Monday, March 8, 2010

spice and everything nice

No, not from my backyard, not yet. This time of year grocery stores are practically giving daffodils away.  I got these at Whole Foods, three bunches for $5!

My friend Katie and I share a passion for discovering the diversity of ingredients and food culture here in NY City.  Katie has been exploring Ethiopian cuisine in particular for a while. She has posted her observations and experiments on her blog Party in my Pantry.  Katie's enthusiasm is infectious and piqued my interest in the culinary traditions of this East African country. A few years ago the Ethiopian born chef Marcus Samuelsson published a collection of recipes, The Soul of a New Cuisine, covering the entire African continent. I adore this book with its gorgeous photos, fascinating text and beguiling recipes. With the book as my guide I am beginning to explore the depth of cuilinary riches Africa has to offer. My current wish list is to hit one of the Ethiopian restaurants Katie has visited here in New York. How about it Katie?

The following recipe is Katie's play on a traditional Ethiopian okra dish. Not having okra on hand she substituted collard greens, with excellent results. The greens are combined with some traditional spices and chopped tomatoes to make a fragrant, hearty dish. If you want to make this more filling, add in some cooked beans like chickpeas.
I bought these greens at a local Asian market here in Queens. I have no idea what they are, I could not read the sign. They taste like mild mustard greens.  At $0.79 per pound, a true bargain! Asian markets are one of the best places to find a wide variety of fresh affordable greens.

The perfume from this dish is intoxicating. Cardamom has a very flowery, fragrant smell and is often used in Indian desserts. Pairing this spice with a green vegetable was new to me. I loved the aroma coming up from the pan as I sauteed the spice paste.

The finished dish is wonderful, full of flavor and carrying hints of life far away. The tomatoes add a tart counterpoint to the sweet cardamom-ginger spice combo. The greens keep everything really grounded. I loved this dish and will be making it again and again.

Thank you Katie!

Amanda, I am wondering if there is perhaps a South African wine that might work well with this delicious dish?

Ethiopian-Style Greens OR Bamya Alich'A
-adapted from the blog: Party in my Pantry

4 cups chopped greens (collard, mustard, bok choy, kale, spinach)
2 quarts salted water for blanching
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced red onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 fresh chilies, minced, or to taste
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped, seeded peeled ripe tomatoes or 1 14oz can
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs lemon juice

Wash the greens, trim off and discard any rough stems. Coarsely chop the trimmed leaves. Bring salted water to a rolling boil and blanch the greens for 10 minutes or until tender (the variety of greens you are using will determine how long you cook them, collards take longer than mustard greens. Taste often to determine doneness). Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and cook the onions until they are light brown. Add the garlic, chilies, ginger and cardamon and stir to combine ingredients. Cook the onion spice paste on low heat for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes so the flavors begin to combine. Taste at this point to adjust seasoning. Add the greens and cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning and remove from the heat. Finish with lemon juice. Serve hot or at room temperature.

I think of myself as fairly well-rounded when it comes to cuisine. I've been introduced to the fare of different cultures since I was a small child. However, it occurs to me now that somehow Ethopian cooking and experiences seem to have escaped my radar. Which in a way delights me - for now I have something new to discover! I truly gain such enormous elation from exploring previously unchartered culinary territories!

Deb - you are right on target with looking to wines from South Africa to complement this dish. As I have mentioned in earlier posts - wines from particular regions have an affinity for foods from the same region. Of course, pairing wines and dishes from the same countries is not a steadfast rule, but rather a simple, fun suggestion, and "experiment".

Located in the Koelenhof region near Stellenbosch is one of South Africa's greatest white wine producers, Mulderbosch. Mulderbosch produces a wonderful Chenin Blanc, referred to as "Steen" in South Africa. An excellent food wine in general, this is the perfect choice for a vegetable stew. Filled with terrific tropical fruit flavors, the wine also presents notes of ginger and cloves - a beautiful complement to the spicey flavors in the dish. The wine is off-dry (it has a slight touch of sweetness) which is really a characteristic this recipe requires.

If you are looking for something a little "bigger", I would not hesitate to recommend a Rose - like Mulderbosch's Cabernet Sauvignon Rose. With red fruit flavors on the palate, this ripe, fresh, bright wine also offers up spice flavors like nutmeg and pepper.

I am going to cook up this recipe right away! It's next on my list! Deb - thanks for sharing Katie's recipe, and Katie - thanks for the inspiration!


  1. The Asian greens are called "Gai Lan" or Chinese broccoli. The other similar looking veggie but smaller and generally lighter green is known as Yu Choy.

  2. Thank you Pam! The flower bud on the greens reminded me of broccoli rabe so it makes sense that it is from that family. I really liked the flavor and want to use it again in more recipes.


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