My Citizens! I am writing this particular post 41,000 feet in the air, winging My way in comfort to the beloved Northern region of Europe that is My spiritual homeland! While most of the continent bakes in 100 degrees of heat, it will be a most pleasant 60 degrees or less where I am headed in the furthest expanse of Ultima Thule.
The food shall (of course) be the usual Scandinavian fare, but My palate remains in Africa and craving this delectable and spicy Ethiopian vegetable side dish of kik alicha – curried yellow peas! As such, it shall become the 4th in My planned 7-recipe exploration of some of Africa’s finest dishes (at least IMHO!)!
As it happens, Ethiopian cuisine is one of My all-time favorites and there are many recipes from this spectacular recipe canon already here on the blog, but there remain many delectable options to explore with TFD Nation – including this one!
There is a great dichotomy in Ethiopian cuisine, much like Indian, in that it is rather schizophrenic in its enjoyment of both rich meat and dairy dishes along with pure vegan dishes!
I found a fascinating explanation as to why Ethiopians are so fond of both meat and vegetarian dishes in this (excerpted) article from eastbayexpress.com (there are a LOT of Ethiopians in the California Bay Area):
Before coming to America, the veggie combo was better known as nai tsom migbior yetsom beyanetu, which translates from Tigrigna and Amharic (the dominant languages in Eritrea and Ethiopia, respectively) to “fasting food” and “fasting of every kind.”
Although the average Eritrean or Ethiopian couldn’t tell you exactly how these fasting rules came to be, at least 40 percent of the countries’ respective populations are Orthodox Christians — many of whom abstain from meat and animal products for as much as two-thirds of the calendar year.
As a result, fasting, or tsom, is an intrinsic part of life. In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Abeba, for instance, it’s not uncommon for Orthodox-owned businesses such as butcher shops to close on fasting days, and for cafes to not stock milk and restaurants to opt for a tsom-only menu.
In Eritrea and Ethiopia, tsom food is abundant in vegetables and legumes that address the fasting diet’s protein gap. When you order yetsom beyanetu at a restaurant there, the star of the platter is the timtimo or misir wot, a lentil stew with a berbere and onion base.
The typical platter might also include kik alicha, a split-pea stew that’s rich in garlic and ginger; hamli or gomen, which are uncomplicated collards greens; and shiro, the chickpea-flour stew that sheds its indulgent butter and minced-beef supplements during fasts.
Beyond these standard items, restaurants in Eritrea and Ethiopia will add whatever other vegetable dishes they have available as a part of their tsom platters. But here in the East Bay — and at most Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurants in the U.S. — the veggie combo almost always consists of the same four or five classic dishes.
This lack of diversity might be explained, in part, by East African diners’ general fondness for meat and butter. At Enssaro (357 Grand Ave. A, Oakland), chef Nesanet Tamirue says that Eritrean and Ethiopian customers “only order tsom food when it’s tsom.
When they go out to eat, they order kitfo and tibs.” And Mebrat Hagos, Cafe Romanat’s (462 Santa Clara Ave., Oakland) chef and co-owner, jokes that her Eritrean and Ethiopian customers come to her restaurant when they’re sick of shiro: “If they order four dishes, they order all meat dishes.”
You see this focus on meat built into the very history of Ethiopian restaurants in this country. In 1978, Mamma Desta, the first Ethiopian restaurant to gain prominence in the US, opened in Washington, D.C.
The restaurant’s first newspaper review shows that Mamma Desta didn’t serve a single vegetable dish at that time. Two years later, when Blue Nile, the East Bay’s first Ethiopian restaurant, opened in Berkeley, an Oakland Post review only speaks of meat and fish dishes served on injera.
It’s unclear when the veggie combo that American diners know today first became a fixture on restaurant menus.
But Sheba, New York’s first Ethiopian eatery, listed yestom beyanetu — i.e., “fasting of every kind” — as a combination platter on the restaurant’s original 1979 menu, according to archives compiled by University of Pittsburgh professor Harry Kloman.
(Reached by phone, Sheba’s founder, Araya Yibrehu, recalled that in those days, some customers walked out because he refused to provide utensils for food meant to be eaten with one’s hands. Those who returned ended up becoming regulars.)
The region around modern-day Ethiopia was exposed to various exotic spices from India, chile peppers from Portugal, and ginger from East Asian countries as far back as the 1400s. Indigenous to Ethiopia, grains such as sorghum, millet, teff, and wheat grow well in the temperate climate and are used in many Ethiopian dishes.
Ethiopian cuisine today is a blend of introduced spices and food items coupled with indigenous grains and proteins. The profile of Ethiopian food is very distinct. It marries together earthy, spicy, tart, sour, and pungent flavors. A base seasoning, used in a wide variety of savory and spiced Ethiopian dishes, is a blend of spices known as Berbere.
Most Berbere seasoning is made with chile peppers, fenugreek, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and coriander. Ethopian dishes are also often paired with a sour fermented teff flour bread called Injera. Injera is rolled into a large flatbread and the food is served on top of it.
When eating a dish involving injera, no utensils are involved. Simply tear off a piece of injera, scoop up a bite size amount of food, and then enjoy the flavors.
Eating Ethiopian food is a social event, a shared experience that includes everyone around the table and usually involves eating with ones hands thanks to the use of injera as a sort of utensil.
In traditional Ethiopian meals, you’ll find circles of injera rolled out like a natural plate, atop which are arranged a smattering of spicy stews, cooked vegetables and salads. Following the meal, if you are VERY, VERY lucky, you will be privileged to participate in the famed Ethiopian coffee ceremony (coffee is native to the country!).
As noted in this excerpted article from spruceeats.com:
The lengthy Ethiopian coffee ceremony involves processing the raw, unwashed coffee beans into finished cups of coffee. It begins with the preparation of the room for the ritual.
First, the woman who is performing the ceremony spreads fresh, aromatic grasses and flowers across the floor. She begins burning incense to ward off evil spirits and continues to burn incense throughout the ceremony. She fills a round-bottomed, black clay coffeepot (known as a jebena) with water and places it over hot coals.
Then, the hostess takes a handful of green coffee beans and carefully cleans them in a heated, long-handled, wok-like pan. Holding the pan over hot coals or a small fire, she stirs and shakes the husks and debris out of the beans until they are clean.
Once the beans are clean, she slowly roasts them in the pan she used to clean them. During the roasting, she keeps the roast as even as possible by shaking the beans (much like one would shake an old-fashioned popcorn popper) or stirring them constantly.
The roasting may be stopped once the beans are a medium brown, or it may be continued until they are blackened and shimmering with essential oils. The aroma of the roasted coffee is powerful and is considered to be an important aspect of the ceremony.
After the hostess has roasted the beans, she will grind them. She uses a tool similar to a mortar and pestle. The “mortar” is a small, heavy wooden bowl called a mukecha (pronounced moo-key-cha), and the “pestle” is a wooden or metal cylinder with a blunt end, called a zenezena. With these tools, she crushes the beans into a coarse ground.
By the time the beans are ground, the water in the jebena is typically ready for the coffee. The performer removes a straw lid from the coffeepot and adds the just-ground coffee. The mixture is brought to a boil and removed from heat.
At this point, the coffee is ready to be served. A tray of very small, handle-less ceramic or glass cups is arranged with the cups very close together.
The ceremony performer pours the coffee in a single stream from about a foot above the cups, ideally filling each cup equally without breaking the stream of coffee. The dregs of the coffee remain in the pot. This technique prevents coarse grounds from ending up in the coffee cups.
In some cases, the youngest child may serve the oldest guest the first cup of coffee. Afterward, the performer serves everyone else. Guests may add their sugar if they’d like. Milk is not typically offered. After adding sugar, guests bunna tetu (“drink coffee”), then praise the hostess for her coffee-making skills and the coffee for its taste.
After the first round of coffee, there are typically two additional servings. The three servings are known as abol, tona, and baraka. Each serving is progressively weaker than the first. Each cup is said to transform the spirit, and the third serving is considered to be a blessing to those who drink it.
The procedure described above is common across Ethiopia. However, there are some variations. These are the most common ones: As the coffee begins to crackle as it is roasted, the hostess may add cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves to the mix.
Restaurants (especially those in the West) may use an electric grinder to speed up the grinding process. Although the coffee is typically unfiltered, some hostesses may filter it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the grounds. In the countryside, coffee may be served with salt instead of sugar.
In some regions of Ethiopia, butter or honey may be added to the brew. Snacks of roasted barley, peanuts, popcorn or coffee cherries may accompany the coffee.
Today’s particular recipe is in point-of-fact a true unicorn here on the blog, as longtime members of TFD Nation are amply aware of My aversion to most vegetable-centric recipes!
This one is an exception to My palate, due to My lavish use of niter kibbeh (Ethiopian curried butter – ንጥር ቅቤ) to add a silken texture, as well as chicken stock in place of water in the cooking process.
However, Ethiopians would typically use water for this ‘fasting dish’ or you could also use vegetable stock to add more flavor while keeping it vegetarian. You can also replace the niter kibbeh completely with an equal amount of vegetable oil flavored with the potent Ethiopian spice blend known as berbere if you wish to make this dish vegan.
Needless to say, you’re going to need a few special ingredients to make this recipe, but all are easily found online and will become beloved ingredients you will use throughout your cooking regimen!
Dried split yellow peas of excellent quality may be found here, while you can find all your needed Ethiopian ingredients at my go-to Ethiopian supply store – Brundo (which ships nationwide).
There, you will find niter kibbeh (if you choose not to make my homemade version), ird (wild Ethiopian turmeric), tikur azmud (wild nigella seed) and korerima (black cardamom).
Citizens – this is by no means a difficult recipe to make, and it is indeed delicious in the extreme (especially made My way). I have every confidence this will become a new favorite recipe at your home table, and hope that you see fit to try it forthwith and with alacrity! 😀
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Ethiopian Kik Alicha Curried Yellow Peas – ክክ አልጫ
- 1 cup dried yellow split peas, soaked overnight in water or vegetable stock or chicken stock (TFD uses chicken stock, but water is traditional), liquid discarded
- 2 medium onions, very finely-chopped
- 3 peeled, de-seeded and very finely-chopped chopped Roma tomatoes
- 2 tsp. fresh ginger paste
- 3 tsp. garlic paste
- 1/3 cup niter kibbeh (substitute vegetable oil flavored with Berbere spice blend or paste to make it vegan)
- 1 jalapeno pepper, halved lengthwise and de-seeded (leave seeds in if you enjoy the heat)
- 2 tsp. ground wild turmeric (ird) – regular turmeric may be substituted
- 2 tsp. Kosher salt or to taste
- 1 tsp. freshly-ground nigella seed (tikur azmud) – very optional TFD addition, omit for original recipe
- freshly-grated korerima (false cardamom) to taste
- 3 cups water or vegetable stock or chicken stock + additional as to soak dried peas and while cooking (TFD personally prefers chicken stock, but that is just me. Use water or vegetable stock to make it vegan and authentically)
- Cilantro sprigs and minced red chili peppers for garnish
- Place the split peas in a bowl and rinse thoroughly. Boil the split peas until soft in water or vegetable stock or chicken stock (TFD uses chicken stock, but water is traditional). Note that you may need to add additional water or stock during cooking if the peas seem to becomes to dry. Drain and discard excess water or stock, if there is any, and reserve peas.
- Add the onion to a medium skillet over medium-high heat with some of the niter kibbeh / coconut oil mix and cook until just beginning to soften, for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Once the onions begin to soften, add the remaining niter kibbeh mix and the tomato, and reduce the heat to medium-low to simmer.
- Add garlic, ginger, optional nigella and turmeric. Cook for 12 minutes, then add the cooked split peas into the onion mixture, and add additional water or stock (if needed) to achieve a very thick, but stirrable consistency, and reduce the heat to low.
- Add Korerima to taste and the jalapeño pepper halves and mix it well. Season with salt. Simmer another 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve with injera.
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praise to the generalissimo for elevating one of my favourite cuisines!
truly, ethiopian is a wondrous food culture, and a fave in our household. i cherish memories from her early childhood to now of my daughter and i dining in ethiopian restaurants and cooking it at home. too many kids grow up eating “nuggets” and similar dreck, barely exposed to their own real food, let alone the wealth of global cuisine. kik alicha is truly elemental food and i look forward to making your version.