Beginning in December, we’re featuring selections from Chicago writer Alan Lake’s soon-to-be-published Home Cookin’ series—personal profiles of esteemed Chicago area home cooks. In his first story, he introduced us to Zaheen, who brought the flavors of her native Ethiopia to Djibouti and later to Chicago when she arrived as a refugee. Here we step inside Zaheen’s kitchen, where she teaches us a few of her family’s most cherished recipes.
A note on dry spices: Because spices quickly lose their potency, it’s best to buy small amounts more frequently rather than buy large amounts and let sit for years in your cabinets. You know that chili powder that’s been on your spice rack for 5 years? Toss it—it’s a shadow of its former self. Even better to buy spices whole, toast in a dry pan over medium-high heat for a minute or so until they become fragrant, then grind in a spice mill. Store in a cool, dark place. Fresh spices are worth the effort and make a huge difference in the final product.
This spicy chicken stew is the national dish of Ethiopia—and a favorite of Zaheen’s 10-year-old twin daughters. Comforting and robust, it’s a great option to up your chicken game. Doro wat is traditionally served over injera flatbread, but rice will do in a pinch.
5 lbs halal chicken legs, skin removed
7 large onions, finely diced. If using a food processor, pulse rather than puree—you want them dry, not juicy
7 generous, heaping* tablespoons berbere seasoning, available at good spice shops or online
7 generous, heaping tablespoons sweet paprika
2 generous, heaping tablespoons cardamom
2 1/2 cups canola oil
3 generous, heaping tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons peeled ginger, pureed
2 tablespoons peeled garlic, pureed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
*Piled up at least an inch over your measuring spoon
- Scrape chicken legs with the blade of a knife, then soak in salt water mixed with the juice of 1 lemon for 5 minutes.
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. The onions are cooked without oil—if they begin to scorch, you can add a splash of water.
- While onions are browning, hard-boil the eggs. Once cooled, remove from shells and score gently with the tip of a knife. (This step can also be done in advance.)
- To onions, add canola oil, berebere and paprika. Mix well, then cook 15-20 minutes.
- Add chicken, tomato paste, ginger, garlic, cardamom, butter, 2 tablespoons kosher salt and 2 cups water. Mix well, cover and cook until tender, stirring occasionally: 30-40 minutes. Your stew should have the consistency of thick gravy, with the onions cooked down and barely visible.
- Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Remove from heat and gently fold in the scored hardboiled eggs to coat, being careful to keep intact. Serve over injera or rice.
Ethiopian Stewed Cabbage and Carrots
1 medium cabbage, cored and julienned
2 cups fresh tomato puree
1 medium yellow onion, thinly julienned
2 large carrots, cut in 3” batons
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, washed and chopped
1 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
- Heat oil in heavy bottomed stock pot over medium-high heat.
- Add onions and sauté 10 minutes.
- Add seasonings, mix well and sauté another 5 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add cabbage, carrots, tomato puree and water, mix well, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Carrots should be soft.
- Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
“When we see him, he’s completely different. Sick, skinny, wild-eyed, his hair had turned white. In seven months! We didn’t recognize him save for the gap in his teeth. He’d lost more than 30 kilos. He had pneumonia, but no doctors.” They brought him food, clothing and medication and had a short visit. When they went back the following week he was gone.
—Zaheen shares the story of political persecution that led her to leave Ethiopia and make a new home in Chicago: Ethiopian Flavor with a Chicago Accent
This dish is most traditionally made with collards, but you can substitute any hearty, leafy green such as kale or chard.
3 bunches greens w/stems, triple washed
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cups fresh tomato puree
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoon cilantro, washed and chopped
3 oz canola oil
1 lemon, or 2 tablespoons white vinegar
Salt to taste
- Blanch greens in salted boiling water 1 minute to soften. Drain, cut into small pieces and set aside.
- In a large heavy skillet, sauté onions in oil until lightly browned, approximately 10 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients, mix well and cook until nearly dry, approximately 30 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the juice of 1 lemon, or 2 tablespoons white vinegar, to finish before serving.