we are and perhaps are motivated to participate in the fight against hunger via BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine or the World Food Programme .

I chose to make Chick Pea Fritters for my virtual trip to Ethiopia. They are similar to Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters) from Sicily which are fritters made from chick-pea flour that may be of Arab origin. They are a favorite snack food to the Sicilians, found in friggitoria or fryshops.

**Chick Pea Fritters (Yeshimbra Assa)**

3 cups chick pea flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
3/4—1 cup water
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Vegetable oil (for frying)

Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the 3/4 cup water, onion, and garlic. If dough is too crumbly, add a little more water. Dough should form a compact ball.

On a lightly floured surface roll out dough until it is 1/4" thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes (fish shape is traditional).

Pour oil into a skillet 2-3" deep. Heat oil until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer. Fry fritters for 3-4 minutes, turning them frequently until they puff slightly and are golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a towel to drain.

Then prepare sauce:

2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup Red Pepper Paste (aka Spice Paste, Berbere)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Cook the onions in a dry skillet over the lowest heat for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and dry. Do not let burn or brown.

Pour in the oil, and when it's hot, stir in the berbere and garlic. Add the water, stir, and cook briskly over moderate heat until the sauce thickens. Season with salt.

Place the fritters in the skillet and coat them with the sauce. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet partially, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Spice Paste (Berbere)

1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups paprika
2 tablespoons ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 cup water

In a cast-iron skillet, toast the ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice over low heat. Do not burn; this should only take a minute or so. Set aside to cool.

Combine the spices, onions, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and 3 tablespoons water in a small jar of a blender and blend until smooth.

Combine the paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and the remaining tablespoon of salt in the skillet and toast over low heat for a minute or so. Stir in the water, 1/4 cup at a time. Then stir in the blended mixture. Stirring vigorously, cook over the lowest possible heat for 10-15 minutes.

Transfer the berbere to a jar, packing it in tightly. Let the paste cook to room temperature, then cover with a film of oil. Store in the refrigerator between use.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. What a great event!

    I love Berbere! These fritters looks delicious!



  2. Mmmm, absolutely gorgeous! I would really enjoy these with a spot of salad. Great :)

  3. What an interesting post! It's wonderful that you actually were in Ethiopia to experience the cuisine and culture first hand.

    My mother is from Sicily and panelle is one of our favorite snack foods. I have to try and make this Ethiopian version - they look delicious!

  4. The patties sound wonderful.

  5. I can't decide if you were actually there or not!!! Either wa, the trip you describe sounds like a lot of fun - with good eating to boot!

  6. Another wonderful and informative post...along with some mighty tasty fritters! You're terrific. Thanks so much for continuing this journey with me!

  7. What a neat post! The chick pea fritters look really yummy!

  8. i absolutely love fritters, especially spicy ones made with unusual flours. these look grat, and as for that spice paste, you cant get more exotic than with this kind of blend

  9. Val, these look fab-delish and I must finally go visit the Eithiopian resto I pass by each week.

  10. Wow, these look great! I am continually and pleasantly surprised by the wonderful cuisine that comes from Africa.

  11. Sounds like an amazing experience, Val. I really like sounds of the paste - I'm going to have to google it to see what type of recipes I could make it with.

  12. Me again... Is 2 cups of paprika correct? Seems like such a high quantity compared to the rest of the ingredients.

  13. What fab fritters & beautiful post!Very enjoyable indeed!

  14. I would have never thought to make fritters with chick peas...sounds delicious.

  15. I agree that the 2 cups seemed like a lot for the berbere. I doublechecked several recipes and it was always from 1-1/2 to 2 cups of paprika. I made this dish only for myself so reduced the quantities for the sauce significantly.

  16. Great post as usual. those fritters look just lovely.

  17. great dish, val! i'm always craving more chickpea recipes, and have never (and will never) turn down a fritter. :)

  18. Oh goodness, I need to make some of these VERY soon! My mouth is watering just looking at them!

  19. What an interesting and fun post, Valli...the fritters look amazing, and the spicy sauce, goodness, it DOES sound spicy, and delicious!

  20. Ah . . . I really have to try these fritters. I love the Ethiopian restaurants we've been to.
    Sounds like a marvelous tour.

  21. What a wonderful post... interesting and informative. What a great opportunity to actually visit!


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