Cooking with friends is a monthly series in which my dearest friends are inviting me into their kitchens and teaching me their favorite recipes. These bonding experiences deepen our friendships, expand my palate, and enhance my culinary skills by sharing a timeless practice: cooking.
Working for a large multinational company is not always as bad as some people make it out to be. Of course the 9 to 5 schedule, the politics, and the bureaucracy are annoying and exhausting, but there are a lot of perks that counterbalance these obvious disadvantages. Things like access to the latest technologies, working with the smartest people in the industry and cultural diversity are just a few that come to my mind. By far the favorite part of my work is getting to interact with people from all over the world and learning about their culture. When working in such environments you inevitably get to learn about what to avoid doing when interacting with others and you learn to be more tolerant. You learn not to take things personally and to accept that cultural differences exist and they are completely fine. For example, just because Europeans like myself are more direct doesn’t mean we are rude. That’s just who we are and each culture has its norm. We are different and that’s what makes this world such an amazing place.
I've got to meet Ame on my first day of work here in Austin. He was the one who introduced me to the small Romanian group of engineers that had already been working in town. My first impression of him was great. I knew he understood the struggle of moving to a completely new place and knew exactly how hard it was to leave everything behind and start from scratch. Then came the first project we worked on together. He was my mentor. He annoyed me with all kinds of questions that I thought were insignificant and at one point I thought he was just picking on me, but then I realized that he was just like me: a perfectionist. He wanted me to understand why some things were happening the way they were. Basically he was trying to make me a better engineer. Then he moved to a different group and I was pretty sad to see him leave. The sadness didn’t last too long though, because soon thereafter I joined the same department. Even though now we are in different groups, we still interact on a daily basis and every morning when I walk to my desk I see him greeting me with his big smile, asking me about my love life.
I’ve known Ame for four years now. The two words that always come to mind when I think of him are smiling and curious. His joy is contagious and no matter how bad your day is he’ll brighten it. He is also genuinely interested in everything- from work to your personal life. Ever since I started my blog, Ame has been one of my most loyal readers. If I was away and skipped a post he would walk over to my desk and remind me that I need to write. When I told him about my idea of starting a monthly series called Cooking with Friends he got more excited than me about it. He told me he would share a few of his family’s recipes with me and have me over to his house for lunch so he could introduce me to his boys.
He is the one who introduced me to Ethiopian cuisine. He took me to his favorite Ethiopian restaurant and introduced me to Winnie, an equally happy and smiley Ethiopian lady who happens to have the best Ethiopian restaurant in Austin called A Taste of Ethiopia. We went there for lunch and we talked about the Ethiopian way of living. I learned about how important religion and family are in their culture. He told me the story of how he met Hanna, his beautiful wife. When he saw her for the first time at a church event he knew she is the one before even talking to her. I was blown away by his sincerity and I could see that he was so proud of that moment. Hanna and Ame now have three extremely cute boys Ezra, Luke and Nathan. Ame and Hanna shared their family's Misir Wot and Beef Tibs recipes with me. For now I’ll only post the Misir Wot one, but keep an eye on the blog because their Beef Tibs recipe is also going to feature soon.
If Hungarians have paprika, Chinese have 5 spices, Japanese have shichimi togarachi, Ethiopians have berbere as their most commonly used spice. It’s the flavor backbone of Ethiopian cuisine- a combination of chili, garlic, ginger, ajwain and a medley of other spices. It has a very specific and intense flavor and, if used in large quantities, will make your dish extremely spicy. It’s easy to recognize it due to its bright red color and fiery taste.
Ethiopian food culture is defined by hospitality and abundance, and Ame, Hanna and the kids made us realize that from the moment we stepped foot in their home. Ethiopian cuisine is not as fancy as let’s say French or Japanese. It’s more of a home-style cooking just like my own Eastern European cuisine. What Ethiopian cuisine excels at is transforming simple ingredients like lentils, spinach and cheap cuts of meat into elevated dishes that seem a lot more complicated to cook than they actually are. Ethiopian cuisine is built around heavily season meats (beef, chicken and lamb) and vegetable stews called wot served on Ethiopia’s national bread called injera. Injera is a spongy flatbread made out of fermented Teff grains. It resembles sourdough bread in flavor, only that it’s a lot more sour.
Ethiopian food is served atop injera on a platter and is meant to be shared. A few dishes are served at a time and are eaten with your hands using pieces of injera to scoop up each bite. This makes eating a very intimate experience. Ame and his family made the experience even more interesting by serving us Ethiopian coffee at the end of the feast. His family has a farm in Ethiopia and every time he goes home he brings some of the best coffee beans his family grows. Hope you enjoy Ame and Hanna’s recipe!
Ame and Hanna's Ethiopian Lentils (Misir Wot)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
- 1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 2 TBS vegetable oil (or Ethiopian niter kibbeh)
- 1/2 medium-sized onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 TBS berbere (more for spicier dish)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Place lentils in a small bowl and rinse vigorously with cold tap water 2 or three times. Cover with water and let them soak for about 10 minutes.
- In a medium sauce pan heat oil over medium-high heat. When the oil easily slides across the pan add the onions and garlic. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes until the onions become translucent.
- Add 1/4 cup of water and cook for another 3 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Add berbere, stir well and cook for 5 more minutes. Add a tablespoon of water if needed.
- Drain the lentils and add them to the pan along with the salt and the rest of the water.
- Bring to a boil, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Let it simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring every now and then. You're done!
- Rinsing the lentils under cold water helps reduce the likelihood of heartburn.
- According to Ame, the traditional Ethiopian way of sautéing the onions is by first cooking them with a bit of water. The oil is added when the onions are halfway cooked. We tried the recipe both ways and found that sautéing the onions in oil gives the best flavor.
- Berbere and injera can be found in ethnic stores. Injera can be stored in the refrigerator for a week. It also, reheats well in the microwave.