Ethiopian Cuisine In and Around Our Nation’s Capital

by Danielle Bussone

Ethiopian Cuisine is a sure-fire way to find healthy vegan foods on the road. There are 180 religious days of fasting in Ethiopia, in which no animal products of any kind can be eaten, and many personal fasting days relating to prayer and the death of loved ones means that some Ethiopians will fast up to 300 days in a year.  The cuisine lends itself beautifully to a whole foods plant-based diet. It consists of a variety of vegetable stews imbued with a unique savory blend of Ethiopian spices called Berberé. The flavors range from highly spiced red lentils to a dish of very mild carrots and cabbage stewed just to the point that the natural sweetness of the vegetables shine, contrasting with and at the same time complimenting the flavors of the surrounding dishes.

 

Ethiopian Wat on Injera

 

The stews, or Wat, arrive arranged in a circle on a platter topped with injera, a slightly sour spongy flat bread which is a staple in Ethiopia.  Injera is made of an African whole grain called Teff, which is high in iron and other nutrients. In the US there seems to be some problem getting the traditional mixture to rise properly and form the little holes, or “eyes,” in the thin pancake which give it its spongy texture.  Therefore, Teff is mixed with other grains such as buckwheat and spelt to give it the texture of authentic Ethiopian injera without the loss of flavor or nutrition.  Another piece of injera, usually rolled up in a kind of tubular shape, is served on the side. Utensils are not a part of the Ethiopian dining experience.  To eat the stews, one must tear off a piece of the injera, place it over a portion of the stew and pinch the stew within the bread.  Then just pop it into your mouth. What a liberating experience! When the side of injera is completed, then you begin eating the injera on your plate. Permeated with the juices of the stew it is often considered the best part of the meal.

 

Samboussa

Samboussa

 

The sourness of the bread and the spiciness of the lentils merge to create a sensory fusion of delectable aromas, textures and flavors which at once satisfies the palate and comforts the soul. There is something primal and instinctive about eating Ethiopian food. Like a newborn emerging from the womb to experience the first taste of  its mother’s milk, the experience of eating Ethiopian cuisine feels warm and nourishing. It feels like returning home from an exhausting journey. It feels like love.

 

Excellent Table Veg Combo

 

The Washington, D.C. area is a mecca of Ethiopian restaurants. We visited three during our recent visit to our Nation’s Capital and discovered healthy, delicious authentic Ethiopian fare in all of them, though the restaurants themselves differ greatly.

 

Sheba vegitarian combo

 

We picked three restaurants in different parts of the D.C. area (Sheba’s, Enap and Dukem’s) and Excellent Table in Blacksburg, Virginia en-route to our final destination.  Check their individual posts to see what we learned about each of them.

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