At Awash in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood it's nearly impossible to not stuff yourself with injera. The crêpe-like bread, a staple of Ethiopian cuisine, has a mild sourdough flavor, and it doubles as your plate and your silverware. It all starts with teff, the world’s smallest grain. While it’s roughly the size of a poppy seed, it's a superfood that's high in both protein and iron, and it’s gluten-free.
Ethiopian food blends a number of traditions into bountiful plates of food. While the cuisine is heavy in vegetables, beef, and lamb, you'd be hard pressed to find an Ethiopian kitchen that serves pork or shellfish in adherence with Orthodox Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions. Thanks to its vast vegan and red meat-based options, the menu at Awash lends itself to various appetites -- and injera is the thing that unites them all.
Romeo Regalli, the owner of Awash, explains the multi-step process behind a batch of the restaurant's injera as such: First, you add water to two separate batches; one with wheat flour and one with teff flour (a strictly gluten-free version is also available at the restaurant). Both mixtures ferment for three days -- this is what gives the injera its characteristic, tangy flavor -- before they are mixed together in one larger vat. Baking powder is added to help create a porous, sponge-like texture, and then the batter is poured over the mitad, a large, round hot plate, to cook.
Once it’s ready to go, the real artwork begins. The kitchen at Awash will build your order on top of the injera, as if the bread itself were a platter (don't worry: the staff gives you a bowl of rolled injera on the side, too). From there, you can customize it however you want: perhaps with a combination of vegan sides like key sir (beets and carrots stewed with garlic and ginger), shiro (spiced, ground chickpeas), and gomen (stewed collard greens with onion, garlic, and herbs); or flavor-packed meat options like the tibs wat (beef strips stewed in a berbere spice blend), or yebeg alicha (a buttery, onion-forward lamb stew). It’s hearty and delicious, but don’t forget to wash your hands. Not only will you be eating with them -- you’ll want to lick every finger, too.
Salivating already? Watch this week’s episode of The Explorers, in which we sent Lawrence Weibman -- aka @nycfoodguy -- to try some of the best injera in Brooklyn.