In Ethiopian Cooking, Onions Rule

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AN ETHIOPIAN WOMAN may be the queen of her kitchen, but she serves an indispensable king.

“Onions have a regal place in all Ethiopian cooking,” Daniel Mesfin says in his book, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking. In fact, he calls it King Onion, and he highly recommends “the oval, deep purplish and mild Italian bulb which is also excellent for salads.” Dalo’s Kitchen, an Ethiopian restaurant in Portland, Ore., says it offers a “variety of vegetables cooked in mild caramelized onion sauce.” That’s a good way to describe the foundation of Ethiopian dishes.

Women in Ethiopia cooking a huge pot of onions

Women in Ethiopia cooking a huge pot of onions

Lena Deresse, in her loving little book, Cooking with Imaye – that is, her mother – remembers a childhood spent watching her mother go through “the pain-staking labor of peeling and chopping what was often an enormous bag of onions. It was not uncommon for my mom to go through 15 to 20 pounds of onions in a single day when cooking.”

Virtually every Ethiopian dish requires at least some onions, and most require a lot of them. You can even prepare an Ethiopian dabo (bread) packed with onions cooked in spicy berbere powder and kibe (rich Ethiopian butter). In America, most cooks use red onions, and nowadays, that’s what many Ethiopians use back home as well. But for the most authentic cooking, many Ethiopians say, you need to use shallots, that little brother to the larger onions that we most commonly use in the United States.

The Amharic word for onion is shinkurt, the Tigrinya word is shigurti, and in Afaan Oromo, it’s called shinkurtti or qullubbi diimaa. That single Afaan Oromo word sounds very much like shinkurt, but the two-word phrase for onion translates literally as “garlic red.” Interestingly, the Amharic term for garlic is nech shinkurt, or literally, “white onion.” And it’s the same principle in Tigrinya: garlic is called shigurti ts’ada, or “onion white.” So all three of these Ethiopian languages equate onions with garlic.

In America, Ethiopian cooks will almost always use red onions, unless they have the time and patience to use shallots: The former is large, and you have to peel and chop less to get more; the latter is small and much more labor intensive. In Ethiopia, too, the red onion has become common. But for many, the shallot is still prized.

“Although bulb onions can be grown in the tropics, farmers in tropical countries prefer shallots for their ability to propagate vegetatively,” Kebede Woldetsadik writes in his 2003 thesis at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “Shallots are also preferred for their shorter growth cycle, better tolerance to disease and drought stresses and longer storage life than the common onion and for their distinct flavor that persists after cooking.” He notes that “shallots in particular are widely cultivated as a source of income by peasant farmers in many parts of the country.”

Yenus Ousman Kemal says that “since it has strong pungency and longer life of stew prepared with it, shallot is preferred to onions for flavoring of the local stew wot to be used in daily meals of many houses in Ethiopia.” The scholar Dessie Getahun concurs that the shallot is “preferred by most Ethiopians for its strong pungent culinary value.”

A 2009 report from the Ethiopian agricultural ministry says that “the shallot is believed to have come from Western Asia [and] has been in cultivation from a remote period” – that is, for a long, long time. Onions, the report says, are “considerably important in the daily Ethiopian diet. All the plant parts are edible, but the bulbs and the lower stems sections are the most popular as seasonings or as vegetables in stews.” This is interesting, for it positions the onion – which is newer to Ethiopian agriculture – and not the shallot, as a key ingredient in cooking.

Onions for sale in a small-town Ethiopian market

Onions for sale in a small-town Ethiopian market

Ethiopian cookbooks today all include red onions in their list of ingredients. But in the early 1970s, the Ethiopian American Cook Book has “shallots” in every recipe that calls for onions. The book presents its recipes in Amharic on one side and in English on the other, so we read kay shinkurt on the left and “shallots” on the right. But kay shinkurt translates literally as “red onion.” There is, in fact, no separate word for “shallot” in Amharic: Where kay shinkurt used to mean shallots, now it can mean shallots or red onions.

Shallots have a short growing season – just three months, which means more yields per year in a tropical climate. But the plant requires a lot of water, so it can only grow well in the Ethiopian highlands, although irrigation has brought shallot production a wider range in the country.

Scientifically, there’s little difference between the common cooking onion and the shallot: The former is called Allium cepa L., the latter Allium cepa L. var. ascalonicum. And garlic, or “white onion” in Amharic, is Allium sativum. So all three come from the same genus.

Think of them, then, as mutually intelligible dialects of the same language. Onions and shallots differ slightly in some chemical properties, and that could account for why some cooks say they taste different when used in an Ethiopian dish, although it may take an especially sensitive palate to detect the difference. Garlic, of course, differs even further from its genetic kin, and it’s used more sparingly in cooking.

Onions are also a good source of antioxidants: Studies have found that a white onion has an antioxidant value of 85, and the purple onion 143, just a little less than spinach and green peppers. It’s also a rich source of flavonoids, the consumption of which “has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” the Ethiopian scientist Yemane Kahsay wrote in 2013. “In addition, it is known for anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory potential.”

In fact, Yemane has written several papers about the most efficient way to plant onions to get higher yields out of a crop. He found that “lack of improved varieties and production practices have been the major bottlenecks of onion production and productivity,” and that the average bulb weight increased when farmers use a particular method of “intra-row spacing.”

Ethiopian Onion Humor What does a wallet and an onion  have in common? They both make you cry when you open them.

Ethiopian Onion Humor
What does a wallet and an onion have in common?
They both make you cry when you open them.

Making a spicy Ethiopian wot or a milder alicha begins with onions, and you have to cook them thoroughly and watchfully.

“One of the things that I had the most trouble with is sautéing the onions,” Lena writes in her book. “When making the base for the wot, it is very important that one slow cooks the onions until they reach a paste-like consistency. In the process, one has to constantly stir in order to avoid burning the onions. Many a time, I’ve ruined a perfectly good batch of chopped onions because I stepped away from the stove for too long. Back to the peeling and dicing I would go, and the tedious work would start all over.”

I can attest to the authenticity of Lena’s account: You have to stand by your onions the way you would a child crossing a busy city street. With a dish like doro wot, for example, you need to cook and cook the onions until they dry and thicken, adding bits of water when necessary to keep them from burning – to “bring them back from the edge,” as my friend Menkir Tamrat puts it. When you serve the wot, he adds, you “don’t want the onions looking back at you.”

It’s a lot of work, but if you do it right, you’ll be glad you did: The kulet – that is, the sauce – of a well-prepared doro wot is a deep dark red – almost black – and it’s rich with the flavor of onions, niter kibe, berbere and a touch of t’ej.

An Ethiopian market in Washington sells  chopped onions in a box, a time-saving accommodation

An Ethiopian market in Washington sells
chopped onions in a box, a time-saving accommodation

For other wots and alichas, I’ve found, you don’t have to give your life over to the onions for quite as long a time. But you do have to cook them well, and you have to chop them finely before you begin to cook. For years, I did this with a hand chopper, which worked well enough. But lately, I’ve compromised, and now I use a food processor to prepare my onions for cooking. I felt guilty about this until an Ethiopian friend confessed that he, too, sometimes does the same.

And there are ways to feel even guiltier. At Black Lion Market in Washington, D.C., I found boxes of chopped onions for sale – a great time saver for Ethiopian chefs. But what if you want freshly chopped onions for your wot that you didn’t have to chop yourself? For that, you need to employ the services of Ashenafi Bekele, a resident of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who launched an onion-chopping business in 2012. He invented his own machine to do the job, and he charges one birr (about five cents) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of onions. His clients are largely restaurants that need a lot of chopped onions each day.

Then there are the dishes for which you only need to slice the onions: For tibs – or meat fried in butter – just cut the onions into bite-sized pieces and toss them into the meat along with spices and maybe some karya (jalapeño pepper). You’ll see the onion on the injera, but that’s how it’s supposed to be for these dishes.

Onions are so important to the culture that Ethiopian scholars have written dissertations about growing and harvesting them. Tadesse Mihiretu wrote a master’s thesis about Ethiopian farmers’ efforts to adopt improved ways to produce and package onions. He concluded that the government must better educate farmers and help them financially to improve onion yields. Adugna Teka’s master’s thesis looked at ways to improve markets for onion, tomato and papaya in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. Several things hamper the marketing of onions, among them poor irrigation, “weight cheating,” and “unfair pricing of products by wholesalers.” And in 2015, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences published a book-length study of the onion value chain in Ethiopia.

Ashenafi Bekele and his onion-chopping machine

Ashenafi Bekele and his onion-chopping machine

There is at least one exception to the “onion in every pot” rule of Ethiopian cuisine. Although the Gurage people make up only about 2.5 percent of the Ethiopian population, they’re well known in food circles for having contributed kitfo, the popular dish of raw meat that has been chopped – or ground, in western parlance – and mixed with niter kibe, mitmita and cardamon. You’ll find it on the menu of almost every Ethiopian restaurant, and it’s ubiquitous in Ethiopia as well.

Kitfo is that rare Ethiopian dish that doesn’t call for onions, and when Gurages make dishes that are part of the national cuisine – that is, the food we know from Ethiopian restaurants – they do prepare them with onions. But Gurages prepare a variety of dishes unique in various ways to their culture, the absence of onions being their most distinguishing feature.

So whereas the national dish called gomen consists of collard greens stewed in oil, onions and spices, the Gurage have many gomen preparations that eschew onions. There’s even a dish called gomen kitfo that uses the generic meaning of kitfo, which comes from the verb katafa, meaning to mince or chop.

As I flip through the many recipes in my Gurage cookbook, I find no recipe with onion (shinkurt), and also none with garlic (nech shinkurt). In fact, an Ethiopian friend tells me that when preparing a Gurage kitfo (chopped) dish, the chef must wash the utensils to make sure they haven’t been “contaminated” by onions. There’s also no berbere in Gurage cuisine, perhaps because it has onions in it, and instead, Gurages use the much hotter mitmita in a recipe that calls for heat.

Still, I have encountered a few mentions of onions in Gurage cooking.

The anthropologist William Shack is one of the foremost authorities on Gurage culture, and in his 1977 article, “Cooking in the Garden of Ensete,” co-authored with his wife, Dorothy, he ends with some recipes. The vegetable dishes – gomen and misir wot – that would normally have onions in highland cuisine have none here. But Shack’s recipe for niter kibe calls for “one medium-sized onion.” He says that the vegetable dishes are “prepared in the form of a hash,” and he uses the word kәtfwä to describe them. They are, in other words, minced or chopped, so this is kitfo in the general sense of the word.

Onion farmers in Ethiopia with their harvest

Onion farmers in Ethiopia with their harvest

I also learned about a Gurage dish called oqut from Assefa Delil, a Gurage man who worked at the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2009 when I visited there. It’s made from young pumpkin leaves that you boil until the upper part separates from the lower part, and then you mix it with onion, garlic and a lot of niter kibe and ayib (Ethiopian cheese). This Gurage dish has never become part of the national cuisine like kitfo has.

At the embassy, I also met Fikerte Kidanemariam, who had served as the ambassador’s assistant since 1999. She isn’t a cook by profession — Kebebush Demissie prepared meals at the time for the ambassador and his family at their home two miles away — but she was the embassy’s unofficial chief consultant on cuisine.

Fikerte agreed that there are few, if any secret ingredients in Ethiopian cooking. It’s all about technique, and to some degree, predilection. As for onions, you do have to use just the right quantity, and you have to cook them for the proper length of time: until they brown, for a dark spicy wot, but not so long for a milder, lighter alicha.

“You have to take your time and cook it properly,” Fikerte told me. “Some people just use a few minutes to cook food.” Still, she acknowledges that “even when people use the same ingredients,” one woman’s wot can taste different than her sister’s version.


Kebebush was so good that her colleagues at the embassy claimed she once won a cooking competition against Marcus Samuelsson, the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised New York City celebrity chef and restaurateur. They say she even chopped onions faster than he did.

Carl and Pat Templin, a retired Pittsburgh couple, lived in Ethiopia as newlyweds in the 1970s, and they still maintain a love for the culture decades later.

To keep close to a place that’s been so important in their lives, the Templins enjoy meeting Ethiopians who move to Pittsburgh or who just live there temporarily. They assembled a gathering of Ethiopian friends at their home in May 2009: Each woman brought a wot to share, and Pat made a few herself.

About 15 years ago, they hosted a dinner at their home in Pittsburgh for some Ethiopian women attending a city college. The visiting women cooked in the truest tradition of their national cuisine, with lots of onions in their wots. Like the food itself, it’s a memory that lingers, and these many years later, Carl recalls: “The onion smell in the house for weeks was wonderful.”

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh


Here’s a video, in Amharic, about bringing onions to market in Ethiopia:


Preparing onions for wot at an Ethiopian restaurant:


Here’s a look at an Ethiopian onion farm.


And here. on the lighter side, are the Onion Boys, two Ethiopian guys preparing onions to make wot:


Healthy Eating the Ethiopian Way

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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.

Fruits and vegetables for sale at a market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Fruits and vegetables for sale at a market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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.

Tadesse Gesese

Tadesse Gesese

♦ 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.

Tadesse's illustration of the food chain

Tadesse’s illustration of the food chain

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.

The book's illustration of the food pyramids

The book’s illustration of the food pyramids

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.)

An illustration of the "food digestion system"

An illustration of the “food digestion system”

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.

Harry Kloman
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:

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