Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Bamya Alich’a Okra with Quick Injera - Ethiopia

If there is one certainty at any summer Olympics, it's that the Ethiopians will take home medals for running.  This year, they've fielded 35 athletes in just two disciplines (athletics and swimming) and have (so far) gained two gold and two bronze medals.  Running is 'my sport' - the one thing I actively participate in - and it's one of the few sports where the masses can participate in events alongside the greats.

I've been lapped at the Bath Half by some of the best runners from Ethiopia and there is nothing like the resounding cheers and applause from fellow runners as they speed off towards the distant tape whilst the rest of us trudge round on our second loop.  It always brings a little lump in my throat to be in the presence of such talent and I have enjoyed watching them race on the tellybox.

I went a bit overboard on the okra to tomato ratio
As for the cuisine, I was a little apprehensive when I saw Ethiopia on my list.  I was also slightly shocked at myself when I realised I had no clue about Ethiopia and it's culture other than memories of the terrible famines that have wreaked destruction across the country on so many occasions.  LiveAid and BandAid are rooted firmly in the memories of my childhood and I suppose I never considered anything other than the images of starving orphans that haunted the telly for endless months.  More shocking than that was the number of times that I heard 'all you'll need is a bag of grain with UN stamped on it' I mentioned having Ethiopia on my list.  It appears I'm not the only one ignorant of the country's own cuisine.

A typical meal is a stew with bread and grains.  Stews usually consist of a rich vegetable sauce, often with meat such as beef, chicken, goat or lamb.  Injera the most common type of bread is actually more akin to a buckwheat pancake then bread and is leavened using a sourdough starter.  One thing that surprised me is that pasta is commonly available in Ethiopia too.  And they snack on popcorn.

I really wanted to make Injera but struggled with sourcing Teff flour.  Teff is apparently a super-healthy   alternative to wheat (higher protein than wheat flour, easily absorbed iron source, lots of good nutrients)  and accounts for one quarter of Ethiopia's grain production.  It can be added to soups as a thickener or cooked like porridge.  Because the recipe also requires a sourdough starter to be left out in the sun, I must admit I did start to look at alternatives but eventually came across a recipe for quick Injera that uses regular flour and doesn't need the long fermentation time.

Being a sourdough expert now (ha ha), I know that the quick version of the recipe doesn't have the same taste potential of the proper sourdough, but it was good enough for a midweek meal.  The resulting batter made for very soft pancakes and because the husband has 'rationalised' my cooking implements after he had a bit of a barney with the utensil holder last night, I couldn't find my fish slice so ended up shredding them trying to toss them with my tiny icing palette knife.  But they still tasted good.

I chose an okra dish to go with the meal purely because the only time I've ever eaten okra before, they were disgusting.  We were on a trip to see my father in his native environment and I was already in a bit of a grumpy mood (unusual for me(!), but my father brings out the very worst in me).  We'd gone native for dinner.  The husband couldn't deal with the chicken and rice dish he had ordered not having come in plastic packets from Sainzlebobs and having been determined that I would try some of everything Vincenzian on the menu, I'd ordered fried okra.  I was expecting something akin to crispy little hairy chillis without the heat.  What I got was a plate of green slime.

But this is an Olympic Food Challenge and having barracked our esteemed leader @EwanMitchell about him having chosen breadfruit (another bad memory of Vincenzian cuisine - along with cassava, plantain and conch (or maybe it's just my stepmother's terrible cooking??)), I felt I should take one for the team and try cooking okra myself.  Ewan had said he'd had a less than good experience with okra in the past but has become an okra convert thanks to this recipe he'd tried for the OFC.  He inspired me to step up to the plate and try cooking it myself and yes, whilst I won't be rushing off to the supermarket to buy them by the bucketload, I won't necessarily shy away from dishes that include them in the future.

Even Miss A loved Bamya Alich'a Okra (minus the okra - she's a toddler and they "don't do green food") and she ate all of my Injera (she was supposed to be having pasta) so I will be awarding this dish a silver.  Give it a go.  You may just learn to love okra too.  Unless you're a toddler of course.

The recipe for the okra can be found here and the one for the quick Injera is here.

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