Nutrition is the key to a healthy life and the cornerstone of any culture’s cooking. If our food lacks nutrition, we get sick and inevitably parish. This discussion will examine the food types indigenous to a very misunderstood country in Eastern Africa: Ethiopia. Boasting diverse landscapes filled with rolling hills, great rivers and majestic wild life, Ethiopia is the site of many of the most ancient and famed human fossils ever discovered, and as the world’s oldest surviving continuously-sovereign nation state, is rich in tradition and cuisine. Sadly however, most Americans today associate the country primarily with the devastating famine that ravaged its people in the mid-eighties. When I tell someone I am going to an Ethiopian restaurant, I often get a response like, “I thought they don’t have food”, as if for thousands of years the inhabitants of this bountiful country, who filled it with ancient, world-renown monuments, churches and cities, were bereft of sustenance. The idea is absurd, but most of the people who make such statements had their views shaped by media images of famine victims and so have given little thought to the customary dishes of their land. In the following passages I will endeavor to expose my audience to the cornucopia of creative culinary combinations comprising Ethiopian cuisine and to research providing evidence that the traditional Ethiopian diet meets nutritional requirements and ensures overall health.
Ethiopia’s number-one agricultural resource is cereal grain. Teff, barley, wheat, maize, finger millet, oats, and rice make up 85% of Ethiopia’s crops. In order from greatest to least, the country’s remaining crop production includes pulses, like beans, lentils, and fenugreek; oilseeds such as linseed, sesame, flax and safflower; vegetables including a variety of cabbages, peppers, Swiss chard and tomato; root crops like beetroot, carrots, ginger, potato and garlic; fruits such as banana, papaya, guava, avocado, lemons, mango, orange and pineapple, then, finally, coffee, a huge export from Ethiopia and central to a traditional ceremony that is practiced to this day (Agricultural Sample Survey 19).
Now that we’ve covered the fundamental ingredient sources, I will now discuss some major Ethiopian dishes in more detail, starting with the staple of most meals, Injera, a type of flatbread traditionally made from teff and millet. The batter is slightly fermented then cooked on a large skillet to a spongy texture similar to a crepe. Many Africans traditionally eat in communal settings with many people at one table eating from one main dish. Injera is the base upon which other foods are served and the bread is then torn away piecewise, to be used as a utensil for scooping, dipping or picking up the proteins and vegetables. Traditional Injera is whole grain, and contains calcium, protein and fiber, as well as iron --if threshed on the ground-- while the probiotics generated during the brief fermentation aid in digestion. (DK)
Ethiopia has many economical resources that offer a variety of fruits and vegetables to the mesob, a traditional wicker dining table. Fruits that are common to the country are listed above; other fruits are now being cultivated such as strawberry, kiwi and pawpaw. All these fruits are nutritionally dense and linked with good health. Vegetable dishes commonly include tubers, such as white and sweet potatoes, green beans, onion, collards, carrot, garlic, capsaicin peppers and cabbages. Often vegetables are prepared into their own dishes since Christians in the country have over 200 days of fasting from meats. Common vegetarian meals are fosilia -- a green bean, carrot and garlic dish-- and misir wot, a red lentil and onion stew. Many legumes from chickpeas to yellow splits are prepared into fantastic dishes like mildly spiced kik alicha and the above-listed misir wot. Chickpeas are pulverized and stewed into shiro (Selinus).
All of these dishes have...
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