Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No utensils allowed

So, right, I seem to be slacking a bit on the blogging. Okay, okay, you're right. Even in the midst of the absorbing job of developing and managing the first mobile farmers' market here in the District, there are some things that should remain sacred. I even missed the men's college basketball final this year, if that gives you any sense of the (somewhat controlled) chaos that is my life these days.

One thing that I have managed to keep up is the favorite part of my week: Tuesdays at Brainfood! I've been especially excited lately, with two special guest visits from professional chefs and the shift in focus beyond basic cooking skills to delving into the preparation of cuisine from various countries around the world. Yesterday, as I took a deep breath in an attempt to shed the stress of the workday, I opened the door to smiling student faces and a stash of unusual ingredients about the kitchen. Mmmm, yes, this was going to be good. Ahhhh....

"There will be less dishes to wash at the end of class today, since no plates, forks, knives, or spoons are allowed at the final meal," Amy began, smiling mysteriously. Students looked around at each other and a few giggled. "Yes, this week we are packing our bags and traveling to Ethiopia!" (And me without my toothbrush and pajamas. Oh. Right. Okay, so our stomachs and imaginations are going.) As Amy led us through a bit of culinary history in one of Africa's most populous and linguistically diverse countries, we passed around some of the traditional spices we would be using: berbere (an Ethiopian staple, which reminded me of a cross between cayenne and paprika; the student standing next to me suggested it smelled kind of like barbecue), cardamom, turmeric. You know, I've eaten Ethiopian food a few times -- I do live near the U Street corridor, after all, which apparently houses the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia -- but for no good reason, frankly, I'd never cooked any myself. There was much for me to learn here.

Amy and I made our way around the kitchen to help turn on burners and check in with each of the 16 high schoolers as they came together in groups to prepare pretty darn authentic Gomen (spicy stewed collard greens), Amhari (a vegan stew, loaded with carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbage), Dora Wat (Ethiopia's national dish, a chicken stew with hard-boiled eggs), and even a quick, crepe-like version of Injera (to supplement the authentic flatbread Amy had picked up at a local market).

Class ended with a feast, shared family-style, and the group sampled each of the dishes before each student steadily devoured a new favorite. Such adventurous eaters, I love it! I think Dora Wat was the most popular, though there was quite a contingent of Gomen lovers. What little bits of Amhari and Injera remained were quickly wrapped in tinfoil and stowed in backpacks and purses for the commute home.

And in the end, Amy was right: very few dishes. (Very few leftovers, too.)

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