Today, I took a little holiday. I read a book — like I used to do when I was a kid, back when the best thing about our house was the bookshelves brimming with all sorts of wonderful new worlds, ideas, escapes. The book was fantastic; I highly recommend it. Greg Mortenson’s work made me realize that the one thing I can do with all this education is figure out how to pass it on to those who might not have the opportunities I have had. How exactly I’m going to do this, I’m not quite sure — I suppose it’s something to think about over the next year, as I finish up my work here.
Dinner was simple and easy — fitting for the laziness of the day. I just threw a couple of chopped and well-rinsed leeks into a pot with a tablespoon or so of oil, sauteed until soft, and then added in 3/4 c. or so of red lentils, a tablespoon or so of berbere (I like it spicy), and sauteed for a bit. A cup of chicken stock (vegetable stock or water would work, too), a cup of water, a 14 oz. can of spicy cherry tomatoes (regular tomatoes would be fine), a spoonful of labneh (a Turkish yogurt cheese — use greek yogurt as a substitute, or nothing at all; the soup will still be good), a quick stir, and a low simmer for 10 minutes or so was all this soup required. I didn’t bother garnishing mine, but you can throw a teaspoon of yogurt and some scallions or a bit of chopped parsley on top for a pretty effect.
Now, I’m off to fill detectors. Even on lazy days, work is never complete…
As much as I dread winter, I tend to do my best cooking then, when the warmth of the oven is welcoming, and work keeps my fingers warm and occupied in the long months before spring arrives and frees me from the cold. When a snowstorm hits, and all the town is back from scavenging like madmen for food to sustain them through the long hours before the streets are cleared, I tend to choose something warm and spicy and new to spend an afternoon making. On such days, I don’t mind grinding a thousand spices by hand, or trying out something that just might work, if only I give it a try.
These afternoons are more fun when I don’t have everything I think I need. When I’m missing a few ingredients, I’m forced to improvise, to think about what each ingredient does to the dish, and to figure out how to achieve the same effect with what I have at hand. I get to have taste tests, and run around the kitchen, searching for some forgotten spice or obscure ingredient that all of a sudden seems essential to the finished dish. These eureka moments are quick and satisfying, unlike science, and that, perhaps, is why such experiments are so frequent in our household. James and I both come home after a long struggle with some obscure problem or another, and create new ones: ones we can discard or change as we see fit, with only the judgement of our tastebuds to concern ourselves with.
This meal is the outcome of one such experiment, and was my first attempt at cooking Ethiopian food at home. An impending snowstorm cut my shopping trip short, so I made do with the ingredients I had at hand, and was mostly happy with the results. My mock injera was a semi-disaster (though edible enough), so I won’t share the recipe here, but the chicken stew (doro wett) was spicy and complex, without being overwhelming, and the cabbage dish was sweet and subtle. The pair complemented each other surprisingly well, balancing sweet and spicy, rich and wholesome. Both are worth trying out, especially if you’re craving hearty winter fare like I am. And yes, you can skip the berbere. It won’t be quite the same, but I think the stew and cabbage will be satisfying nonetheless.
Recipes after the jump.
Filed under cabbage, chicken, chili, comfort, Ethiopian, lentils, main, onions, soup, squash, stew, Uncategorized