Got Injera ?

November 25th, 2006 Print Print Email Email

ABC 7 Chicago | November 24, 2006

Over the last 24 hours you have no doubt gorged on turkey, consumed stuffing and devoured cranberries. It might be time to eat a little lighter. ABC7′s Hungry Hound has the perfect remedy.

Ethiopian food is one of the most misunderstood cuisines in Chicago. It is a favorite of cab drivers and homesick ex-pats. It’s loaded with delicious contrasts such as spicy and mild and appeals to both vegetarians and meat eaters. The Hound headed into the heart of Chicago’s Ethiopian food culture this week to learn how to order and eat like a native.

Who says it’s impolite to eat with your hands? In Ethiopia, it’s required, and at restaurants like Ethiopian Diamond – located along a busy stretch of other ethnic restaurants in Edgewater, on the city’s far North Side – everyone eventually figures out how to do it.

“First time would be hard, but after a while it gets better,” said Almaz Yigizaw, Ethiopian Diamond.

Every platter begins the same: with a bottom layer of spongy injera bread. Fermented like a sourdough, this soft, stretchy bread is to Ethiopia, what rice is to China. Ten veggie-friendly stews make ordering tough – but try a Vegetarian Sampler: a simple salad is placed in the middle, surrounded by spicy red lentils, mild yellow split peas and chopped collard greens simmered with onions and garlic; sliced cabbage and carrots are mild, so is a string bean-carrot-potato trio, but the real star is the shimbra assa – a dough of fried chick peas resembling a fish stew. Meatier options include a spicy doro wat, or chicken stew with a hardboiled egg. A leg and thigh are marinated in lemon juice and ginger, cooked in a homemade berbere, or spice blend.

“It takes a lot of time to saute, and the taste has to come blended; you don’t taste any particular spice.”

Chicken, lamb and beef show up in the tibs combo – sauteed with peppers and onions. To eat, you simply tear off a piece of the injera, then rest it on top of whatever you want to try, even jumping from one stew to another, before turning the injera around, and then popping it into your mouth.

Wash it down with a hoppy Ethiopian beer, or some of the homemade honey wine. Dessert is as simple as destaye – thin, crispy dough stuffed with raisins, pistachios and shredded coconut. Coffee lovers will enjoy the clay pot coffee, which is roasted and ground in-house each day. Yigizaw says sampling the exotic colors and flavors of a foreign land will certainly be a delicious adventure for anyone.

“When you look at it, it’s colorful; it’s appetizing to eat it.”

As is the case with all of our “Ethnic 101″ features, when you go to the restaurant, just ask for the “ABC 7 Special Menu” and they’ll give you a condensed, translated version of only the items we have talked about.

Ethiopian Diamond
6120 N. Broadway
773-338-6100

other Ethiopian restaurants:

Blue Nile
6118 N. Ravenswood
773-465-6710

Mama Desta’s Red Sea
3218 N. Clark St.
773-935-7561

Queen of Sheba Cafe
5403 N. Broadway
773-878-2352

Ras Dashen
5846 N. Broadway
773-506-9601

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