Cookbook Review: Vegan Ethiopian Extravaganza in Teff Love by Kittee Berns, Plus an Interview with the Author!

I can’t say that my vegan cookbook collection is huge: I’m usually quite picky about adding another book to Teff Lovemy rotation because not every cookbook is set with recipes that I would be willing to make every day to justify its spot on my book shelf. One cookbook I knew right away I would be using a lot, before I even received it, is the recently published Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking by Kittee Berns. Today I’m happy to share with you my experience with cooking from Kittee’s wonderful new book as a part of Teff Love blog tour (you can see the lineup of all participating bloggers here) – and there’s even an interview with Kittee below in which she shares her favorite recipes and useful tips to get the most out of the book!

Ethiopian cuisine, and its vegan version in particular, is like one of those beautiful views that you don’t expect to see when you go hiking, but will blow your mind with its beauty and complexity once you make the right turn and discover it. (I equate hiking with going vegan here.) I’m aware of the fact that there are non-vegan dishes in Ethiopian cuisine too, but I don’t care: the plant-based deliciousness of various sauces, stews, and their traditional injera bread made from teff flour make me wonder why they even bother to have dishes with meat in it.

Interestingly, Kittee was the person who originally introduced me to Ethiopian food. A while ago, I saw the pictures of Ethiopian deliciousness, both homemade and from restaurants in Portland, OR, that Kittee was posting on Instagram, and asked her to recommend us her favorite Ethiopian place in Portland when we went there for the first time last August. She recommended Bête-Lukas, and our lives were never the same again :).

Traditional Ethiopian dinner from Teff Love - a vegan Ethiopian cookbook by Kittee BernsOne of our feasts. From top: Ye’Abesha Gomen (stewed collard greens), Ye’Misser Wot Be’Timatim (red lentils in a spicy tomato sauce), Ye’Atakilt Alicha (stewed cabbage, potatoes, and carrots in a mild sauce), with a simple salad in the center.

In case you’ve never had Ethiopian food before, you deserve to know that ‘vegan Ethiopian’ is not a modified version of their traditional cuisine but a rightfully existing part of it. A lot of people in Ethiopia belong to the Christian Orthodox Church which calls for over two hundred days of religious fasting every year. It was only logical to develop meat- and dairy-free food for those times.

A traditional Ethiopian meal features a number of stews and sauces called wot (varying degree of spiciness: kay wot are spicier and alicha wot are milder), served in small portions on top of injera bread – a sourdough crepe made from teff flour that develops beautiful cranny-like holes as it cooks. These holes soak up the juices from the food served on top in the most delicious way. More injera is usually served on the side. No forks or knives are involved here – you pick up a little bit of any wot with a piece of injera and send it straight into your mouth, or into the mouth of a person sitting next to you if you so desire.

Homemade Ethiopian injera breadOne of the many injera breads I made following Kittee’s tips

In Teff Love, Kittee provides very detailed instructions to make injera, including both the sourdough starter called ersho that takes about three days to ferment (one batch can last you for months to make many more batches of injera if you keep an eye on it), and the actual injera batter that will take another 3 days. I’ve made ersho only once since receiving the book, and have made four large batches of injera with it. I also made at least five or six batches of Kittee’s Blueberry-Cinnamon Sourdough Pancakes that she shares in the book on page 54 – the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever made! – all with the same small batch of ersho.

Kittee shares her detailed instructions to make injera over here, and continues to tweak the recipe by giving even more tips here. My injera-making tip: when baking it in a pan covered with a lid, wipe off the condensation that will collect on the bottom of the lid halfway through, so that the water beads don’t fall back in the pan and make your injera messy. This will yield the perfectly cooked crepe that will be moist on the inside and dry on the outside, and won’t stick to other crepes you pile up.

Blueberry-cinnamon sourdough pancakes from Teff Love by Kittee BernsBlueberry-cinnamon sourdough pancakes – my new breakfast obsession!

Why Ethiopian Food and Teff Love are Awesome

Here are my top reasons why making Ethiopian food following the guidance of Teff Love can be a great addition to your vegan recipe rotation:

1. Ethiopian cuisine utilizes simple, plant-based ingredients we already know and love – lentils, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, collard greens, beets, ginger, garlic, etc., plus a few that may be new (teff flour, some spices) but also come from plants.

2. Ethiopian recipes add a new flavor twist to all of the above ingredients, presenting them from a new perspective which may impress picky eaters. Rob has never been a fan of green beans or collard greens, but he was gladly eating them in Hirut’s Fasolia (braised green beans with carrot and onion in a tangy tomato-ginger sauce) and Ye’Abesha Gomen (tender stewed collard greens).

3. Don’t have some of the exotic spices? Just skip them, Kittee suggests, and make the dish anyway. The most prominent spices you can’t skip are traditional Ethiopian berbere (there’s a mini-chapter in the book about it) and turmeric – the latter shouldn’t be too hard to find in most grocery stores.

4. One of the central ingredients of all dishes in Teff Love is Ye’qimem Zeyet – a fragrant oil blend infused with various spices. However, if you abstain from using oil in your cooking, all is not lost: a lot of dishes from the book come out just fine when you skip oil. Just substitute it with some veggie broth and add an extra pinch of spices.

5. Got leftovers? You can use them as ingredients for new dishes! Kittee offers a recipe for tofu patties that call for various types of leftover vegetable dishes as one of the ingredients. Got lots of leftover injera? You can tear it into pieces and use as a main component of fitfit or firfir – a cold or warm injera bread salad that comes in endless variations.

6. Eating Ethiopian-style is a fun social experience! It’s unlikely that you’re going to make 4-5 stews, a batch of injera and a salad just for yourself (although I won’t blame you!). If you’re struggling with getting your family members to the dinner table all at once, serving an Ethiopian meal that’s eaten entirely with your hands – how fun is that?! – can be a good starting point.

Vegan Ethiopian food from Teff Love by Kittee Berns - Ye'Atakilt Alicha, Hirut's Fasolia, Ye'nech Bakela AlichaAnother Ethiopian feast in our home: featured recipes are Hirut’s Fasolia (braised green beans and carrots in a tangy tomato-ginger sauce), Ye’nech Bakela Alicha (creamy, garlicky white beans in an onion-turmeric sauce), and the above mentioned Ye’Atakilt Alicha.

7. No time to make an all-out Ethiopian-style feast? No problem! You can still use recipes from the book as sides to various other main dishes, or make some rice and top it with a nice wot. I’ve personally crossed boundaries between various cuisines many times, and added torn-up leftover injera to soups and chili.

In my exploration of Teff Love and the vegan Ethiopian deliciousness it offers, I made at least four big feasts with 2-3 stews, injera and salad, as well as used recipes from the book to make flavorful side dishes for our weekday meals. Besides the foods you see pictured in this post, I’ve also tried my hand at making Ethiopian-style Mac’n’Cheesie (a yummy vegan mac’n’cheese infused with traditional spices), Ye’Bedergan Wot (roasted eggplant in a spicy sauce), Ye’Beqolo Genfo (creamy, cheesy corn grits that became our new favorite starchy side dish), Azifa (a tangy lentil salad that made a great snack to bring to work), and a few other dishes sprinkled all over the book.

Ethiopian food is not all stews and sauces – there’s plenty of ingredients and textures to please any palate, and Kittee does an excellent job in showcasing all of the possibilities. A few of my favorites:

Ye'shimbra Duket Kita - Ethiopian savory chickpea flour pancakes from Teff Love by Kittee BernsYe’shimbra Duket Kita – Ethiopian savory chickpea flour pancake that makes a great breakfast or brunch

Ye'Diflin Misser Sambusas - Ethiopian lentil-stuffed pastries with a chickpea flour crust

 Ye’Difin Misser Sambusas – crunchy, lentil-stuffed pastries with a chickpea flour crust. I used my mom’s signature pastry folding method to make these.

Garlic Jojos - Ethiopian-style potato wedges from Teff Love cookbook

 Garlic Jojos – delicious garlicky potato wedges with Ethiopian spices. Need I say more?!

Interview with Kittee Berns, author of Teff Love

The lovely Kittee Berns has agreed to be interviewed by me for the readers of Vegan Runner Eats! Here are a few morsels of culinary wisdom from her:

Alina Zavatsky: What advice can you give to people getting ready to makeKittee Berns their first ever Ethiopian feast? What dishes from the book should they try making first?

Kittee Berns: I think the best advice I can give would be to make the seasoned oil and berbere ahead of time. Since everything stores in the fridge really well, and even tastes better as leftovers, there’s no reason to make everything at once – if you’re planning on a feast. I’d suggest starting with whatever is most appealing, or sticking with dishes that might be more familiar. The recipes that are commonly found in Ethiopian restaurants are all marked as “veggie combo classics” throughout the book, to make them easier to find.

AZ: I found that trying to make 2-3 Ethiopian recipes + injera for dinner can quickly get overwhelming, especially if you’re short on time. Are there any secrets to making the process go more smoothly?

KB: There are lots of shortcuts for making a few dishes at a time from Teff Love, but I don’t think they’re secrets! Actually, there’s a whole section in the book to help with this. Prepping garlic and ginger in advance helps a lot, as does using a food processor to mince onions. Also, the stews keep well stored in the fridge, so I’ll often just make one dish, plus salad and keep the leftovers for the following day. Then, on the next day, I’ll make up another dish to build on the leftovers – and so on.

AZ: What recipes from Teff Love are a must for your favorite Ethiopian meal?

KB: Oh gosh. This is a hard one. If I’m cooking for myself I’ll have to say Ye’shimbra Asa Wot [chickpea-flour crackers in a spicy wine sauce, p.86 – AZ], Telba Wot [a rich, spicy sauce made from toasted, ground flaxseeds, p.88] , Ye’souf Fitfit [torn injera soaked in seasoned sunflower seed sauce, p. 149] and a big salad. But I could play this game over and over again!

AZ: If it wasn’t for your fascination with Ethiopian cuisine, what other cuisine would you write a cookbook about?

KB: I’ve been holding onto a collection of New Orleans-style recipes for many years and flirt with the idea of compiling them into another zine, but otherwise, I’m not sure!

Are you still reading? Wow, you’re awesome, because now it’s time to share a recipe from Teff Love!

This is one of the first dishes from Teff Love that I made on a casual week night as a vegetable side. The combination of cabbage, carrots and onions are always a hit in my book, and the addition of flavorful spices brings the veggies to the next level. This is the dish Rob has asked for every time I was putting together an Ethiopian feast.

Ye’Tikil Gomen Be’Karot

Stewed, seasoned cabbage with tender carrots in a garlic-ginger sauce

Reprinted with permission by Kittee Berns and Book Publishing Company

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into sticks (1 cup)

½ white or yellow onion, thinly sliced (1 cup)

3 tablespoons Ye’qimem Zeyet [seasoned oil, p.25], or extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, pressed or grated (2 teaspoons)

½ teaspoon salt, plus more if desired

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

½ green cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces (7 cups)

¼ cup water

1 to 2 jalapeňo chiles, seeded, veined, and cut into thin strips lengthwise

Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Put the carrot, onion, Ye’qimem Zeyet, ginger, garlic, and salt in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or burning, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the turmeric, cardamom, and cloves and cook for 1 minute. Add the cabbage and water and stir well to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, for 10 minutes. Add the chiles, cover, and cook until the cabbage is very tender and the carrots are soft, about 5 minutes longer. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt if desired.

Per cup: 163 calories, 1 g protein, 10 g fat (1 g saturated), 17 g carbohydrates, 19 2 mg sodium, 103 mg calcium, 5 g fiber.

I hope you now have a great idea of what Teff Love is all about! Want to hear other blogger’s opinions? You can see the review by Abby from A (Soy) Bean who’s linked up in the blog tour before me, and by Bianca of Vegan Crunk who’s set to post a review next week.

Order a copy of Teff Love here, and have your own Ethiopian feast at home!

(All of the pictures in this post were taken by me except for the one of Kittee in the interview part.)

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About Alina

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.
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7 Responses to Cookbook Review: Vegan Ethiopian Extravaganza in Teff Love by Kittee Berns, Plus an Interview with the Author!

  1. Cadry says:

    What a great post! You’ve made so many delicious looking things, and I love your mom’s sambusa folding method. Very pretty! I haven’t tried the Ye’shimbra Asa Wot yet, and after learning that is Kittee’s favorite, it is going to be next on my list.
    Cadry recently posted…Blueberry Banana Smoothie + New Blog DesignMy Profile

  2. Abby Bean says:

    I keep forgetting about the chickpea flour pancake! Everything looks so luscious; great pics and loved the interview. Hooray!

  3. Chely says:

    I know it’s late but your review was comprehensive. I liked that you remarked that you could skip the oil and the only essential spices are the berbere and turmeric.
    Teff Love has become one of my favourite (and most used) cookbook of all time.
    If you are adventurous, and willing to try a different cuisine (and style of cooking), you will be awesomely rewarded.

    • Alina says:

      Thanks Chely! I also find it interesting that I found two originally non-Ethiopian recipes in this book that are now my favorite – the blueberry-cinnamon pancakes and the mac’n’cheese.

  4. Pingback: Top 5 Most Useful Vegan Cookbooks | Vegan Runner Eats

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