Breaking the fast of Ramadan
Almaz Yigizaw with a lentil salad at the Ethiopian Diamond II restaurant. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Cold Lentil Salad
(Adapted from Almaz Yigizaw)
1 pound whole lentils 1 red or Spanish onion, chopped 1 tomato, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced ¼ teaspoon cumin 1 lemon 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 red or Spanish onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons olive oil
Grind tomato, onion and garlic and combine with lentils. Mix oil with salt; add juice of half the lemon to mixture and blend all three ingredients together. Stir into lentils, mix well.
Squeeze the juice from the other half of the lemon on top of the salad and mix a bit more.
Updated: August 17, 2012 10:50AM
Ramadan, the month-long religious observation that requires Muslims to fast during the day and consume only small meals after sunset, will end on Sunday, August 19. For many who observe Ramadan, the end of the period of fasting and reflection is perennially marked with a special meal.
Endal Hailemariam, owner of Addis Abeba, an Ethiopian restaurant in Evanston, is familiar with many of the foods that mark the end of Ramadan. Hailemariam, a Christian, moved to Chicago from Ethiopia 30 years ago.
“Close to 30 percent of Ethiopians are Muslim,” Hailemariam estimated. “Very often, groups of 10-15 or 20 break their Ramadan fasts together over meals including stews of lamb, beef or pork.”
Meat stews, ranging from extremely spicy (wot) to mild (alecha), are popular Ethiopian foods. Yesiga Wot, a spicy beef stew, is made with beef simmered in a red pepper sauce. Lamb is often featured on Ethiopian menus, and a popular dish is Yebeg Alitcha. The stew is made of lamb, cooked slowly in a mild sauce with spiced butter, onions, garlic and turmeric.
Whether wot or alecha, it is Ethiopian custom for a group of people to share a meal around many different kinds of stews and vegetables that are spooned onto a large, round Ethiopian sourdough flatbread called injera. The injera disappears like a pizza as hands reach in to pull pieces of the bread and use it to scoop up the stews.
The same way Americans embraced Spain’s tapas culture, the custom of sharing an Ethiopian injera meal is a growing trend. And as more and more people discover this tradition, they learn that the right hand is always used to break injera; equally important is to ensure fingers do not come in contact with stew sauces or lips.
Most commonly made with sourdough batter, the distinct taste of injera is reminiscent of a loaf of sourdough bread fresh out of an oven in San Francisco. Just as distinctive is the unusually moist and spongy consistency of injera.
“Our mothers and grandmothers never used baking powder, baking soda or processed yeast to make injera,” said Almaz Yigizaw, owner of Chicago restaurants Ethiopian Diamond and Ethiopian Diamond II. “At Ethiopian Diamond, we strictly follow this old tradition.”
Yigizaw moved to Chicago from Gandor, Ethiopia, around the same time Hailemariam relocated to the U.S., and she brought many of her grandmother’s recipes and traditions with her. Yigizaw, a Christian, is also familiar with the observance of Ramadan. Many of the foods eaten at the end of Ramadan are on the menu at her restaurants.
Lentils for summer
One of those, her grandmother’s Cold Lentil Salad (Yemisir Azifa), is a refreshing alternative to those who thought lentils were relegated to the realm of cold weather comfort foods. Lentils are flavored with onion, tomato, cumin, garlic and lemon. The longer the flavors are allowed to mingle, the better.
“Cold Lentil Salad is both nutritious and filling, offering much protein and at a modest cost,” Yigizaw said. “The trickiest part of making the salad is mixing the oil, salt and lemon, in that order.”
Mead has been enjoying a wild comeback for the first time since it originated in the jugs of medieval peasants, but the sweet honey wine never lost its spot on the Ethiopian dinner table. Mead is a popular menu item at Yigizaw’s and other Ethiopian restaurants.
Ethiopian honey is also showcased in Shorba in some Ethiopian eateries. Shorba is a cold soup made with plain yogurt, cucumber and fresh mint.
And for an even sweeter end-of-Ramadan indulgence, Destaye is on Yigizaw’s dessert menu. The treat, as rich with flavor as texture, is made by baking thin shells of dough stuffed with a mixture of raisins, pistachios, almonds, coconut and cardamom powder.