If I had to sum up what’s been happening in my kitchen in the past week, I wouldn’t even need a whole word – I could reduce it to the letter T. T for teff and T for tagine. T for tonight, when I ate homemade injera with chickpeas, Swiss chard, and onions pictured above. Injera is a traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean flatbread made of fermented teff flour. The flour is simply mixed with water and left to ferment a day or so. Fermentation happens quickly thanks to a yeast that lives on the grain. It’s then fried on one side like a pancake. When bubbles appear, the pan is covered until the top is done – no flipping anxiety required. TC and I were won over by the coffee stout smell of the injera. Though I recently discovered a good recipe for misir wat, a lentil stew served with injera that was a favorite in my college days, tonight’s topping materialized from the odds and ends in the fridge that needed to be used up.
Teff is poised to be the next you’ve-never-heard-of-me-but-I-don’t-have-gluten-and-am-super-nutritious food. With the exception of basmati rice, I only buy grains that are grown in Europe. I don’t eat quinoa because I don’t want to play a part in jacking up its price in South America so that people for whom it is a staple food can no longer afford it. The teff flour I cooked with was grown in Germany. That’s fewer food miles than the basmati rice.
But what’s that I see here? Is it a tagine cozy or a hat holder for my freshly knit linen sunhat that will protect me from the fierce rays of sunlight I hope to encounter next week at the shores of the Baltic Sea? Last weekend’s culinary experiment involved cooking with an authentic Moroccan glazed tagine, a gift from friends who took a road trip to Morocco. A tagine is cooked over low heat until the food is well stewed. The earthenware bottom and lid heat up and radiate warmth toward the ingredients from all directions. The vegetables get a good steam bath.
My Very First Tagine
Note: The tagine (base and lid) should be soaked in water for about an hour before being used, especially if you cook on a ceramic top stove like mine. Otherwise there is a risk it will spring. The bottom should be liberally doused in olive oil to season it.
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp piment
2 Tbsp raisins
3 small zucchini, sliced
2 small heads of cauliflower, cut into florets, stems diced
1 cup cooked chickpeas
Heat the tagine base on low heat. Layer the bottom with olive oil. When it’s warm enough, sauté the onions and garlic for ten minutes. Add the spices and raisins and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients. Put the lid on it and forget about it for an hour or two. Then peek to see how the cauliflower is doing…
When everything smells good and is cooked as you like it, serve with the grain or pseudograin of your choice. We tried it with Austrian-grown amaranth.
So that’s the kitchen report. Moving from the vegetable to the animal kingdom, it’s been a good season for animal offspring in our vicinity. The birdfeeder-turned-nest of Parus major is so full of young birds chirping up a storm that the parents can’t really fit in anymore – they just stick their heads in and drop off juicy white caterpillars. It’s very loud when the door is open, but it’s a pleasant kind of loudness. Last week we also noticed that the spider hanging out on the ceiling above our dining room table has all her eight hands full too.
Spiders remind me of the goddess Athena, my favorite Greek goddess, and the children’s book Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, who is quoted as saying, “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Hope you can improve or enjoy the world today – or both!