Monday, February 12, 2007

I am a big fan of cookbooks that not only deliver tasty recipes, but also teach me about the construction of certain dishes, so that I can understand how to modify or expand upon the recipes if necessary. Learning about how certain dishes are created helps me to improvise in the kitchen—something I love doing, but something which usually yields frightening results. Marcus Samuelsson's ode to African cooking, delivers on all accounts. I received this book as a gift from Q's parents, and I tried out the Curried Trout with Coconut-Chili sauce last month. The trout was super-duper easy, so I was looking forward to a bit more of a challenge with my next dish.

No challenge here, but I certainly did learn a lot about a cuisine that I'm not all that familiar with. Whenever I go out for Ethiopian food with my friends, we never have any idea of what we're eating, but it sure is good! I decided to try cooking an Ethiopian-inspired stir-fried beef stew from Samuelsson's book. He refers to it as Tibs Wett, but Meskerem in Manhattan calls it Tibs Wat on their menu, so I'm not sure what the actual spelling is. The beef (I used a lovely piece of hanger steak from my local butcher) is stir-fried with tomatoes, jalapenos, and a berbere spice blend in a spiced clarified butter known as niter kibbeh. I was interested in why the butter needed to be clarified before it was infused with the spices, and Cooking for Engineers has a lovely explanation.

The butter was insanely rich, and even though only ¼ cup was called for (it serves 6-8), I would still probably cut it down. It did add a fantastic flavor... just a flavor that went straight to my ass. Because the stew was stir-fried, the tomatoes and jalapenos don't get that stewey consistency, and instead retain their fresh crispness, which provides a nice counterbalance to the spiciness of the berbere. If you make the spiced butter and berbere mix ahead of time (I didn't), this dish comes together in minutes. It probably took me around a half hour. Not too shabby!

This dish, like a lot of Ethiopian food, is traditionally served with injera, the sourdoughy, spongy flatbread. Since I wasn't feeling ambitious enough to tackle this at the time, I just served the stew with some mashed sweet potatoes. However, Samuelsson does have a rather idiot-proof recipe in his book, so I definitely will try my hand at injera in the coming weeks.

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