hile Melbourne is working itself into a frenzy over burger joints and izakayas, there is a quiet newcomer to Australian cuisine, sitting patiently on the inner city’s fringes, on the cusp of an explosion of its own.
Ethiopian food is still finding its footing amongst the other international cuisines jostling for space in a hungry city, but the experience is unlike anything else.
Think generous, colourful lentil dishes that are bursting with flavour; rich, tender meat stews that simmer for hours; and warming spice blends of turmeric, ginger, cardamom and chilli.
But what truly makes this cuisine such a deeply fulfilling affair is the fact that it is literally made to share. The stews are ladled together on top of an enormous, soft, fermented flatbread called ‘injera’, which acts as a communal, edible plate.
Resembling a pancake, the injera’s sponginess absorbs the flavours brilliantly and its sour, tangy taste acts as cool relief from the spiciness of the stews.
Once served, everyone eats with their hands (right hand only, if you want to be polite) by tearing off a piece of injera and using it to scoop up a bite-size parcel of stew.
“Part of sharing on one tray is having a feeling for others,” explains Enushu Taye, head chef at The Horn in Collingwood. “When you share with people, you actually think for others.”
Speaking of sharing, Taye was kind enough to show us how to make a common Ethiopian stew known as ‘Ater Wot’. This simple little number is truly a dish for everyone: vegan, affordable and, most importantly, absolutely delicious.
2 cups yellow split peas
1 ½ red onions
½ cup oil
1 tbsp crushed fresh garlic
2 tbsp crushed fresh ginger
1/3 tsp turmeric
2 green chillies
salt (to taste)
Cook the onions lightly in a medium pan. Stir constantly, as the onion should not become overcooked and change colour. After about three minutes add the oil, garlic and ginger. After about two minutes add the turmeric and a drop of water.
Give it another couple of minutes, then add the yellow split peas. Remember, like lentils, the peas need to be washed really thoroughly before using them. Rinse them under cold water 5 or 6 times, or until the water stops being cloudy, then drain.
Add enough water to just cover the peas. The peas need water to cook thoroughly, so just keep adding water as needed.
Cook for 15 minutes, or until the peas are properly cooked through.
Slice the green chillies in half long ways, right down the middle. Then add the halves (with seeds if you like a bit of heat) to the stew. Add salt to taste.
Serve over injera and share with friends. No cutlery, no washing up!
*Due to the long fermenting process, injera can be a little tricky to make at home (although definitely not impossible).
At just 24 hours notice you can pick up some delicious injera from The Horn. Otherwise there are plenty of places around Footscray, as well as the western and northern suburbs where you can buy a fresh bundle.
The Horn African Cafe & Restaurant
20 Johnston Street, Collingwood
(03) 9417 4670
Lemat Injera Bet Ethiopian Traditional Bread Shop
157 Nicholson Street, Footscray
(03) 9689 0006
Mesnoy Injera Bakery
77 Irving Street, Footscray
(03) 9687 8855
Cigarette Express Convenience Store
109 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy