IF YOU’RE INTO HEALTHY LIVING and Ethiopian food, then here’s a book – with a 22-day menu planner – for you.
In Tena Bamegageb, or “health by eating,” the Ethiopian nutritionist Tadesse Gesese recommends lots of fruits and vegetables on your road to long life, although he’s not averse to serving some of the standard dishes of Ethiopian cuisine, albeit the ones higher in fiber and lower in fat.
In the book’s dozen or so chapters, he discusses such topics as natural hygiene, the body cycle, metabolism, protein, fiber, fruits, and the importance of water in your diet. There’s a chart noting the relative amounts of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E in a variety of foods, like lamb liver, chicory, spinach, sorrel, watercress and fish oil. He also explains what these vitamins do for the body.
Tadesse ends his book with 15 pages of mostly non-Ethiopian recipes, often for the meals he discusses in the book.
There’s a Mediterranean rice salad, a Parisian salad, an asparagus quiche, a vegetable juice cocktail, a “standard vegetable sandwich,” a fava bean tortilla, a “victory pie” (onion, celery, carrot, potato and spices), and an “energy salad” with spinach, cucumber, avocado, wheat, lentils and fava beans, all covered in a dressing made of onions, sunflower seeds and lemon juice.
Vegans tend to like Ethiopian cuisine because it has a lot of vegetable dishes made without milk or butter, and the menus in Tadesse’s book will suit such gourmands. His program does offer numerous beef entrées (no chicken or fish), but always with an option for a vegetarian entrée instead. This is a testament to the Ethiopian love of beef, although there are no raw meat dishes on the menu.
Tadesse presents his two daily menu planners under the heading “Transition Toward Healthy Eating,” and I’ve translated them here from the Amharic. One of the programs offers three meals a day for seven days, and the other presents three meals a day for 15 days. He doesn’t name the day of the week on which each plan should begin, so you might as well have a hearty Sunday dinner and embrace your healthier new life on Monday morning. (See the menus in Amharic.)
Tadesse recommends more fruit than you’ll find at Ethiopian restaurants or at a traditional Ethiopian meal. So what kind of fruits do people find and eat in Ethiopia?
The Ethiopian Horticulture Producers-Exporters Association says the country exports such fruits as bananas, oranges, avocados, mandarins, papayas, pineapples, guavas, grapefruits, limes, lemons, prunes (called prim in Ethiopia) and apples to neighboring countries and the Middle East. Researchers have found that many Ethiopians don’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, in part because they’re expensive. But with horticulture expanding in Ethiopia, some researchers see this as a growth industry with a lot of potential. In fact, fruit marketing cooperatives have formed with help from European countries.
Now it’s time to look at the menus for Tadesse’s 21 days of eating well. But first, a few things to note:
♦ Very often, he instructs you to eat “vegetables” or “fruit” without specifying which ones, and only twice does he indicate how large your portions should be for any of his meals. So you have to choose your own fruits and vegetables – presumably some of the ones, noted above, that Ethiopia exports – and also your portion sizes. I guess his program is about eating good foods, and not necessarily about losing weight.
♦ Nor does Tadesse tell you what kind of beverage to have with your meal. An Ethiopian macro-biotic menu that I translated recommends lots of sugarless black tea. You might also enjoy some t’ej, the Ethiopian honey wine, or you might add more fruit juice to your afternoon and evening meals.
♦ Tadesse has a good number of meals where you can choose to have a boiled germ or cereal of some kind (called nefro in Amharic). He’ll often specify wheat germ, but sometimes he leaves it up to you to decide. To prepare nefro, you boil the grains or legumes in salty water. One Ethiopian friend tells me that his mother combines wheat, chick peas and sometimes corn to make her nefro.
♦ In each program, you’ll eat the same fruity breakfast every morning: He describes it for Day One and then simply says “like the first day” for every subsequent breakfast. The recurring breakfast for the seven-day plan is somewhat heartier and more diverse than the one for the 14-day plan.
♦ For many of the lunch and dinner menus – especially in the seven-day plan – Tadesse describes two meals and let’s you choose which one you want to prepare. It’s usually a choice between a beef dish and a vegetarian dish.
♦ Now and then, Tadesse suggests a large lunch and a much smaller dinner. That makes sense: better not to eat a heavy meal before bed. Still, it’s the American custom to have a larger meal at night. So I’ll suggest a few places where you might flip flop his meals.
♦ The book features a number of recipes named for Ethiopian cities: a Zala Anbesa soufflé, an Ada soufflé, an Awasa shorba (soup). I suspect he did this to honor the cities: that is, the recipes aren’t specialties of the towns after which they’re named.
♦ Tadesse slips some Italian dishes into the mix: pasta, lasagna, even pizza. Italy occupied Ethiopia for a few years in the 1930s, and Eritrea – formerly a part of Ethiopia, but now an independent country – was an Italian colony for half a century, before and during World War II. Certain elements of Italian cuisine crept onto the Ethiopian menu, and even more so the Eritrean menu. Ethiopians will sometimes spice their pasta with berbere to create a sort of East African arrabbiata sauce. I highly recommend it: In fact, you can use the hotter mitmita for even more zest.
♦ The book’s seven-day plan allows you to eat injera at some meals and gives you a few beef options. Not so in the two-week plan: no injera, no meat of any kind.
OK, then. Let’s get on to the menus.
The One-Week Program
For your seven days of the same breakfast, Tadesse prescribes a juice of raw mixed fruits – your choice, it seems, and you’ve got to make the juice fresh, so you might as well mix it up and use different fruits every day. You’re to drink up to 400 grams of it (that’s about 14 ounces). He adds that if you’re still hungry, you can have a banana, but you should only eat fruit until lunch. (Special thanks to my friend Menkir Tamrat for translating this meal. Without him, we’d all have gone hungry for seven mornings.)
For lunch on Day One, you can choose between collard greens mixed with beef and a little bit of injera, or a spicy stew of yellow peas (kik wot). Add some boiled carrots and green beans to either choice. For dinner this first day, it’s either vegetable soup or rice mixed with vegetables.
For Day Two, enjoy some bozena shiro – that is, beef mixed with spiced pea powder – and injera, plus a spicy vegetable stew with injera. There’s no “or” option here, and that’s a lot of food, so you might pick one or the other. The veggie stew, atkilt wot, traditionally consists of green beans, carrots and potatoes stewed in a sauce made of thoroughly cooked chopped onion and berbere to make it spicy. For dinner, it’s “any soup” – the recipes at the end of the book offer preparations for many kinds – and a salad. (Suggestion: You may want to flip flop these meals, having the soup and salad for lunch, and the heartier meal for dinner.)
On to Day Three, where lunch will be either stir fried beef (siga tibs) with vegetables or, tossing in a bit of Western culture, veggie lasagna. For dinner, you’d better be hungry: It’s a soup (apparently, your choice), a wheat germ salad, plus pasta with tomato sauce (no “or” here, so it looks like Tadesse is being generous with the entrées).
Day Four bring more Western flare if you so choose: For lunch, you’ll have either a veggie pizza or traditional Ethiopian shiro wot with injera. Dinner is either vegetable soup or a broth of vegetables mixed with meaty bones trimmed of their fat (y’atkilt seb yala qeqel). This second dish sounds a bit like beef stew with some bones to suck on.
On Day Five, for lunch, it’s either injera with minchet abish, a dish of chopped beef stewed with fenugreek (abish) and other spices, or vegetable soup. For dinner, once again, you can choose between “any soup” or warm boiled germ using the grain of your choice.
It’s Day Six – Saturday, let’s say – and you’ll lunch on beef soup and broth or sweet potatoes with vegetables. I’d go with the sweet potatoes, which adds something a little different to the week. Dinner is our old favorite veggie soup, or instead, you can have a salad and a dish of grains, boiled or roasted (your choice). Here again, you may want to flip flop these meals, and because it’s Saturday night, enjoy your evening meal with some t’ej.
Finally, for Sunday lunch, there’s a vegetable sandwich and the popular misir wot (spicy lentil stew) with injera. You’ll end the week of meals with a dinner of vegetable soup, or with pasta in vegetable sauce and a salad of germ with the grain of your choice. Personally, I’d just go with the pasta and skip the germ.
The Two-Week Program
Tadesse doesn’t muster up a lot of culinary creative energy for breakfast: It’s the same meal for 14 days, and it’s not nearly as elaborate as your seven-day breakfast routine: This time, it’s simply “fruit and fruit juice” – no particular amount, no particular fruits. You can enjoy your favorites, but don’t over do it. Some fruits have lots of sugar – and the calories that go with it.
Tadesse has no fruit juice recipes at the end of the book, but he has an entry for a “vegetable juice cocktail” made with carrots, celery, beets, tomatoes, green peppers and parsley – sort of like the Ethiopian V-8. So let’s just call this an E-6.
Here, then, is what you’ll eat for the rest of the week. Imagine that this routine begins right after the seven-day plan, so the first day is a Monday. Where there’s dressing on a salad, Tadesse’s recipe is a mélange of olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice.
On Day One, for lunch, begin the meal with either fresh fruit juice or carrot juice, 150 to 250 grams of it (one of the rare occasions where Tadesse specifies a quantity of food). After that, you’ll have a raw vegetable salad with dressing. He refers to the dressing as laslasa, an Amharic word that can mean “smooth” or can refer to a soft drink (i.e., soda pop). I assume he means the dressing, noted above, for which he has a recipe later in the book. Dinner is a soup of collard greens and a Zala Anbesa pasta made with lemon juice, onion, black pepper, broccoli and spices.
Zala Anbesa is a town on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea that’s near the city of Badme, whose disputed ownership led the two countries to war in 1998. An international court has ruled that Eritrea rightfully owns Badme, although Ethiopia still occupies it. Its proximity to Eritrea, a former Italian colony, could explain why it has an eponymous pasta dish.
For lunch on Day Two, it’s vegetable lasagna or a selection of raw fruits and vegetables (as always, your choice, no quantity specified). Dinner is a bit odd: a raw vegetable juice “cocktail” plus one papaya and one pineapple. So I’d go with the lasagna for lunch – and maybe save some leftovers for dinner.
The entries for Day Three are concise: Lunch is “victory pie,” which, as noted above, is a mix of onion, celery, carrot, potato and spices; dinner is Awasa soup, a blend of red onions, garlic, potatoes, celery, oregano, green peppers, fava beans, cream, butter, and some black pepper to spice it up. (Awasa is a well-known Ethiopian city south of Addis Ababa, the capital.)
Same brevity for Day Four: for lunch, a juice of either fresh fruit or raw vegetables, or an “energy” salad (lettuce, spinach, cucumber, tomato, lentils or beans, avocado, sunflower seeds and more); and for dinner, after a lunch with so much stuff in your salad, it’s a simple vegetable soup.
It’s Day Five – Friday, let’s say – and the meals get a little more diverse. Lunch will be either raw vegetables or a veggie pizza (need I suggest which one to choose); and for dinner, get ready to enjoy a delicious asparagus quiche. If you don’t know how to make one, the recipe section in the back of the book will tell you. (Hint: It contains asparagus and eggs.)
Day Six (Saturday) lunch reverts back to some fresh fruit and a classic Caesar salad. That’s not too filling, so for dinner, it’s a hearty “harvest” soup (azmara shorba), with lots of vegetables: carrots, collard greens, garlic, cabbage, zucchini, potatoes, spices – and banana.
To end the first week of the two-week program, Day Seven’s lunch will be fresh fruit and carrot juice, or another “victory” pie like we have for lunch four days ago. Dinner is vegetable juice and a salad, or a meal of boiled grains plus a germ salad (again with the grains of your choice, it seems).
Your second week (Day Eight) brings a lunch consisting of a very fancy-sounding celery rémoulade (sort of like tartar sauce), and a dinner of asparagus soup and salad. On Day Nine, lunch is a tortilla made with fava beans, and dinner is vegetable broth with mayonnaise (perhaps the least appetizing entry of the entire program).
It’s Day 10, and we have something new: carrot hash browns, which I assume is a variation of traditional hash browns made with shredded potatoes. For dinner, it’s another round of “harvest” soup, which we just had on Day Six. On to Day 11: Let’s lunch on a Parisian salad (lettuce, radicchio, carrots) with asparagus, and then dine on boiled grains plus a germ salad (choose your own grains).
As we approach the end of Tadesse’s plans, lunch on Day 12 is something a little different: a vegetable sandwich with cucumber and celery. And for dinner, a real treat: mushroom soup (inguday shorba). The spicy traditional Ethiopian dish inguday wot (spicy mushrooms) is delicious.
Day 13 would be our presumed Saturday, with a lunch of Mediterranean rice salad, then a dinner of wheat germ and warm boiled grains and salad. Finally, we’ll end the program on Sunday, Day 14, with a lunch of Ada soufflé, a dish named for an Ethiopian city, and made with niter kibe (spiced butter), wheat flour, red onions, garlic, awaze (a red pepper sauce), chick peas, milk, black pepper and dry cheese. (Some of these ingredients are for the sauce.) You’ll end the week with a veggie pizza for dinner.
But wait! Tadesse throws in one extra day: For lunch on Day 15, it’s “amaretch” rice with vegetables (the quotation marks on “amaretch” are Tadesse’s), and for dinner, it’s a New York “Gudwich” (this time the quotation marks are mine). The latter is an extravaganza of broccoli, collard greens, carrots, red cabbage, avocados, parsley and red onions on either a bean tortilla or a kita, which is like an Ethiopian pizza shell. As for the former, I can’t find a recipe for “amaretch” in Tadesse’s book, but the name comes from a word that means “select” or “premium quality.” So whatever kind of rice and vegetables are special, that’s what you should eat.
So there it is: 22 days of healthy eating in an Ethiopian context, with lots of fruits and vegetables. We often hear that Ethiopian cuisine is “healthy,” and that’s true, especially if you stick to ye’t’som megeb – that is, fasting food, those all-vegetarian meals eaten in conjunction with Ethiopian Orthodox Christian holy days (and other times as well, of course). The meat dishes have lots of butter, and meat has cholesterol, although Ethiopian meat tends to be very lean.
The most significant thing missing here is the copious amounts of injera you’ll consume eating traditional Ethiopian meals: The seven-day plan includes some, but the 15-day plan does not. So if you can live without injera two or three times a day, then give Tadesse’s menu a try.
University of Pittsburgh
Here’s a look at some fruit tree seedlings in Ethiopia:
Here’s an “Ethiopian” salad that might fit nicely into Tadesse’s menu: