Fifteen minutes. That’s approximately how long it took to find a parking space. Five minutes. That’s exactly how long it took for me to figure out that the call-to-pay-to-park parking meter was malfunctioning. Ten minutes. That’s approximately how long it took to find another parking space. America’s capital city seemed bound and determined to keep us from having our nice morning outing, but with a little perseverance and a display of some better-than-I-expected parking skills, I did it – rather we did it – my two children and I. Although I was about ready to head home before our actual outing even began, I loaded Easton and Elle into their respective seats in the tank that is otherwise referred to as a “double stroller,” lathered them up with sunscreen, gave Elle an apple with which to calm her “rumbling tummy,” and forged on. Up and down the streets of Washington D.C. on a crowded Summer morning we went. Yes, merrily and literally we rolled along, with Elle offering cheery “hello’s” and “oh, hi there’s” to every single being with whom we shared a sidewalk, be it man, animal, or statue.
“We’re hiking, Mom! We’re hiking!!” Elle declared, completely thrilled at the thought.
“No. No not really, sweetie.” I started to correct her as I slowed the stroller to a stop to grab her a cup of juice that I’d stashed in one of its thousand storage compartments.
“This isn’t really a hike at all. It’s just a walk; a walk through the city …” I explained, thinking that it was about as far from a hike as any outdoor walk could hope to be. I watched as the smartly suited business men and women passed us by, clutching their obligatory Starbucks; some giving Elle a “hello” in return. I revved up the stroller again, as the smell of diesel fuel from an idling truck parked in a nearby loading zone began to intensify. From the large gray, cracked sidewalks, bespeckled with old chewing gum to the black asphault that stretched up and down Calvert Street as far as our eyes could see, we seemed surrounded by anti-nature. Elle waved to her reflection in the large window of a shawarma shop.
“Look, Mom! It’s meat on a grill! They’re camping!” she exclaimed. “This is a really nice hike we’re taking.”
I stopped myself before trying to explain, yet again, the difference between a hike and a walk. She’s not confused here, I realized. She’s pretending. It dawned on me, as I watched Elle point at things and nod her head in satisfaction, that she was completely lost in her own world. She was getting a kick out of this “hike” that we were on and who was I to squash the make believing? As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
So we continued on our stroll and as we wandered up and down the city streets, I began to see what she was talking about. There were indeed many hike-like things that we passed on our way …
And a watering hole …
… with its very own waterfall.
And even a friendly fellow hiker …
As we rounded the corner to make our way back to the car, I realized that I had parked right in front of a restaurant where my husband and I had one of our first dates. How did I not notice this when I pulled up? I wondered this, and chalked up my lack of observational skills to the frenzied parking-paying-sunscreening ordeal that unfolded immediately upon our arrival. Nearly thirteen years ago, Lucas took me to the Meskerem restaurant, one of the most popular Ethiopian eateries in a city whose most popular genre of international cuisine is Ethiopian. A very memorable and distinctly unique dining experience, I will never forget how amused we were as we took our seats on the floor of the Meskerem and were served multiple courses of delicious stewed meats and vegetables inside the large, deep drum that was expertly filled with fresh injera bread. It was wonderful.
I positioned my phone to snap a quick photo to send to Lucas, documenting my serendipitously coincidental choice of parking spots, when I noticed the large “for lease” sign hanging in the restaurant’s front window. My heart sank. Closed?!? How can it be closed?
“Whatsa matter, Mommy?” Elle wondered aloud.
I told her this was a restaurant that her Daddy took me to a long time ago, and that it was not open any longer. There was something noticeably sad about the emptiness inside the former dining establishment, a stark contrast against the lively, colorful scene that unfolded as we walked through its commanding wooden door all those years ago. I’m not sure yet why the Meskerem permanently closed that door, maybe the rent became too high, or the customers just stopped coming … or perhaps they are simply moving to a new location. Whatever the reason may be, I drove away that day filled with inspiration and a renewed curiosity about Ethiopian cuisine. It looked like we wouldn’t be going back to the Meskerem, at least not any time soon, so I resolved to bring the Meskerem to us.
“Thanks for a great hike, Mom.” Elle said in the car on the way home.
“You’re welcome. We’ll do it again sometime soon, okay?”
“Okay. But you should wear better shoes next time.”
The recipes below reflect some of the most popular dishes that you will find all over the country of Ethiopia, the Doro Wot (stewed chicken), Misir Wot (red lentils) and Fossolia (green beans, carrots and tomatoes) being staples on both restaurant menus and in home cook’s kitchens. Largely characterized by their inclusion of the Berbere spice blend, these dishes are both inexpensive and simple to prepare. You can easily make the spice blend yourself yourself if you have a spice grinder or coffee grinder, but you can also order it online here. As for the injera bread, I think it is safe to say that your Ethiopian dining experience would be far from complete or authentic if you skip out on this thin, spongey flatbread. Used in place of utensils, injera requires only three ingredients and is easier to make than pancakes – delicious and absolutely worth doing.
For the Doro Wot (Ethiopian Chicken Stew):
*adapted from Marcus Samuelsson
4 tbsp. butter (Ethiopian spiced butter, nit’r qibe is idea here, but regular unsalted butter works great as well)
2.5 tbsp minced ginger
4 red onions, sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
4 cups chicken stock (you can use water if you prefer, as it is more traditional)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
8 chicken drumsticks
Salt and pepper to taste
4 hard-boiled eggs (optional)
DIRECTIONS: Heat the butter in a large (6-qt.) saucepan over med-low heat. Add the ginger and onions, and cook (stirring frequently), until very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for five more minutes, being careful not to let it burn.
Add the Berbere spice mixture and the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring, until everything is reduced and darkened, about 10 minutes.
Add 4 cups of chicken stock, the cardamom, and the chicken pieces. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to med-low and simmer, covered, until the chicken is done – about 45 minutes to an hour. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and continue to cook the sauce until it has reduced, about 20 more minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with the hardboiled eggs, if desired and some injera or other flatbread. Note: I like to serve extra sauce on the side as well.
For the Misir Wot (Ethiopian Lentil Stew):
*adapted from Marcus Samuelsson
1 cup red lentils
4 tbsp butter (or spiced Ethiopian butter, called nit’r qibe, if you have it)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small tomato, cored and chopped
Salt to taste
Directions: Rinse the lentils in a sieve under cold running water and set them aside.
Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.
Add the reserved lentils, 1 tbsp. of the Berbere spice mix, the tomato, and 3 cups water to the saucepan. Reduce the heat to med-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and the lentils are very tender and soft, about 45 minutes (red lentils, unlike other varieties, get very soft and mushy when cooked – this is what you want here).
Stir in the remaining Berbere and season with additional salt to taste (season generously here). Serve right away with injera bread.
For the injera bread
, I followed Saveur’s recipe
and it worked beautifully.
For the Berbere spice mix, see here
For the Fossolia, I followed the Berebere Diaries’ recipe
exactly, and it was one of the tastiest vegetable sides I’ve made in a while. Would also be great with pasta, we’ve decided …