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Eritrean Cuisine and its Nutritional Value

By : Simona Kahsay

Eritrean cuisine offers a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. The dishes that contain meat are typically cooked using beef, chicken, lamb, goat or fish. Eritreans prefer their food to be spicy and berbere, a popular spice made of pepper, is used in many dishes. Eritrean cuisine also offers many vegetarian stew options such as hamli, ades, shiro, hilbet, alicha birsen and silsi and has a rich and distinct dishes and flavors in the different regions.

Hamli, my personal favorite dish, is sautéed collard greens steamed until it is tender and then cooked with oil, garlic and onions, sometimes garnished with parsley and cilantro. Tsebhi Ades is lentils cooked with onions, spices and tomatoes with or without berbere. Tsebhi Shrio is made with chickpea flour, onions, and tomatoes. Hilbet is a paste made from lentils and faba beans. Alicha birsen is similar to ades stew but has potatoes, green beans, carrots, green pepper, and turmeric or curry. Silsi tsebhi, another personal favorite of mine, is a tomato-based stew that is cooked with oil, onions, garlic, and berbere.

Non-vegetarian options include tsebhi zigni, a spicy stew made with either lamb or beef seasoned with berbere. Tsebhi Derho is a spicy stew made with chicken and served with hard-boiled eggs. Qulwa or Tibsi is fried meat and onions. All the dishes mentioned above are popular lunch or dinner dishes.

Some popular breakfast options are kitcha fit fit, a thick bread that is made of different types of flour that is broken up into pieces and then tossed in butter and berbere, and often served with a side of yogurt. Ga’at (porridge) is another popular breakfast dish with an indentation in the center to make room for the butter and berbere mixture with yogurt surrounding the sides of the bowl.

As someone with an allergy to dairy products, I customize a lot of my meals here which is quite easy to do. Specifically, for ga’at I like to use virgin olive oil in place of butter and grounded flaxseed to make the porridge instead of flour of wheat or barley. Shahan Ful is another popular breakfast dish packed with flavor. Shahan Ful is slowly cooked sautéed fava beans in water that is then turned into a puree. The puree is combined with red onions, lemon juice, berbere, tomatoes, jalapenos, cumin, yogurt and olive oil. Pieces of bread are typically used to dip in the bean mixture. This dish is popular during religious fasts like Lent and Ramadan. Another popular flavor-packed dish called Fata is broken-up pieces of bread topped with red onions, tomatoes, boiled eggs, and various spices.

Eritrean food is organic and nutritionally rich, and Eritrean cuisine is packed with flavor thanks to the wide variety of spices and seasonings Eritrea has to offer. The centerpiece of a typical Eritrean meal is called Inj era , best described as a flatbread the size of a large pizza with a sponge-like texture. It is made from taff, millet, sorghum, and rarely wheat. Taff is the world’s smallest grain that is gluten-free and extremely nutritious. It contains vitamin B-6, magnesium, protein and fiber, in addition to being naturally rich in iron and calcium. Taff Injera contains 11% protein, 80% complex carbohydrates, and 3% fat. The high fiber in the taff grain assists with regulating blood sugar levels, so it is highly recommended for diabetics. Taff Injera is an excellent source of essential amino acids like lysine, which is the amino acid that is the scarcest in grain foods. The process of making the taff injera is quite long: the taff flour is fermented with yeast and water for up to three days before it is ready to be prepared. The fermentation process allows the yeast to generate more vitamins and contributes to the tart like taste.

Tsebhi is the traditional name for stew which is served over injera. The name of the stew (tsebhi) becomes more specific based on what type of stew is being served. In Eritrean culture, injera and the various stews are served on a large circular plate for everyone to eat together. You take strips of injera from the edges and scoop up the stew with your hands. The most common elements in Eritrean recipes are berbere, ginger, garlic, cardamom, fenugreek, and cinnamon.

There are many vegetarian and non-vegetarian options that are identified by the type of stew offered in Eritrean cuisine, so keep that in mind when ordering or looking to try something new. And remember you can always customize your dishes to your liking. So, go explore!

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