A plant-based Ethiopian lunch

When I was planning camp menus, one of the campers’ mothers mentioned that her children enjoy some of the milder vegetarian Ethiopian dishes. It was the perfect opportunity to try some of them, particularly because I just acquired a used copy of Teff Love, by Kittee Berns, via Amazon. Because Silver Spring has the highest concentration of Ethiopian businesses in the Washington area, I had no difficulty finding a source of special spices and both domestic and imported injera, the spongy, sour teff flour pancake used to mop up mouthfuls of stews and salad.

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Photos by Megan Meinberg Photography

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I especially liked the seasoned oil we made, called ye’quimem zeyet, using some Earth Balance buttery spread and vegetable oil. I’ll be using the remainder as a exotic component of stir fries and for finishing grilled fish.

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Split peas in a mild sauce, stewed cabbage in a golden tomato sauce, and apple tempeh salad rounded out our platter.

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These were definitely novel tastes for everyone, but they were inviting.

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Eating with you hands! On the floor! How cool is that?

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We finished the meal with chocolate-coconut sorbet, from The Perfect Scoop, by David Leibovitz. Although the campers enjoyed it, I wouldn’t make it again. This was the second camp where we tried the recipe, and both times the chocolate never really blended with the rest of the ingredients.

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Ladybug and Holly loved all the attention from the campers. Today they seem low key, as though they are just saving their enthusiasm for when the kids come back again.

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Kids cook pupusas

At Crossroads Farmers Market, we watched some women expertly prepare pupusas, which are kind of like filled corn tortillas–pork, cheese or refried bean. We brought some home, and boy, were they good! The campers asked Chef Tanya to show them how the next day, and she did.

(Photos below by Megan Meinberg Photography)

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First, the mis en place (preparation): Canned pinto beans mashed, grated leftover curry vegetables, grated cheese, masa harina dough.

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Then take an egg-sized lump of dough, flatten and stuff it, and close the dough over the filling without letting the filling break through. Fry until golden brown. Find the recipe here.

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Plant-based Cooking Camp Reflection

“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.”

–Chef Gusteau, in the movie Ratatouille

Chef Gusteau’s words could have been the theme of Young Chefs’ first vegan and vegetarian cooking camp last week. Of the six campers, only one followed the vegan dietary pattern, while two were lacto-, ovo-vegetarians, and the three others were omnivores, like me. Everyone agreed to try plant-based cooking for a week, and that meant sometimes stepping out of our comfort zone.

Mixing vegan chocolate chip cookies
Mixing vegan chocolate chip cookies

Before the camp began, I asked the campers’ mothers what the children would like to learn how to prepare themselves, and I created vegan menus based on those food preferences. All of us, through experimenting with cooking and unfamiliar tastes, expanded the limits of our souls.

Using the immersion blender on pizza sauce
Using the immersion blender on pizza sauce

Because campers wanted to make both mac and cheese and pizza, we learned about substitute ingredients for a nondairy food that kind of tastes like cheese, including nutritional yeast, aquafaba, cashews and coconut milk. When we made a tasty tofu ricotta topping for the pizza, I relented a bit for the sake of the non-vegans and included mozzarella as an alternative topping. Some tastes are acquired over multiple tastings, rather than being instant hits.

Tofu "ricotta"
Tofu “ricotta”

My own favorites dishes were Indian vegetable biryani, vegan raita (by Vaishali Honawar) and blackberry coconut ice “cream” by Gena Hamshaw in Food 52 VeganWe experimented with a chia lemonade by freezing it, making lemon chia sorbet, but I was probably the only one who enjoyed chewing on chia seeds in the sorbet.

I’ll post more about the plant-based camp tomorrow.