Monthly Archives: February 2009

Recipe: Fossolia

Fossolia is a delicious green bean dish. Like many other Ethiopian dishes, there are countless ways to prepare them. Kiddy’s version has a strong tomato flavor, giving it an almost Italian essence. I don’t know if I’ll admit it to her, but I ended up eating the leftovers over pasta and thought it went together perfectly. It’s very easy to make and doesn’t require any special hard-to-find Ethiopian spices, so it’s an ideal recipe to start with if you are new to Ethiopian cooking.


2 onions, chopped
1/3 c. canola oil
3-4 oz. tomato paste (about 1/2 of a 6 oz. can)
4 cups green beans, ends snapped off and cut or snapped into halves or thirds
3 carrots, cut into stick-shaped pieces
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
minced ginger and garlic (as much or as little as you’d like- I use about 2 tsp. each)
salt, to taste

Start by cooking the onions on medium heat for about seven minutes, or until the onions begin to turn translucent and soften. Add the oil and continue cooking for several more minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and allow several minutes for the ingredients to simmer together. Add the green beans and carrots, stir well, and cover. Continue cooking on medium heat for 10-15 minutes, then add the tomato, ginger, garlic, and salt, and simmer until all of the vegetables are tender.


Recipe: Missir Wat

Missir wat is a hearty lentil dish with a rich berbere flavor. This is a great dish to bring along to a potluck or family gathering. It’s a nice introduction for newcomers to Ethiopian cooking, easily doubles for a large crowd, and is one of the easiest recipes to make. And at around $3 per batch, it’s inexpensive. You can turn the heat up or down by adjusting the amount of berbere to your liking. I make it pretty spicy because that’s our family’s preference (even at age 2, Sula can take it like a champ!) but if you aren’t too keen on heat, definitely limit the berbere to a tablespoon or so the first time you make it. The recipe below could easily feed six. Before starting, take a look at this post that explains the basics of Ethiopian cooking- much of it applies to a recipe like this.

3 onions, chopped
1/2 c. oil
2-3 tbsp. berbere
1/2 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
3 c. water, plus extra on hand
2 c. split red lentils, rinsed well
minced ginger and garlic (about 1 tbsp. each)
salt to taste

In a large stock pot, cook the onions on medium/medium-high heat for several minutes, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften and turn translucent. Add the oil and cook for a few more minutes before adding the berbere. Add the berbere and allow the ingredients to simmer together for several minutes (berbere should always have plenty of time to cook before other ingredients are added- Kiddy told me about a word,”kulait,” for a sort of uncooked/raw flavor of berbere that wasn’t allowed to cook through all the way. I know what she means and it’s important to avoid it). Add the tomatoes and several spoonfuls of the tomato juice and stir. Then add three cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the rinsed lentils and stir to combine all the ingredients. Turn the heat to low-medium and simmer, but keep a close eye on the lentils- if the liquid has been absorbed before the lentils have softened, add more water as needed and continue cooking on low heat. Add the ginger and garlic and salt, stir well, and continue simmering until the lentils are completely tender.

Recipes: Shiro Alecha and Shiro Wat

When we were in Ethiopia we had very few opportunities to explore the city, but I did make sure I stopped into a grocery store. I purchased several kilos of spices, powders, and other unfamiliar substances with the idea that a) whatever the stuff was, I could learn how to make it, and b) it would be a lot cheaper to buy it in Ethiopia than in America. Among my bags of mystery goods were two types of shiro: plain shiro and mit’in shiro. Shiro is a flour made from ground legumes. It is not entirely clear what kind of legumes- I have heard chickpeas, fava beans, and split peas are all possible ingredients, although it seems like the menus at the Ethiopian restaurants we frequent say it’s made from chickpeas. Mit’in shiro is just like plain shiro except it already has spices added and thus has an orange color. Mit’in shiro (used to make shiro wat) is hot, but shiro alecha is mild. Adam prefers shiro wat, but I love both versions; it just depends on what you’re in the mood for!

You might notice that the recipes are virtually identical. The only difference is that the wat recipe calls for tomato paste where the alecha recipe calls for turmeric. And I use a hot pepper to add a little bit of flavor at the end of the alecha. That’s it; otherwise, the recipes are the same. If you go to an Ethiopian restaurant, check out the menu- many offer the same dishes with the choice of wat or alecha (misser wat/misser alecha; doro wat/doro alecha; etc.).

Shiro Wat

1 onion, chopped
1/2+ cup oil
2 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 c water
3/4 c mit’in shiro
minced ginger and garlic
salt, to taste
**see Notes

Cook the onions dry in a large, stirring frequently, for several minutes on medium/medium-high heat. When the onions have softened, add the oil. When the oil has heated through, add the tomato paste and mix well. Wait a few minutes, add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Add the shiro slowly and stir briskly (preferably with a whisk) to remove any lumps. Add more water or oil as needed to achieve the right consistency (see Notes below). Add the ginger and garlic and stir. Add salt if you desire.

You can tell when the shiro is ready when it gets very thick and pops (careful, it can get messy!). The oil will also separate and rise to the top.

Shiro Alecha

1 onion, chopped
1/2+ cup oil
1 tbsp turmeric
2-3 c water
3/4 c shiro
minced ginger and garlic
salt, to taste
1 jalape├▒o pepper, deseeded and sliced into thin strips (optional)
**see Notes

Cook the onions dry in a large, stirring frequently, for several minutes on medium/medium-high heat. When the onions have softened, add the oil. When the oil has heated through, add the turmeric and mix well. Simmer a few minutes, then add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the shiro slowly and stir briskly (preferably with a whisk) to remove any lumps. Add more water or oil as needed and continue cooking. Add the ginger and garlic (I actually measured the other day and I used about 1 tbsp. of each) and salt, if desired, and stir.

You can tell when the shiro is ready when it gets very thick and pops (careful, it can get messy!). Add the pepper before serving.

NOTES: I have not had to purchase shiro or mit’in shiro in the U.S., but I will have to eventually when my stock runs out. You can buy it online (fyi, the sites I’ve come across spell it mitten shouro, in case you are looking), but your best bet is to find an Ethiopian grocery store in your area or just stock up like crazy when you’re in Ethiopia. You can substitute a pureed tomato for the tomato paste in the wat. I use a lot of turmeric in the alecha because I love it, but you might want to cut back the first time you try it if you’re unsure. Same with the ginger (you can use powdered if you don’t have fresh) and garlic- I can never have too much of either of those, but I know not everyone feels the same way. The most important thing to pay attention to when making shiro is the consistency. It should be smooth and thick, but not too thick. Definitely something you would eat with a spoon (or, obviously, injera!!) and not a fork. Make sure that no lumps remain- Kidist and I had a funny shiro-making experience a few weeks ago when it came out very lumpy for some reason we couldn’t figure out. She was horrified; apparently, lumpy shiro is a telltale sign of an inexperienced cook in Ethiopia ­čÖé So just whisk like crazy when you’re adding the shiro, and add water or oil to smooth it out if it’s getting too lumpy or thick.

Utility company kills man over unpaid bill

I woke up to see this story in the news this morning. A 93-year-old Michigan man named Marvin Schur froze to death inside his home in January. He hadn’t paid his bill for four months, so the utility company installed a power limiting device in his home. The device tripped, shutting off his electricity entirely, and the man died four days after the installation. Apparently customers can reset the devices themselves, but I think we can all imagine how a 93-year-old man would be unable to make it outside in the frigid Michigan winter to fiddle around with an electronic device.

When neighbors went inside Marvin Schur’s house, it was so cold that icicles were hanging from the faucets and the windows were frosted over. Schur was lying on his bedroom floor with multiple layers of clothing, and the door of his oven was open, indicating that he had made attempts to keep warm. It appears that the World War II veteran may have been suffering from dementia, as there was enough cash lying around Shur’s house to cover his entire bill.

This man slipped through the cracks. No one had bothered to investigate *why* he wasn’t paying his bills, or if he needed some sort of assistance. I am just astounded that anyone would think it acceptable to put any sort of mechanical device limiting access to a basic need like electricity in the home of an elderly person (or any of the other fragile members of our society) and expect them to be responsible for fixing it if it works improperly. The company didn’t even bother speaking to Schur about the device- they simply installed it and left a note by the door.

The title of my post might seem like an exaggeration. But the bottom line is that if the utility company HAD been paid, this man would still be alive. They installed that device because of money. As it turns out Schur had the money to pay, but not the mental faculties to do so, but that should not make a bit of difference. People should not be at risk of dying for a lack of heat in this country, regardless of their ability to pay. I doubt that I will ever get the image of this man-dying a slow and painful death on the floor of his home, bundled in layer upon layer of clothing, wondering why he couldn’t get warm- out of my mind. And I hope that the people at Bay City Electric Light & Power company can’t, either.