East African Cuisine

April 1, 2011  By: Africa Adventure Consultants

We are fortunate to have an amazing array of fantastic spices available to us through our local Savory Spice Shop here in Denver. They have enough spices to transport you around the globe when you visit their stores, or you can take a trip through their online collection to get what you need for your own culinary trip to East Africa.

The following article is by Kate Wheeler, the Lead Trainer for the Savory Spice Shop franchisees and who is a wealth of food and spice information. She shares some of this knowledge with us with this article reprint from Indulge in Denver magazine. Special thanks to the Savory Spice Shop for permission to reprint the article and recipe.

I love African cuisine. The complexities of this ancient cuisine come from the many worldly influences based on countries that have conquered the land and controlled the spice routes. Africa is a vast continent with varied flavors and ingredients; because of this we will have to focus on a specific region. In this article I would like to discuss East African foods with a main focus on the mysterious fare of Ethiopia.

Eastern Africa was one of the first Indian kingdoms, controlled for a thousand years resulting in much trade of spices and slaves. As a result, Indian spices like fenugreek, cumin, cardamom, and cloves are widely used. Cloves were brought to the island of Zanzibar where they flourished; which is not where the majority of the world’s supply comes from. Because Eastern Africa was located at the crossroads of the spice route, indentured servants were brought down from India to help build the railroads to help transport goods. These servants brought with them a unique style of preparing food, which has highly influenced modern East African cuisine.

In East African cuisine there is a large focus on chilies. Once they were brought over from the New World it was discovered that they grew especially well in the hot, blistering sun of Africa. There is an old Yoruba proverb that I read in A World of Curries, by Dave Dewitt and Arthur J. Pais, which reads, ‘The man that eats no chile is weak; while chile is the staff of life.’ Scorching hot capsicums are used to make Piri-Piri from Mozambique, a fiery spice mixture used as a main seasoning and a condiment. The same can be said for Berbere, a deeply flavorful and almost painfully hot blend from Ethiopia.

Traditional Ethiopian curries differ from Indian ones in the fact that they do not use turmeric (a rhizome that makes Indian curries yellow). A similarity between the two is the use of lentils as main and side dishes. One of my favorite traditional Ethiopian meals is a W’et (a curry and stew like concoction) but with fiery additions. My favorite is Doro W’et, a hot chicken stew served with hard boiled eggs. The eggs work to cool the dish down perfectly.

Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten with the right hand. Diners tear off pieces of injera (a sourdough crepe made from teff flour) and use it to pick up pieces of stew, lentils or vegetables. The food is served family style on one platter that is covered with a large piece of injera.

I hope I have inspired you to try this fun and incredibly flavorful food. If you would like to try Ethiopian food before attempting making it, visit an Ethiopian restaurant in your town. Because all the food is served on one platter, you can sneak some of your companion’s goodies and try a multitude of dishes. Have a culinary adventure!

Next week, we will feature Kate’s recipe for Doro W’et so that you may try your hand at this exotic and delicious dish in your own kitchen.

Article and Kate Wheeler photo reprinted courtesy Kate Wheeler and The Savory Spice shop, remaining photos courtesy Africa Adventure Consultants

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