Monday, January 25, 2016

A Foray into African Flavors

I recently became intrigued by a recipe I saw on Food52 for teff porridge.  It looked vaguely like a cereal I remember liking as a child, but gluten-free, so kinder to my belly.  And, quite frankly, exotic!  African!  So, when we ended up at Metro Market on Saturday to pick up a few things for dinner, I stopped in the extensive alternative grains section of the store and grabbed a bag of teff.  It was not until I returned home, however, that I realized that I picked up teff flour, not the whole grain, which was what the recipe required.  Not to be deterred from using this very interesting ingredient, I started looking up recipes for teff flour.  The most obvious choice was also the most intriguing:  injera.  Anyone who has eaten Ethiopian food will be familiar with this spongy bread that is served with soups and stews and is made primarily from teff flour.  Perfect!  The batter takes at least 24 hours to ferment, so I started it Saturday afternoon with a plan to eat it for dinner Sunday.  I then planned a meal around the injera, and decided upon lamb stew with ras el hanut and braised greens with pilpelchuma and fenugreek.  Neither spice blend was Ethiopian (ras el hanut is, I believe, Morrocan and pilpelchuma is Libyan), but I had both blends on hand and thought they would do well in place of the traditional berbere that I did not happen to have at home.

Flash forward to Sunday evening:  my stew and greens had been cooking most of the afternoon and smelled delicious.  My injera starter (teff and water) was in the oven in an attempt to keep it warm (I would periodically turn it to warm, then turn it off again, as the recipe said to keep it between 75 - 80 degrees); the house is 60-something degrees this time of year.  Dinner time was nigh, so I mixed up my batter, heated up my grill pan, added a generous amount of coconut oil, and poured on the batter.  I ended up with a gummy mess.  I'm not sure if it was the oil (I've since seen recipes that call for a dry pan), or the lack of enough warmth and time to really get the natural yeasts started, or the fact that American-grown teff needs a little help with leavening.  Assuming it was just a timing issue, I saved the remaining mixture with the plan to try again this evening.  We ate our stew and kale and enjoyed the wonderful flavors (and heat!! I didn't skimp on the ras el hanut and had included a large and hot jalenpeno in the stew) without sopping them up with spongy bread.

I'm very glad I branched out and tried new spices!  It is a bit ironic that I made food inspired by Ethiopian cuisine, and ended up making food with spice blends from other countries.  I will give the injera another go-round, although I'm guessing I'll need to start from scratch with more leavening agents, which will not happen tonight.  I plan on using teff flour in other gluten-free baking recipes in the future.  And, I'll keep an eye out for those teff grains, as I think porridge will be a much more forgiving use of this very interesting ingredient.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Neighborhood Advent Update

Those last few days before Christmas were a little busier than I expected, so the last Advent Event was on the 19th - 19 for 19.  I really enjoyed the experience and will try to remember to get out and explore a little more often.

Some favorites:
  • best new-to-me lunch spot:  Gaba Sushi
  • best dinner-and-a-show:  Cafe Nordo
  • best holiday event:  Holiday Ships
  • best wow-can't-believe-this-was-here-all-along discovery:  the Last Resort Fire Department
  • best art:  bicycle wheel public art in the alley
Now, perhaps it's time to think about resolutions.  I like resolving to do more, not less; focusing on the positive is much more fun and, I think, productive.  I am leaning towards ones like read more books, see more movies, and experience more art.  But, I'll get a little clearer on this and report back.  Stay tuned for more experiences in 2016; Happy New Year!