Different ingredients, super high altitude, and only a stove have meant a few culinary experiments as I adapt to my new life for the next few years. Mid way through our training we were issued a “Cooking in Ethiopia” Cookbook, put together by previous groups of volunteers. It has been helpful for some things (oh, that’s the bleach to water ratio to clean vegetables- oopsie), but other things are less helpful (a recipe for Hungarian Cocktail Sticks? Minden naw “what is that?” Or Fresh Fish with Coconut Sauce? What posh corps country do you live in?).
So drawing on my own experience in high altitude cooking, the spices I brought from home (thank you packing lists!), and a bit of daring I have created a few dishes of my own.
#1 – Breakfast for Dinner
Om nom nom eggs
Since I never buy meat (no fridge), I either get my protein at a restaurant, in the form of shuro powder (see below), or I eat eggs. This is my version of a Spanish omelet. Tomato, spinach, and feta become tomato (yay same ingredient!), gomen (basically Ethiopian spinach), and laughing cow cheese (thank you care packages!). Then I make home fries with salt and olive oil.
#2 – The Sarah Waldorf Salad
Bleached Veggies! Om Nom Nom?
This isn’t so exciting except that it’s fresh, uncooked vegetables! Food preparation is key here. Since I buy my vegetables from the ladies with the tarps on the side of the road, and they buy them off the trucks that come in from the fields, I can almost guarantee there was no FDA stamp of approval on those carrots. Chigerellum! (No problem!) Usually I cook down or boil my veggies, but if I want to eat them fresh there is a bit more of a process. I start with a bleach water solution (1 tbsp per gallon) and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Then I rinse them with filtered water (I put that in there so Peace Corps medical won’t get mad… sometimes I rinse with tap water, which I clearly never drink… cough couch). This salad features all sorts of local and care package ingredients: lettuce, gomen, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, raisins and crushed almonds and cashews (trail mix from a care package); and then the dressing is an olive oil, salt, pepper, and lime mix (no lemons here).
#3 Shuro with Rice
It’s yummier than it looks
Cross cultural dish! Shuro is a soupy spicy dish made from chickpea powder and berbere that you can find at any restaurant- sometimes it’s the only thing you can order. And at any time I would say 95% of Ethiopians are eating it for a meal. The other staple is misir wot (spicy lentil stew). Usually it is eaten with injera, but since I don’t have an injera maker, I make it with rice (pictured) or potatoes. Shuro powder is available by the half kilo and you buy it like flour. You can get it with or without berbere mixed in. I bought some with berbere to cut out the middle step. To make it you chop onions and tomatoes, cook them down in a bunch of oil (I use less than the average Ethiopian, but then again my shuro doesn’t taste as good). Then you add about double the water you want for a serving (it will cook down) and add like 2 or 3 spoonfuls of shuro powder and whatever spices to taste (I like garlic and black pepper, since I’m a ferenji, Ethiopians will put in raw kariya peppers). It thickens up pretty quick, is packed with protein (yay chickpeas!), will last forever (my ½ kilo bag will probably last half the year because you only use a few spoonfuls per meal), and is super cheap (hey local recipes!). Probably going to be a staple for me. I usually wilt down some gomen as well to get a varied diet with some rough greens.
Thank God for spice mixes
Rice based dishes are going to a theme I think. Stir fries, curries, and pretty much any Ethiopian wot I will probably put over rice (so blasphemous). But again, rice is pretty cheap, lasts a long time, easy to cook and is a different carb than injera so I get a little variety. With all the dishes that are basically variations on a theme, it’s nice to mix up the spices. If the base is carrots, onions, rice and sometimes an egg or too, switching between a soy sauce stir fry and a shit ton of curry powder will get me through the next few months. What I wouldn’t give for some broccoli (and don’t even get me started on asparagus or bell peppers…) The point of this one is that recipes don’t matter and you can just experiment with proportions until it tastes good. This curry was made on the fly, probably couldn’t recreate it, but the moral of the story is that either pack spices (sacrifice space) or pick up some in Addis before you get to site (expensive).
Here’s what I brought with me (and am so glad!):
- Curry powder
- Italian mix (oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary etc.- like a grocery store brand mix)
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder (easy to find garlic cloves here, but sometimes nice to have powder instead of cutting up cloves every time)
- Cumin (I put it in guacamole!)
- Chili powder
- Cinnamon (you can find sticks, but again, nice to have powder)
Other non- spice related things I brought and were very helpful to have that first week (and are better quality than what you could pick up here):
- Non-stick frying pan or skillet
- Good paring knife (which I basically use for EVERYTHING)
- Good chef’s knife (just a larger knife)
- A pot holder/oven mitt thing, which I use with a bandana in the other hand to handle my pots
- Veggie peeler
- Can opener (though probably not necessary)
- Wine/bottle opener (you can get those here, but it was small so I threw it in)
- Butter knife (wish I brought more than 1! Forks and spoons are easy to find and cheap, but knifes are hard and “expensive!”- for a volunteer’s budget anyway)
- Zip lock bags
- Measuring cup
Anyway, experiments in cooking to continue! Not pictured, I have also made a few tomato based sauces from scratch with pasta and garlic bread and whipped together a “mexican night” for the other Gondar volunteers with guac, salsa, lime rice and black beans (from another volunteer’s care package) and lentil fajitas. Cooking is fun here because it cuts out a lot of the day. The opposite end of the spectrum being that today for lunch I ate a handful of kolo (roasted barley) and a lollipop… so it depends on my energy level haha.