Today’s eating adventure: Ethiopian injera. Learning about what is eaten around the world gives us a chance stimulate all of our senses. Before starting, make a promise that everyone will at least take one bite of the new food. It is fun to explore new foods with our kids- sometimes with new ingredients, sometimes combining old ingredients into new plates. An added benefit is that the more kids are exposed to new flavors, the more likely they are to try new foods. Let’s stimulate our little ones’ taste buds Ethiopian-style: injera.
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Before starting, take out your world map and locate Ethiopia. Notice where it is in East Africa, a little north of the equator, near the same latitude as Venezuela and the Philippines. What do you think the weather is like in Ethiopia? What kinds of plants might grow at this latitude? Now look at a physical map of Ethiopia. Are there more mountains, desert area, or green forests?
One grain that has been growing in the highlands of Ethiopia for more than 3000 years is called teff. It’s name might come from teffa, the Amharic word for “lost,” because it is the tiniest grain in the world. Don’t let the size fool you though- it is one of the most nutritious grains with tons of protein, more calcium than milk, more iron than beef, and it is even gluten-free!
Ethiopians make a type of thin pancake-type bread called injera by first mixing teff with water, then leaving it to ferment for a couple of days, and finally cooking it on a large, round skillet called a mitad. Like a sponge, injera is filled with air bubbles and perfect for soaking up the juices of whatever “wot” (stew) is served on top. Ethiopians traditionally eat injera at every meal, sometimes from a platter on a communal, drum-shaped straw table called a mesab. Injera takes place of the plate, forks, and spoons as it not only holds the food, but it broken off and used to scoop up bite-sized portions.
The next time you’d like to take your family out to a restaurant, why not try a completely new cuisine, like Ethiopian? Not only would you be able to try different foods, tastes, and textures, but your family could try to eat as Ethiopians do- by scooping the meat and vegetables up with their injera. If you’re not near an Ethiopian restaurant and you’d still like to try injera, check out the book You Can Make Injera, by Teresa Paprock for simple and thorough instructions. It is a challenge to make it authentically at home because of the fermentation process- which has been perfected at the right temperatures and altitude of the highlands of Ethiopia. I have a friend who will write a post soon that will help us make our own injera!
In Ethiopia (as in the above picture- the woman have it in colorful wraps) many people purchase their injera instead of making it at home. Injera can be bought around the world at small Ethiopian supermarkets and restaurants in many metropolitan areas.
Here are some manners to talk about when eating your injera:
* Before sitting down, everyone should wash their hands with soap. Remember that you’ll be eating with your hands and sharing one communal dish. When in some Ethiopian restaurants, a waitress will bring over a pitcher of warm water and towels to wash your hands at the table.
* Attempt to keep your fingers clean by using the injera to scoop up bite-size portions of your food.
* Try to eat with your right hand, as the left hand is used for other purpose and is considered unclean for eating (especially when sharing a dish with the table!).
* It is considered a high honor if a host uses injera to hand feed her guests; this act of friendship is called a goorsha. “The larger the goorsha, the stronger the friendship.” I remember when I was in Ethiopia adopting my son, and he fed me a scoop of chicken wat. All of the women around us smiled as they explained he was showing me respect:).
* Taste the sauce first, and then eat the meat. Remember you are sharing with everyone, and eating the expensive meat first might look a little greedy.
* If you see that someone does not have any injera within reach, either pass them fresh injera, or turn the platter to make sure everyone gets to taste each dish.
* Ethiopians are very generous, and will continue to fill your plate. Don’t try to finish everything because only a bad host lets their guests see the bottom of their plates. Enjoy!
Have you ever tried injera or any Ethiopian food? What did you think? It is one of our favorite cuisines!