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BLOG — Kossoye gets a veggie lecture

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Ever since I was old enough to understand the news that was always blaring on TV at our house, all I knew about Ethiopia was that a lot of hungry people lived there. When I learned it was the source of the Nile, I thought it couldn’t be all bad. But I later found out that Ethiopia is one of just two African countries that was never fully colonized, and I guessed that it couldn’t have very many valuable resources.

Then I tasted injera, and I knew that Ethiopia was the source of some kind of brilliance.

Injera is a spongy, stretchy, sour crepe made from teff, the tiny grain of a highland grass native to Ethiopia. It is made by fermenting teff flour with water and yeast for several days, and then cooking the batter until it’s a huge, pock-marked pancake. Injera is a staple of the Ethiopian diet, and it is served underneath, beside, on top of, and occasionally instead of every other dish in the diet. Ethiopians eat injera as the French eat baguettes, the Mexicans eat tortillas, and the Indians eat naan. And though I’ve made all the others, injera is still a conceptual culinary project to me.

Apparently the fermenting thing seems daunting to others as well. When Krista Magaw and Andy Carlson hosted an Ethiopian gathering at their home in the church two weeks ago, they picked up their injera from the Blue Nile, one of three Ethiopian restaurants in Columbus (it’s a great restaurant with traditional low chairs and wicker basket tables). But Krista made all the rest of the dishes, featuring many seasonal vegetables in spicy sauces and the popular doro wat, spicy chicken stew with hard boiled eggs. The dinner was finger-licking good, literally, as we ate with our hands. I always marveled at the neatness of the Cameroonians I knew who ate with their hands from one common bowl. They couldn’t afford plates, and there were no napkins, so they got very skilled at shaping a bite-sized ball of food in their right hand and escorting it from the bowl to their mouths without losing a wayward kernel. With me, as at the local dinner, there was grease running down to my elbow, crumbs littering the floor around me, as well as spillage around my mouth and chin.

Well the dinner was a fundraiser for a local food project in the northern highlands of Ethiopia’s Amhara region, where Andy’s father Dennis Carlson has conducted community health research for the past 40 years, specifically around the village of Kossoye. Over time, the Carlsons have seen the health of the Kossoye community plummet due to lack of proper nutrition. Stunting in particular is a major problem, but infant mortality, infection and HIV are other health issues that keep the community from thriving.

In 2005 the Carlsons began The Kossoye Project, a health and family planning initiative and two years later also began a household vegetable gardening campaign. They created a health and gardening manual in Amharan, a native written and spoken language that Dennis speaks, and have led students and researchers from Capital University where Andy currently teaches, to help implement the project. The manual includes recipes using the garden vegetables, which came from the winners of a local cooking contest held in Kossoye in 2009.

Krista served these dishes with the doors and windows open and Amharic music playing in the background, and it felt like being in an African café.

Vegetable stew: Fry onions and garlic in oil with cumin, berbere spice mixture, and salt, then add chopped potatoes, cabbage, carrots and chard until tender. Add water as necessary.

Beet stirfry: Cut and boil beet roots in salted water. Fry chopped beet greens in oil with onions, garlic and salt.

Doro wat: (Krista served her own version not included in the cookbook, so this version is adapted from betumiblog.)
A berbere spice mix version: roast the following, 1 t ginger,
½ t each coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, nutmeg, and ¼ t cinnamon until fragrant. Add
2 T salt,
¼ t each cloves and allspice, ½ C cayenne, 1 t black pepper,
½ cup paprika and roast on low another 10 minutes until various shades darker.

  1. Cut a whole chicken into eight pieces and sprinkle with juice of one lemon and 1 t salt. Let rest.
  2. Fry in 4 T oil 2 C chopped onions, 1 T garlic, 1 t fresh ginger until translucent. Add 1/2 t crushed fenugreek, 1/2 t ground cardamom, 1/8 t nutmeg, 4 T berbere, 2 T paprika, 2 T tomato paste, and 1 C water (or more, as needed).
  3. Bring all ingredients to a boil and cook slowly, stirring often, for about 45 minutes. The sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream.
  4. Add the chicken pieces to the sauce. Add 2 T butter (or Ethiopian spiced ghee). Lower the heat and cook chicken for about an hour, turning the ofte.
  5. Prepare 1 hard-boiled egg for each person. Peel and cut about 5 shallow slits in the eggs and add to the sauce the last 10 minutes of cooking time.

For more information on the Kossoye Project, visit http://www.kossoyeproject.org. Donations to support the effort are welcome.


One Response to “BLOG — Kossoye gets a veggie lecture”

  1. Vick Mickunas says:

    Andy Carlson and his father Dennis have written a book about the village of Kossoye. You can hear Andy talk about Kossoye this Friday (Sept. 24) at 1:30pm in the Book Nook on WYSO Public Radio (91.3fm). If you miss the Friday broadcast the interview will air again on Sunday morning at 11.

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