Thursday, June 25, 2009

Step-by-step American-style Injera, Parts 1 and 2

Here are parts 1 and 2 of the video I promised of our injera cooking lesson. As I mention in the introduction, we used 4 cups of all-purpose wheat flour with 1 cup of teff flour (I can buy teff in the organic/health section of our local supermarkets, or you could likely find it in a health foods market or African market catering to East Africans). Laura Litwiller suggests, however, using 2 cups of teff and 3 cups of all-purpose flour.

Day 1 (Wed): Assuming you have some starter already, you prepare the injera batter. (Note: Laura provided us with some of her starter, but she explains you can make your own using approximately a tablespoon of yeast, a half cup of teff and a half cup of white all-purpose flour, and warm water. Mix it together and let it ferment for a day or two before using it the first time). Starter is just a cup or so of batter you save each time you make the injera and set aside in a covered jar in the refrigerator. We let our starter come to room temperature before using it.

1. Begin by mixing the all purpose wheat flour (about 3 cups) and the teff flour (about 2 cups) with a wire wisk. The flour should be at room temperature, and we did not sift before adding it to a non-corosive lidded container (we used an enameled pot). Laura repeatedly reminded us "it's not an exact science."

2. Drain and discard the water off the top of the stored batter (leet). Using a spoon or spatula, scrape the thick batter remaining into a large bowl (this will be much less than the cup or so you started with). Heat 5 cups of water slightly (barely tepid) and pour a little of the water into the jar that contained the starter, shaking it to remove all of the starter batter. Add that to the bowl with the along with the rest of the water, and blend with the wisk.

3. Add about a quarter or a third of the water to the pot containing the flours, stir with the wisk, and repeat until all the water is used, stirring well after each addition, and making sure to blend all the flour in the bottom corners of the pot.

4. Cover the pot, and set it in a warm place free of drafts for two days to ferment. We had cool weather in our kitchen last week, so I kept my pot on the stovetop with the overhead stove light on, and by the end of the first day the fermentation process had still hardly begun. I cooked pizza that night and the heat from my oven must have warmed the stovetop slightly because after that the dough began fermenting in ernest. However, according to Laura, the normal procedure is for the dough to rise up and then separate into water on top and thick batter below. That didn't really happen very much, and we had very little water to remove when we were ready to make the injera. Laura said that was fine, too. Resist lifting the lid too often to see how the process is progressing, and certainly never stir it.

On Day 3 (Friday), 2 days later, we made the injera, along with 2 Ethiopian stews. I'll post those videos and recipes next.

Incidentally, I haven't forgotten that I still have 3 questions on African cooking to answer: the next one is the one about why African restaurants do not seem to be as popular or prevalent as other restaurants, from Asian to Chinese or Italian. I'll get back to those (and to the recipes from the regional Ghanaian cookbook) as soon as I catch up a little.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Step-by-step Ethiopian Injera

My family and I are great fans of Ethiopian/Eritrean cooking. After my son graduated from Harvard's GSD a few weeks ago, he and his co-graduate friend selected an Ethiopian restaurant in Cambridge for the celebration meal for both our extended families. That's the one time I forgot my camera! Anyhow, this week I'm cooking Ethiopian.

On Wed., Sore Shields and I had a preliminary cooking class with Laura Litwiller, a skilled local maker of injera, the spongy sour dough crepe/pancake that's emblamatic of Ethiopian cooking. She lent us some of her starter (years in the making), and helped us prepare a batter using teff and wheat flour. For the last 2 days it's been fermenting. I videotaped much of the process, and will soon post the video here.

Today (Friday) she's returning in the afternoon, and we'll be making the actual injera, along with a few side dishes, doro watt (a spicy chicken stew), siga tibbs (a beef stew) and gomen watt (an Ethiopian version of cooked kale). I think she's also bringing some shiro (a spicy legume powder), as I asked to see it. Since I've invited several friends for dinner (always the optimist), I'm going to whip up some kik pea alecha watt (a mild stew with chick peas, aka garbanzo beans), and an Ethiopian tomato salad, along with a vegetarian sambossa as an appetizer. If our local liquor store carries it, I'll probably pick up some Ethiopian tej (honey wine). All of that means I won't have any more time today to follow up on blog postings about our trip to Jamaica, a new Senegalise restaurant in Cambridge, answering my next question on African cuisines (about restaurants in the U.S.), and also posting another recipe from the Ghanaian regional cookbook. Trust me, I haven't forgotten. There just don't seem to be enough hours in a day!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Historic African Cuisine Panel at the ASFS/AFHVS Conference

I'm back from 2 weeks of graduations, being with family and friends, tasting Jamaica, and generally being treated like a queen. There is much to catch up on, beginning with a few words about the panel on "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on African Cuisines" held on May 30th at Penn State and the small dinner party afterwards. The panel went well (despite being scheduled for 8 a.m.
Saturday morning): we started off with Cindy Bertelsen's overview of African flavor principles (see her Gherkins and Tomatoes website for more information: principles-out-of-africa/ (the basics); principles-out-of-africa-a-fish-tale/; principles-out-of-africa-its-the-beans/ (fermentation and oilseeds); (pumpkins). Igor

Cusack followed up with a discussion of cookbooks and national identity in Africa. Through what seemed incredible indifference and inefficiency on the part of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Forka Leypey Mathew Fomine was unable to receive a visa in time to attend the conference, so I (Fran Osseo-Asare)
summarized his original research on the evolving role of the African giant land snail in the diet in parts of Cameroon. Please contact me if you wish to obtain an electronic copy of his fascinating paper. I then made some observations of my own about the cassava "saga" in Africa, and the transformation of cassava from an orphan crop to a nurturing "mother," and an important emerging cash crop in West Africa. Culinary historian Michael Twitty rounded out the session with a look at ethnic culinary variation in West African links and contributions to American Southern cooking. There was some lively discussion, and the general consensus was that there is a huge need for more of these kinds of opportunities to focus on African cuisines. I would
personally love to see sessions on African cuisine in literature and art, or on African cuisines and culinary tourism. Our biggest frustration that Saturday morning was "so much to say, so little time!"

For more pictures, go to BETUMI on flickr (ASFS/AFHVS May 30, 2009).