I may have mentioned my deep and abiding love for the book Flatbreads & Flavors by Toronto-based husband-and-wife team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. It introduced us to cooking all sorts of ethnic cuisines that we might not have attempted, by making the recipes simple yet authentic. Each chapter has a limited number of recipes, but they fit together perfectly – there might be two different breads, a beef dish, a chicken dish, a vegetable and a condiment. So just from this one cookbook, you could make a feast from Georgia, the Middle East, India or Italy!
I had fallen in love with Ethiopian food from the first time I had it, at a restaurant in Minneapolis, of all places. It never occurred to me that you could make it at home – then I got this cookbook. When I made the chicken stew from it, with its simple combination of chicken, butter, cardamom, berbere paste and red wine, it was like an Ethiopian restaurant had opened in our kitchen. We’ve also made injera at home (with mixed success, frankly) and tibs wett. But our favorite go-to dish is definitely the partially-cooked beef tartare, kitfo lebleb. It’s fast, rich, and very very spicy.
For this dish J defrosted a sirloin steak and chopped it very finely. You could certainly use ground meat but we’ve always preferred the texture of chopped. The original recipe calls for onions, but we usually leave them out. Adding mint is great if you have it, but I don’t think dried mint is a good substitute – leave it out if you don’t have fresh.
Ethiopian Beef Tartare (kitfo lebleb)
adapted from Flatbreads and Flavors by Alford and Duguid
1 pound finely chopped sirloin or other lean beef
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated or chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp chopped fresh mint or basil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 to 6 chopped serrano chiles
Blend the pepper, cardamom, salt, ginger and fresh herb (if using) in a small bowl.
Melt the butter in a heavy skillet. When it’s hot, add the spice mixture and stir, then add the meat and chiles. Stir to combine, and cook just long enough to lightly brown the meat. We like it very rare, but you can cook it longer if you like. Serve hot or at room temperature.
We always serve this tartare with the next recipe in the book, Spiced Curds. It’s very simple: a carton of cottage cheese seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, fresh ginger and a grated serrano chile. It’s both fiery and cooling all at once, and is wonderful piled into a flour tortilla or a pita bread (or injera if you have it) with a scoop of the tartare. We had asparagus on the side, just because we had some left over, but I especially like cooked greens to go with this dish, either spinach, chard or kale. A plain vegetable or legume side is a good idea to cool the mouth down! Beer or sweet tea would be a good drink to go with, although I admit that we always have it with a fruity red wine, like zinfandel, or something with a bit of smoke or funk like a pinotage.