Go Fork Yourself: Unencumbered Chicago Dining – Ethiopian Restaurant

By RiotGirl

Exotic Coffee. Amazing and complex spice combinations. An Omnivore’s delight.  Today, I travel to Ethiopia. Easy to do. Staying local to my neighborhood. WestridgeyEdgewatery Uptown in all of its Rogers Parkitude. Good eats to be had. Good coffee to be had. No fork necessary.  Traditional Ethiopian fare is often served on a giant piece of  injera. Injera is, itself, one of the national dishes of Ethiopia. It is a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. Traditionally made out of teff flour, injera is also what you use to scoop up any number of delicious stews and pastes and get them into you.

Teff flour is gluten free…so all you “wheat belly bandwagoners” can sleep safely.

Ah yes. The gluten free trend where everything from whole turkeys to tofu are labeled as such. In regard to that, I have to quote my friend, my brother from another mother, Vince, who is a full time chef de cuisine and father of two: “Gluten free? Are you kidding me? Unless you have a serious wheat allergy or have Celiac Disease – as told per physician and not self diagnosed – going gluten free does absolute Jack [Expletive Deleted] for you, yourself and your health”.

Eat responsibly in moderation, people.

Tangent: I’ve asked as many representatives in the health industry about it. Problem is Americans typically are looking for a quick fix for diets to make themselves feel better. I could soap box this all day because I still struggle with culinary happiness and appearance. The brass tacks are: portion control, moderation, consistency.

Gastronomy – if done correctly – will make you feel full and satisfied and not like a bloated river corpse. It is a science. An ancient science. It works. We (and I say “we” because I, too, am guilty of this behavior. I’m not just hanging all food fadsters out to dry here) just all never truly eat that way.

We are always on the go and eating simultaneously. Meals were meant to be eaten…leisurely. With or without your children who may or may not be eating the same thing it’s totally fine.

That’s the true reason why we all complain of gastrointestinal discomfort…we eat each meal as if someone were going to take it from us. We eat our food in large gulps in public while walking places. Stop yourselves.

We are always so tempted to extract things we think are the problem in our diets. Eating becomes punitive. “I’m fat, or whatever, so I’m not going to eat gluten anymore.” No. It’s just not true. There are other reasons why you feel terrible. Be kind to yourself and tell yourself truths about your lifestyle before you start negatively imposing rules that could potentially be damaging to your health without consulting a physician.

Back to my trip to Ethiopia. So. My New Year’s Resolution to myself was to actually enjoy meal time. As a self employed designer, I spent a whole year eating in my car. Like a starving lunatic would literally suck down food as if it were all oysters on the half shell. Scandalous. Thirty Pounds later – I now have to correct that nonsense. My promise to myself was to eat…like humans should eat and not as if it were a competition or if I were a rat in a labyrinth. Food should be eaten – not snorted.

The restaurants I frequent are Ras Dashen and Ethiopian Diamond. I love them both for completely different reasons. The former is a quieter more intimate setting. The latter is more jubilant (e.g. you’re more likely to see traditional dancing and music here). The former is where I go on a date with my husband. The latter is for when I bring my family in. I do love them both equally. Love love love with a side of loving love. But it’s Ras Dashen that has the best versions of my favorite dishes. The first is Yebeg de berbere. It’s a traditional Ethiopian lamb stew that most who go to Ras Dashen have nicknamed “spicy juicy”. It holds up to that. It is a wonderful dish.

I cannot always get down there to get it though. So. I now make it myself.

That’s right, people. It can be done. In the slow cooker. On a Monday. In the Summer. In the Winter. Because you need it. All the yes.

It is possible because of a delightful little market called “Kukulu Market”. Kukulu Market is located on Broadway in Edgewater. You want to support local? Here’s your chance. They make it super easy to cook your own Ethiopian dishes – all the prep work is done and prepackaged for you! Tah-Dah! (That was a trumpet sound not a name for another dish)

Two ingredients you need for Yebeg de Berbere: Niter Kibbeh (or also Nat’ir Qibe or Nitter Kibbeh) and of course, Berbere. If you don’t have those…it’s not Yebeg de Berbere. It’s not Ethiopian either.

Niter Kibbeh is a wonderfully fragrant clarified butter. Berbere is a dry powdered spice combination. Each could have up to (depending on the recipe or person from whom you got your recipe) eleven spices each. So. It is much easier, especially if this is your first go at it, to just purchase the Niter Kibbeh and the Berbere from Kukulu Market- but for you hardcore foodies who want to do your own Niter Kibbeh…here you go (This recipe comes from thekitchn.com). Chef Marcus Samuelsson has a Berbere recipe that is delicious – this is from his website. If you want to feel good about spices, support an artist and want to do it yourself in the privacy of your own home (who would blame you. good food is naughty)- here are some options to do that on Etsy.

Me? The first time I tried to cook it – I just wanted to taste right. I was too nervous to do all of that spice sauteing and drying and straining myself. Nothing tastes worse than a burned spice. Seriously. Your whole palate can be destroyed by one overly medicinal spice screw up. I mean gastronomy is a science but it shouldn’t taste like a cleanser they use clean the scientific instruments. Truth.

Like in many authentic cuisine concoctions I make for the first time – I trust the professionals. I went to Kukulu. It’s small and very heavily stocked. I brought a list and showed it to the lovely man behind the counter. I may have even muttered “I want to make this” or something. It’s kind of intimidating to be in there and I have A.D.D. so I was looking all around at the cool stuff they have in there and almost forgot my original mission. He is a lovely happy man who likes to help people….so he directed me to the wall of spice (I wish I were making that up. It’s a wall of spice blends. It’s amazing). I got the Berbere and the Niter Kibbeh.

And then. I noticed…the entire shelf of homemade injera. Made by someone’s actual mamma or grammie. Legit. Real. Injera. For ME. So, yeah. I got that too.

Kukulu Market is cash only. Fear not the sticker prices, my people. Keep in mind two important things, world traveler: you are purchasing artisan spices hand crafted by actual people who live in your neighborhood; and these items will last you for at least five whole stews. At least. So paying $7 for a spice is totally worth it to me. Especially if it saves me 20 hours of food prep.

Got a curiosity about this cuisine but can’t commit to a whole meal? You can have lunch portion tastings of many traditional Ethiopian dishes (and real freakin’ Ethiopian coffee) at the Royal Coffee Shop in Rogers Park. I went there with a gal pal of mine during lunch hours and the food, coffee and service were great. Oh the coffee. Now….I like robust coffee flavored coffee. I don’t always get into the mochachockalattayaya of “Buckies”. When I want coffee, I drink it black and strong. (Place whatever innuendo you want to here. We’re all secretly twelve. I get it)