Because I read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese last summer, and loved it so much that I insist on dragging it across country with me, just to have it close by, it has had at least one unexpected effect on me: namely, my cooking.
The book is not about cooking; food is mentioned in the due course of things, but no more than you might expect. One thing mentioned many times: berbere. Berbere is not a spice, but a mix of spices. It is heavily used in Ethiopian cooking, especially in a common chicken stew called doro wat.
And so, I wanted some. I looked in the ethnic cooking sections of grocery stores both regular and organic. I looked online and in spice and cookware stores: no berbere. Nobody even to tell me how to pronounce the word, since I know no Amharic. But lo and behold, Epicurious has a recipe, a small and little-noticed and unreviewed one but enough.
The directions are simple:
- get thus-and-such bunch of spices
- pour in bowl and mix
With directions that easy, I am not even sure that it qualifies as a recipe, but there it is. One thing it is not: ecologically friendly, at least in the ingredients I chose. The pepper came from Turkey and the cinnamon from Vietnam. That has got to be a huge carbon footprint, getting those things into my humble (?) American neighborhood.
However, the berbere is wonderful, and I used some immediately. I put almost a teaspoon into a jar of spaghetti sauce I was heating up on the stove, and it was the best spaghetti sauce I ever ate. So there: Ethiopian pasta. Can’t get better than that. I plan to figure out a vegetarian version of doro wat, if that is possible. And I promise to learn how to pronounce the word.
Yup, literature broadens my horizons.