Nes Abegaze and her mother, Azla Mekonnen, spent this past weekend preparing for Christmas. No, they’re not wickedly late, nor ridiculously early. The food they were cooking is for Tuesday, which, thanks to the Coptic Church’s use of the Julian calendar, is Ethiopian Christmas.
There were two major twists on the meal they were preparing: For one thing, the food is for consumption at the restaurant they founded last year with their family, Azla Vegan. For another, the traditional “doro wat,” or chicken stew, is a vegan interpretation–not a shred of animal product. Instead, for a “meaty” texture, Azla uses mushrooms, stewed long and slow with tomatoes, onions, and plenty of home-made berbere, the staple spice of Ethiopian cooking.
Nes left her job as a middle school science teacher in south LA to help her mother realize her dream of bringing their native cuisine to a new audience. Nes’ health-consciousness lead to experimentation with vegan interpretations of the traditional fare–like a gluten-free injera (bread) made, in part, with quinoa flour. Or collards stewed with kale–not exactly a vegetable native to Ethiopia, but one in abundance here in California.
“Food is not just something you scarf down,” Nes told me of mealtimes in Ethiopia. “It’s so much more.” The ritual of eating, and sharing food, with family and friends, is an important part of any day, but even more important this Tuesday, on Christmas.
Azla Vegan is inside Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Avenue, downtown Los Angeles