For my birthday, several years ago, my sweet, romantic hubby took me out for a wonderful Ethiopian meal. Since this dinner date was to be my birthday gift, my husband meant for it to be a surprise; but as he’s usually no better than I am at keeping things secret, all I had to do was play the guessing game long enough to gather the information to gleefully put two and two together. I really looked forward to the evening. It would be an adventurous treat for the two us, as neither one of us had ever eaten Ethiopian food, but had been longing to try it out for quite some time. Whenever we would pass “Little Ethiopia” while driving down Fairfax, in Los Angeles, we’d always say that we should try out one of these places. We were enticed by the little restaurants and grocery stores, surely holding within them a world of colorful and unique treasures, things that have always been appealing to the explorers in us. When the evening came and we arrived at the restaurant and walked into the cozy, golden and sand-brown hued little hole-in-the-wall, we instantly knew we were in for different and unique experience. We felt as if we had been invited into someone’s home, filled with the warm aromas of spices and deep, earthy cooking; and we willingly surrendered ourselves to become steeped in the sensuality of it all.
Our intimate little dinner was a scrumptious sampling of savory, thick “wats” we wanted to try, both meat and vegetarian, which were served side by side on a large platter with a unique flatbread. We savored what was in front of us, enjoying the freedom to eat with our fingers, using the tasty flatbread to scoop up theses various rich stews and earthy grains offered. In between mouthfuls, we’d play the little guessing game that we so often play when we’re gushing over good food, trying to guess the ingredients in the dish: “what are those warm spices that we taste?” “What ingredients created the texture, sort of melting away into the background?” The exploration of something new makes my little gears turn in anticipation of getting into my kitchen to make my own version of the meal I’ve so enjoyed. The idea of capturing that essence that I find in a dish is what excites me. Inspiration through sharing our uniqueness with one another is the gift we give each other.
While enjoying our intimate little dinner for two, I felt a fullness of heart and gratitude that there are people who are enthusiastic about sharing their cultures and culinary history; people that graciously offer a place for curious souls like myself to explore and appreciate the flavors of life anew. They freely give away not the treasures that money can buy, but those that are inspiring and beautifully haunting via the string that connects all human hearts. For both my husband and I, eating is so completely engaging, so interactive an experience. When we taste the food of a culture that is new to us, it seems as though our senses are even more heightened than usual. We feel a bit like babies tasting something brand new, without any expectation, except to be nourished. We, as human beings, seem to enjoy placing ourselves into one another’s hands to receive what is being offered us, and this in turn creates in us that desire to reciprocate, also. Life sure is precious, isn’t it? And the part that food plays in it all, wonderfully surprising! We all must eat -this is an obvious commonality. But it’s the methods and ingredients familiar to our cultures, coupled with our individual backgrounds, that are the tools we use to describe ourselves to one another so eloquently.
It wasn’t long after my birthday dinner that I began to long for a dish that was reminiscent of that tasty meal that we so enjoyed at that restaurant in “Little Ethiopia”. I wanted to create my own rendition of a hearty beef stew influenced by a variety of the ingredients I found in this culture’s cuisine, blending some of those earthy qualities into one simply prepared, yet unique meal. What I found that I created was not a replica of any one specific dish, but a fusion of the most comforting components: beef, vegetables, warming spices, rich sauce and a savory sweetness. My hope is that in some small, humble way, it be a reflection of my admiration and appreciation for what others are willing to bring to the table of my life.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Spicy Beef and Peanut Stew with Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas and Tomatoes and Scallion Brown Rice
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*The spiciness level in this dish is about a ‘medium’ when prepared as below; decrease or increase the amount of red pepper flakes and cayenne, according to your desired level of spiciness!
Spicy Beef And Peanut Stew With Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas and Tomatoes
Ingredients: (serves about 6)
1½ pounds of beef stew meat, cut to bite size pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled, quartered and sliced
4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
¼ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pinch cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon, heaping, tomato paste
2 tablespoons peanut butter
½ cup ground peanuts, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed to bite size
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 cup chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped, divided use
4 cups beef stock, hot
• Salt/pepper to taste
2 tablespoons green onion, sliced for garnish
-In a small bowl, toss the cubed beef with the ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper; heat a large pot over medium-high heat, and add the oil and butter; once melted, add the beef and allow to brown for a few minutes.
-Once meat is browned, add the sliced onion, garlic and ginger, and stir to combine; next add the red pepper flakes, pinch of cayenne, cumin and cinnamon, and stir until fragrant; once fragrant, add the tomato paste, peanut butter and ½ cup ground peanuts, and stir to combine; next add the sweet potatoes, carrot, chickpeas, one of the chopped Roma tomatoes and the hot beef stock and stir to combine; bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and cover with the lid askew, and allow to gently simmer for about 1 hour 45 minutes, or until meat is very tender. Stir occasionally to keep stew from burning on bottom. Once stew is through cooking, add the remaining chopped Roma tomato and stir; keep warm.
Scallion Brown Rice
Ingredients: (serves about 4-6)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
1 ½ cup brown rice
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups water
-While stew is cooking, in a medium pot set over medium-high heat, add the oil and the green onion and allow to sweat for 1-2 minutes; add the brown rice and stir to combine, allowing rice to ‘toast’ in the onion and oil for about 2-3 minutes; add the salt and the water, bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 40 minutes or until rice is tender.
-Add a portion of the Scallion Brown Rice to a bowl or plate, and top with a generous ladle of the Spicy Beef And Peanut Stew; garnish each plate with ½ tablespoon of ground peanut and ½ tablespoon of the green onion.