Berbere: the not-so-secret spice of Ethiopian cuisine

Berbere: the not-so-secret ingredient of Ethiopian cuisine

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.

Not your traditional Doro Wat: Mushrooms instead of chicken give this stew heft

Not your traditional Doro Wat: Mushrooms instead of chicken give this stew heft

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

Azla makes a gluten-free injera, the staple bread which doubles as a utensil in Ethiopian cuisine

Azla Abegaze makes a gluten-free injera, the staple bread which doubles as a utensil in Ethiopian cuisine

Nes and Azla take a break from cooking

Nes and Azla take a break from cooking

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6 Comments »

  • Kirby said:

    Caught the interview on my way home. LOVED the story. However, where is the restaurant and what is it called?

  • lisanapoli said:

    Azla Vegan in Mercado La Paloma near downtown. Sorry!

  • meg said:

    I understood that injera was naturally gluten-free when made from the traditional tef grain (which may be difficult to import into the US)

  • Liza said:

    Another great restaurant to try. Thanks LIsa! I actually live right next to Little Ethiopia and was hoping it was in my neighborhood, but this sounds like it's worth a trip to DTLA!

  • lisanapoli said:

    Yes, Meg, but apparently here in the US other fillers are typically used.

  • maskman said:

    thank Lisa very much but what is restaurant name ?

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