Africa has an awful lot of countries, so I’ve divided them into five regions: North, East, South, West and Central. I started with Eastern Africa because it was New Year’s Eve, and I was going away with some vegetarian/vegan friends, and I wanted to cook for them. It turns out East Africa, including the countries of Burundi, Comoros, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, has an enormous diversity of vegan dishes that are all pretty different and super tasty. East Africa and North Africa seem to be the best represented in Brisbane in terms of restaurants, so I had actually been to an Ethiopian restaurant before and tried different types of curry and injera bread, and therefore vaguely knew what I was aiming at. One thing I knew for certain is that if an East African dish is spicy, then you’re going to cry.
Bayenetu with injera
This was the New Year’s Eve feast, and it went down pretty well with herbivores and carnivores alike. It started off with me dubiously beginning my hunt for teff flour, which I had never even heard of before. I have since found that it’s sold in a local supermarket and a local health store, who knew? Teff is a type of grass native to East Africa, whose seeds can be ground up into a dark earthy flour. Injera bread is made by adding teff flour to water to make a runny slurry (appetising, no?) and adding salt, then letting it ferment at room temperature for about a day. The fermentation is a necessary step, because there is no yeast or rising agents in the mix, just flour, water and salt, so the fermentation gets it bubbly, light and breadish. I started the fermentation in glass and then transferred the mix to metal to transport, and it seemed like that made most of the bubbles pop, and I had to leave it a while longer to get them back. I’m not sure if it was the metal or the transferal that did it, but I think glass would be safer. Something about glass being nonreactive is tickling the edges of my hippocampus from undergraduate chemistry practicals? Anyway, after a day fermenting, the teff smells pretty earthy, but not unpleasant (at least not to my sensibilities). It kind of reminds me of the smell of blood and bone fertiliser, but not the nasty bits? This isn’t sounding appetising, perhaps I should stop. Rest assured, the final product is very delicious. After fermentation, you just fry little pancakes of the mixture in a skillet, and they get spongy and bubbly and light and delicious. Bayenetu just means a collection of meat-free dishes, and mine included atilt wot (cabbage, carrots and potatoes in turmeric sauce), azifa (green lentil salad), gomen (sautéed leafy greens), Inguday tibs (mushroom curry), mesir wot (red lentils in berbere sauce), fasolia (green beans and carrots), kik alicha (yellow split peas in turmeric), beetroot and potato salad, buticha (chickpea and lemon mash), timatim salata (tomato salad) and a green salad. A lot of the dishes use spices/flavours like garlic, onion, tomato, capsicum, turmeric, ginger, jalapeños and berbere. Thanks to my friends for helping me to rescue the injera and also taking such a professional photo (they have a fancy camera, not just an old iphone…).
Samaki wa kupaka
If a part of the world has a coastline, you can be pretty sure seafood will come into their usual diet somehow. East Africa is no exception, evidenced by this whole grilled snapper. I made it with a tamarind and coconut sauce that went incredibly well with the delicate fish flesh, and also made a salad and roast mixed root vegetables. I choked on a fish bone when I was a kid, so although I’ve always loved the taste of fish, I’m a bit phobic about the bones. I like cooking whole-fish though because, if you have a basic understanding of piscine skeletal anatomy, you can predict exactly where bones will be and how to avoid them. I also think it’s easier to tell when whole fish isn’t so fresh, so it’s usually simpler to find really fresh specimens.
Sambusas are made with a crisp spring roll-like pastry wrapped around a filling, often spiced brown lentils (garlic, onion, cumin, cardamom, coriander etc). I generally prefer not to deep fry things for a number of reasons. First, it’s obviously not the healthiest way of cooking, second, I don’t do it enough to reuse oil, so it feels like a huge waste of oil and plastic, third, it messes up my kitchen and makes everything smelly, and fourth, it’s a tad frightening and I’m pretty sure I’m going to burn myself badly one day and/or start a grease fire. However, deep fried things are undeniably tasty, so I decided to shallow-fry these as a compromise. They turned out pretty well, except for that it was hard to seal up the pastries completely and some oil got in. I don’t mind the taste of oil, but the main issue was that a lot of the spices from the lentils were leeched out by the oil, probably because they’re fat-soluble. As a result, they were a great texture and taste, but a little blander than I expected, so I would probably increase the amount of spices if I were to make them again.
This is a stew with chicken and boiled egg, spiced with a lot of berbere. Berbere is a spice mix from East Africa that’s very hot and usually gives dishes a strong flavour and red colour. It includes spices such as chilli peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek. The inner boiled egg was a nice cool contrast with the spicy stew, and it all went very well with injera bread and leftover salads.