Preparing an Ethiopian Feast

First, the good news: You can prepare an Ethiopian meal for four in little more than three hours over the course of a few days. You can serve your guests juicy, spicy doro tibs wot, effervescent kitfo with a side of ayib, fresh lemony butecha, hearty atakilt alicha, and to cool things down a bit, azifa, a flavorful chilled lentil dish.

There is no bad news, although unless your town has an Ethiopian restaurant or market, you'll need to go online to buy berbere, mitmita, injera and gesho. And once you begin cooking, you'll work steadily for about two hours before you serve the meal: Ethiopian cooking is rather labor-intensive. You can pop a turkey or a brisket or a pork loin into the oven and forget it for a few hours. Ethiopian dishes demand your attention.

Fortunately, almost every dish is a stew . that is, something you make in one pot. But for most of the dishes, it'll be a watched pot, and you'll need to keep the ingredients moving.

In fact, the feast I propose requires some preparation a few weeks in advance, and then two blocks of time on the day of the feast. You'll need to make the azifa in the morning to let it chill for dinner. Butecha, too, must be prepared in advance to allow it to thicken as it chills.

My feast also includes a tandem of two easy-to-make and especially delicious dishes for carnivores: Kitfo, a beef dish eaten raw in Ethiopia (I'll teach you to make it yebesele, or fully cooked); and ayib, or Ethiopian cheese, the traditional accompaniment for kitfo. You'll need to make the kitfo last, just before you're ready to serve your guests. Ayib also makes an excellent appetizer at an Ethiopian meal, especially when mixed with a touch of mitmita to spice it up, or stuffed inside a gutted karya (jalape˝o pepper) to create a treat called sinig.

Most Ethiopian vegetable dishes reheat well, so advance preparation is a good way to break up your work and have more time to spend with your guests while you cook the dishes best prepared just before eating them. You can make the vegetable dishes a little bit in advance, and then let them sit in the pot while the chicken stews. Or vice verse: If the chicken is ready first, let it relax while the vegetables cook. Everything will be fine.

At Ethiopian restaurants, vegetable dishes are rarely made to order: The cook prepares most recipes in large quantities and then dishes out portions as needed, sometimes at room temperature. A lid on the pot keeps them warm, and you can always pump a little more heat through them just before serving. Ethiopian food is malleable in ways that make your dinner party easier to manage.

What follows in Mesob Across America is a thoroughly annotated, day-by-day, step-by-step guide to making your meal, beginning with a shopping list, followed by the preparations, and ending with some notes on the injera, as well as a guide to Ethiopian cookbooks.

Now let's get cooking.

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ęCopyright 2010 by Harry Kloman