Ethiopian Cuisine for Cook the Books

One of our few getaways together this summer was a quick trip to Colorado during the first part of July.   We went to spend time with our favorite “blondies,” the nieces (ages 6 and 9).   What cuties!

On our last evening there, the BiL and the girls treated us to a special dinner in Denver.   My brother-in-law knows that we like adventurous food so he took us to one of their favorite places, the Queen of Sheba. Even though we are adventurous foodie souls, he gave us a few warnings about the place:   (1) It’s in a strip mall; (2) It’s on Colfax Ave.; and, (3) It takes a while to get your meal.

I responded with the following:  (1) Sometimes great food is in nondescript locations; (2) I have no preconceived ideas about Colfax Ave.; (3) So, everything is made from scratch as you order it, right?

I was dead on with the last comment.  Nothing is made until you order it.

Service was great, the food was delicious and we so enjoyed watching the “blondies” dive in to the platter of food.  I think we went through five orders of Injera (traditional Ethiopian flat bread).

We started off with an appetizer of Sambussa (a spicy, lentil stuffed turnover), then moved on to our platter of food including Shiro WatTikil Gomen (a cabbage and potato dish that I only got a smidgen of because the youngest niece was inhaling it), Kik Alicha (yellow split pea stew), and some meat dishes.

I was most taken by the vegetarian fare here although everything was tasty.   I also had some great spiced tea.

Enough about our trek into Ethiopian cuisine and our nieces but let’s easily segue into the current reading selection for Cook the Books, a bimonthly cooking book club.


For this round, Rachel from The Crispy Cook is hosting Yes, Chef! by Marcus Samuelsson.


Rachel’s selection came at just the opportune time for me to experiment with Ethiopian cooking and try to recreate some of our favorite dishes from that meal.

Samuelsson’s memoir reminded me a lot of The Apprentice:  My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin.   Both books are an honest telling about a chef’s passion for food and life.   Both chefs do not hesitate to highlight their mistakes and shortcomings as well as a commitment to their careers and the lifelong love of food.

Chef Samuelsson was born in poverty in Ethiopia (in 1970 or as he later finds out, 1971) during which his mother, sister and the infant Samuelsson contracted tuberculosis.   His mother sacrifices her life and treks to the nearest hospital on foot (over 75 miles) to find treatment.   He and his sister survive.  His mother does not

The siblings are not separated and are lucky enough to be taken in by one of the hospital nurses who finds a loving Swedish couple to adopt them.    You probably already know this part of his story though as Samuelsson has become a staple on television and has obtained celebrity chef status.

I did not know about his reconnecting with his father who he had been told was long dead.  He experiences his birth country and the cuisine when he returns to Ethiopia (after almost 30 years) to meet his very much alive 80-year-old father and eighteen half-siblings.   These experiences AND my own experience at Queen of Sheba stopped me looking any further for inspiration.    I would recreate an Ethiopian feast.


I am linking to other recipes for the feast but am including a couple of recipes here:  how to make Mi’tin Shiro  (because it was crazy hard to locate) and Shiro Wat (because I loved, loved, loved this dish).

Easy Mi’tin Shiro (seasoned ground chickpeas)
Original recipe found here.  

1/8 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. ground black pepper
3/4 t. dried basil
1 t. fine sea salt
1 1/4 t. ground coriander
20 pods of cardamom*
1 3/4 t. ground fenugreek seeds
2 1/2 t. ground ginger
2 1/2 t. garlic powder
3 t. red pepper flakes
2 T. paprika
6 T. onion flakes (I used dried shallots.)
1 cup garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob Red Mill’s Garbanzo and Fava Flour.)

I was freshly grinding most of my spices and seeds like the allspice, nutmeg, coriander, fenugreek and the cardamom seeds.   Since this recipe also called for red pepper flakes and the dried onion, I threw this all into the food processor to mix and to also ensure that all of my spices got ground up as fine as possible.

*I removed the seeds from the cardamom pods and then ground them.     If using already ground cardamom from the store, use 1 1/2 teaspoons.

Now, you are ready to make some Shiro Wat.

Shiro Wat
Based on recipe found here.  

1/2 c. (plus possibly more ) canola oil
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 T. tomato paste
2-3 c. water (more if needed)
mit’in shiro (See recipe above. About 1 1/2 cups if you can find this pre-made.)
salt, to taste

Heat oil in a large deep skillet.   Cook the onions until soft then add the minced garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Add the tomato paste and mix well.  Stir and cook for a few minutes.  Add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Add the mit’in shiro powder slowly and stir briskly (preferably with a whisk) to remove any lumps. Add more water or oil as needed to achieve the right consistency.   Add salt if you desire.

You can tell when the Shiro Wat is ready when it gets very thick and pops, almost like a porridge.  (Be careful as it will bubble and pop like a cauldron.) The oil will also separate and rise to the top so whisk before serving.

I love this stuff.  I could eat it by the spoonful.  I think that I made mine a bit too thick and will add more water next time.   This makes about three cups.


The Sambussa are the turnover looking dishes and the Shiro Wat is the red dish in the middle. The Injera disasters are on the left.


I also made some Sambussa (you can find a great healthy version here).   I made a dip for the Sambussa  with about a cup of Greek yogurt, a bit of lemon juice and olive oil, garlic, and cilantro (in the orange dish above).   My Sambussa was baked but the filling was spot on with what we sampled in Denver.

I ordered the teff flour for the flatbread early but didn’t practice making Injera  until I made this meal (and at the last minute for CTB) . I attempted it (recipe found here) but I obviously need more practice.  I am sure that Samuelsson’s first attempts were much better; he had an expert teaching him in the older woman from Addis Ababa on his first trip to Ethiopia.


First attempt. Disaster.



Second attempt. Still not good.



Sort of okay. Not like the restaurant.

Hopefully, practice will make perfect (or at least better than these).

My intent was to make Tikil Gomen (you can find a recipe here) because I wanted to perfect the dish for the nieces.   This, my friends, did not get done before the deadline but I can tell you that I will be making this meal again and experimenting with other Ethiopian recipes because I love these spice combinations.  I ordered Berbere spice along with the teff flour and I can’t wait to use it in something.  Although I didn’t use the Berbere in any of these dishes, I ordered it as an homage to Samuelsson.  He speaks so lovingly about the spice and I cannot wait to use it.

If I have inspired you (through Chef Samuelsson) in any way and you would like to cook an Ethiopian Vegetarian Feast, please check out this most helpful link as well.

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Please join CTB for the October/November round as we read The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen).   We are partnering with Food ‘n Flix in November when the film adaptation of the book (starring Helen Mirren) will be featured.  Maybe I will try my hand at making Naan then.



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