Heavy Meals: Ethiopian Spread

A while ago, I tried making injera bread. It went ok.

I still had some teff flour left, though, so I decided to go ahead with the second batch. I took the advice in the comments section (how anyone finds this obscure blog, I have no idea) and used a different recipe that ferments longer. This one called for making a starter and also incorporates regular flour in addition to the teff.

Then I figured, maybe I should just try and make a meal of it. What could go wrong?

T iqur Qarya Awaze (That Green Stuff)

Injera is often served with a spicy green sauce. I based mine off these instructions. I stir fried two green bell peppers and two jalapeños in a generous helping of canola oil, along with one tablespoon of minced ginger and another of minced garlic.

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Once the vegetables were suitably mushy, I drained the oil and put them in a blender with a handful of minced cilantro and a splash of water. I didn’t have any holy basil, so I sprinkled in Italian seasoning instead. Close enough.

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After I tasted the sauce, I felt like it was missing something. I poured out some water and poured in little white vinegar. Better. Then I squeezed in some lime juice because the sauce is green and limes are also green, so it seemed like they should be together. I scooped the sauce into a bowl, covered it with foil, and stuck it in the fridge for later.

Injera, the Second Batch

First, I poured a cup of teff and a cup of water into a pot and covered it with a lid. Then I left it to sit on my counter for three days.

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Before fermentation

I opened the lid only occasionally to scrape off the mold and give the mix a good whiff. It smelled well, like something that’s been growing microorganisms for several days. I did sprinkle in about half a teaspoon of yeast at one point, just to help it along.

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After fermentation

Everything went according to plan. I had a three-layered starter, as per the recipe said I should. The night of the third day, I added another cup of teff and kneaded the crumbly dough until my hands started cramping. It took many, many washes to get the odor off my skin. Then, I added in enough water to get a thin batter and stirred it well.

The next morning, about twelve hours after the previous step, I poured the batter into a blender. After the dough seemed uniform enough, I blended in a cup and a half of flour and a teaspoon of baking soda (since I didn’t have self-rising flour), plus more water.

The mix was allowed to rise for about five hours. Once it started to settle down (and stopped leaking all over my counter), I put it in the fridge for an hour.

Now that the batter was chilling, it was time to start on the mesir wat.

Mesir Wat, Al Dente

I don’t love cooking lentils. They take too long. That’s why the same jar of yellow lentils has been in my cabinet since 2014. Since one of the common dishes to eat with injera is mesir wat, it seemed logical to try it.

First, I rinsed and boiled a cup of yellow lentils (you’re supposed to use red, but y’all know I never follow instructions), scraping the foam off the top as they cooked. While that was happening, I fried the injera in my skillet, salting the bottom of the pan to help encourage the bubbles, “eyes,” to develop. This injera was smooth and fairly rubbery.

After the lentils had been cooking for about fifteen minutes or so, I stirred in two small cooking onions (chopped), two tablespoons of minced garlic, one tablespoon of minced ginger, and two Thai red peppers. The recipe called for berbere, but all I had was a bag of unmarked Indian curry mix. I think it was for some kind of dal. Possibly. Well, I already used Italian seasoning and Thai peppers, so might as well get all culturally-diverse up in here. Into the pot you go, India. Melting pot ‘Murica!

I cooked the lentils until I got bored. They were still a bit al dente but, honestly, I like them better that way. Then I garnished the wat with chopped onion, cilantro, and lime juice.

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The finished product. It was mediocre, like my life.

I’d say I captured a good 60% of the Ethiopia experience with this spread. A gentleman’s F. It took entirely too long and I think I’m put off breads that use starters forever now (that includes you, sourdough). Somehow, eating something that I’ve watched/smelled ferment (and grow mold) on the counter was just too much. Neither my brother nor I died, so I’m assuming it’s non-toxic, but I’m adding injera to the list of fermented foods I’m not interested in eating, right along with sauerkraut and kimchi.

No more four-day meals. Sheesh.

External Content: “Fake Food.”

Your Fridge Might Be Full of Fake Food

This article by Time magazine is interesting, and I think I’m going to give the book a read. The entire situation demonstrates exactly what I meant in my Soylent post in regards to humans “fetishizing” food. That there’s a market for misleading consumers into thinking they’re getting fancy whatever for a low cost tells me that we have a problem as a species with obsessing over what we shovel into our gaping maws. Not that this absolves the manufacturers of guilt; spreading misinformation is pretty scummy. Both parties are equally at fault.

The title of the book might be catchy, but it bothers me, too. There is no “fake” food. It is either food or it isn’t. What does that title even mean? Like I said, I need to read the book.

If I seem dismissive or judgemental, then you’d be correct in that perception. I push myself to eat foods I don’t particularly like, and I try not to incorporate foods that require a lot of effort into my diet, except as “experiments.” The reason is partially because food obsession is mentally unhealthy and frankly, hedonistic. There’s no benefit to being addicted to anything, and that includes food.

I’m also perfectly aware that whatever I eat essentially amounts to dead biomatter. A path of death and destruction follows in my wake because I choose to exist. Butchers lose fingers. Modern agricultural practices kill birds, small mammals, and insects. People die preparing food. It isn’t a pretty picture, and no amount of garnish can hide that truth. How can I take pleasure in that?

If you are going to eat, it seems to me like you should be worthy of all this horror. I don’t think I am, so I eat no more than I have to. Maybe that reduces the harm I cause, maybe not. The more I eat, the more blood on my hands, even as a vegetarian. My cats alone represent hundreds, probably thousands, of dead animals. I choose to keep them around because I obviously value their lives more than the lives of the fish and chickens that went into their meat paste. But, the difference between me and the cats is that they are innocents. They didn’t choose to be here. It’s not their fault.

It makes me wonder, am I worth dying for?

Update: I’m taking a look at the book and, indeed, it’s as I suspected:

When you’ve eaten something that lingers in your memory and leaves you craving more, when you’ve had one of those sublime meals where you lick your lips and exclaim, “Yum!,” you’ve probably just tasted Real Food.

Source: Olmsted, Larry. Real Food Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating & What You Can Do about It. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2016.

However valid his thesis is, defining “Real Food” (complete with capital letters) in sensory terms is Food Hedonism. See? I can capitalize things, too!

Eat the World: Rural Pennslyvania

This week’s culinary tourism topic: “Eatin’ like a PA farm kid.”

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Home-grown, home-canned pickles

Cucumbers, plucked from the garden and canned with white onions, jalapenos, vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard, peppercorns, and turmeric. Mild-flavored and decent to eat just by itself.

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Gruel and Brussels sprouts

Decades-old field corn (farmer logic, “If it’s been frozen 20 years, it’s still good”) ground and boiled into a thick gruel. Served with boiled Brussels sprouts, seasoned with salt. It’s just as disgusting as you might imagine.

Now I just need some blueberry pie and apple butter.

Baking: Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

140 calories

A tub of expired vegetable shortening. A free bag of walnuts. A complementary bag of cranberries.

I hate all those ingredients. Yet, here they are.

Also available, two cups of leftover oatmeal from the Psyllium Experiments.

Upcoming, a visit to grandmother. I can’t go empty-handed. The last piece of the puzzle.

How to combine these pieces into one, complete picture? The answer is cookies. The answer is always cookies.

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To grandmother’s house (nursing home) I go. The CZ-52 did not come along.

Note: I substituted Ener-G egg replacer for the eggs, and I didn’t have butter-flavored shortening. Instead, I sprayed the cookie dough with butter-flavored vegetable spray and hoped for the best. I also doubled the cinnamon. If you do this recipe (see the link), I recommend you reduce the sugar by 1/4, as these were overly sweet.

Baking: Ethiopian Injera

A few months ago, I went to an Ethiopian restaurant with my brother. We ordered a vegetarian platter and were intrigued by the rubbery sponge bread we tried. We were less impressed by the price. Who the heck can afford to spend 25 bucks on a glorified tortilla and a dollop of vegetable paste? Well, the point was to have a unique experience, and we did, I guess.

That got me thinking, though. Most of our recipes are based on the fact we tried something, liked it, but felt ripped off by restaurants. Vegetarian food, unless it’s highly processed and difficult to manufacture, is overpriced to the extreme. If we want a particular dish, we have to make it ourselves. I looked up the recipe for injera and, sure enough, Google delivered.

We forgot about injera for a while, until we ducked into Whole Foods during one of our evening strolls. Normally, we wouldn’t shop there. However, the two of us wanted a break in the air conditioning and happened to pass by some teff flour. Teff happens to be the main ingredient in injera.

I followed the recipe given by the website (see above link). The process had a few hiccups, but it seems to have worked out well enough. Here’s what I did:

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I poured three cups of teff flour into a bowl, figuring I’d probably mess up a few times and need extra batter with which to work. Next, I threw in four cups of water and stirred until the mixture was relatively uniform. Draping a dish cloth over the top of the bowl, I left it to sit overnight and ferment.

By morning, I noticed that nothing had happened. It seemed like it should have started rising. I added in some yeast to see if that would change anything. Almost immediately, the strange brew began bubbling. Yeast party!

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Looks um, alive.

The mixture stayed on my counter for a full day. In went a tablespoon of salt and half a tablespoon of baking powder. I sprayed a pan with some non-stick cooking spray and warmed it on medium-high. Then, I poured in a smattering of dough. I covered the pan with a lid and let it cook for a few minutes.

Problem was, it wasn’t bubbling. Injera is prepared like pancakes, sans the flipping, and is supposed to have numerous holes in it. It’s a distinctive texture. So, I figured I should add a sprinkling of baking soda. Then I spilled the baking soda. Into the batter. Oops.

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Er well, nothing I could do about it. Might as well see what happens, right?

Anyway, I decided the pan was too hot and started cooking the flatbreads over medium-low. They fried for about 3-5 minutes (small pan). Sorry, yeasties. Party time’s over.

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I ended up with…something. It had more of a cake texture than the version I’d tried, but maybe the restaurant uses regular flour in addition to teff. I know that a few recipes call for that. The gluten might be responsible for imparting a rubbery elasticity to the bread. Or, maybe I just done messed up. The resulting teff circles tasted all right, anyway, with their subtle sour, fermented flavor.

It’s not likely that I’ll try making this again, except for one last batch to use up the rest of the teff (it wasn’t exactly cheap). I’m not a huge bread fan, either. It was just something different to try out. Unfortunately, the experience also reminded me that I’m not a very good cook.

Soylent Diet: Conclusions

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Soylent 2.0

I’ve had some time to reflect on my Soylent test, so now’s as good a time as any to post my thoughts on the subject.

  • I can’t do a comprehensive budget analysis, owing to some irregularities in my schedule. It is clear, however, that Soylent’s been saving me a lot of money.
  • Soylent, in its current incarnation, creates some issues for me. I can’t live off of it. V1.5 gives me terrible indigestion and, while V1.6 is better, Soylent still leaves me hungry and seems to cause me to shed weight. Whether that’s because I suck at calculating calories or because of the digestion problems doesn’t really matter.
  • V1.6 is quite sweet. It tastes a little like a vanilla milkshake. The flavor is going to take some getting used to. This version is a lot smoother in consistency, which is interesting.
  • Rosa Labs recently announced the release of Coffiest. While I am not interested in that particular product, of more relevance is their upcoming introduction of the Soylent Bar. If you ask me, the bar can’t come soon enough. Though a nutritive beverage has its appeal in theory, I am tired of having a countertop covered in Soylent moondust.

The bags of powder are a pain to store, and having to mix it with water makes it impossible to travel with. Powder simply isn’t a convenient form in which to store food. Bars solve all these problems and, rumor has it, much cheaper than the heavy, oddly-portioned bottles of 2.0 liquid. When the bar comes out, I am switching over to that entirely.

Overall, Soylent is going to have to remain a supplement. A once-a-day meal, perhaps, except on travel days. As far as the finances go, food isn’t exactly hard to come by in America, as long as you’re not picky. I’ve eaten mostly for free this past week just by being less discriminating. People are happy to offer you free food (yes, I’ll admit to taking advantage of the generosity of others but, being broke for so long, I don’t feel particularly bad about being a toal mooch).

Anyway, that’s essentially my final judgement. I do like Soylent, but. That’s the thing, isn’t it? That ever-present “but.” I’m admittedly a little disappointed, but I should know by now that one can’t simply buy a “cure-all” for their problems. Rosa Labs will continue to refine their product and, in the meantime, I’ll have to work on fixing my own problems.