Teff (Eragrostis tef) or lovegrass, is a tiny seed that packs quite a punch. This little nutty grain is a mainstay in Ethiopian cuisine, and it's super healthy. I purchased some teff flour several years ago when I started learning about gluten-free grains and was intimidated by the preparation advice. Even though I have many Ethiopian friends (one of the great things that comes with living in a mixed cultural society of immigrants from all over the world), and have enjoyed homemade Ethiopian cuisine on several occasions, I never got around to using it.
So tonight I was invited to "Erev Teff" or Teff Evening, set up by our gracious host Dikla in conjunction with the local community center, and run by a woman named Tegest, a chef from the area. Tegest runs her own Ethiopian food business, and aside from making amazing dishes, she also gives lectures on Ethiopian food and cooking. She spent the evening running from cooking, serving, and answering questions about the different kinds of teff (there's white and brown, except "white" is actually light and not really white), how it's prepared, where to buy and what to ask or look for, how long it can be stored, and much more. She was an excellent teacher and despite being overwhelmed with eager "students", did an amazing job!
So, let's get on to the teff. First of all a little intro. Despite its odd greyish-brown color, teff actually has a delicate and pleasant nutty flavor, it's super versatile, and it's very, very good for you.
According to a 2015 BBC article, teff is so essential to Ethiopia's economy, and a major staple food, the country has banned export of the grain or flour.
Teff contains eight essential amino acids, manganese, phosphorous, iron, copper, aluminum, barium, thiamine, and vitamin C and tons of protein. The iron in teff is absorbed well, making it a great solution for pregnant or nursing moms, vegans, and those suffering from anemia.
Teff was featured on the Dr. Oz Show as a grain that's great for PMS and losing weight (having "40% resistant starch").
So how does one prepare teff? Let me count the ways. Traditionally, teff is used as a staple the same way wheat is in Western countries. Teff can be made into flatbread, bread, pasta, or soup, or added to other foods as a starch. The most popular teff product is injera, a flatbread made simply with teff and water.
In order to make teff, you can prepare it by mixing water and teff, however it becomes fermented and slightly sour (and more "bubbly") the longer it's allowed to sit after mixing with water. Teff can be fermented anywhere from a few hours to several days depending on how fast it's needed and personal taste.
To prepare injera, first mix teff with water by hand in a bowl, and cover. If you like, you can prepare it in the morning and then when you come home it should be ready for a quick frying. Add more water and knead until it becomes the consistency of pancake mix, and then cook in a frying pan as you would pancakes.
The catch here is to watch for bubbles. As soon as you see the bubbles pop up, cover the pan with a lid and then wait until it's done.
Injera can be eaten straight, or as a side to salads or hot foods, but the very best way is as a "spoon" to scoop up delicious homemade spicy foods. A special spicy paste of berbere is made (careful, it's hotter than habaneros!) and spread on a small area of the bread, and then folded or ripped off. Since teff has such a delicate taste, it goes well together.
Our host had placed a whole spread of what you'd normally find at evening parties, restaurants while waiting for food (appetizers), or light lunches. A very light fluffy bread, nuts, fruit, and lots of different salads to suit all tastes, and of course, healthy (and vegan!).
My injera was eaten with several side dishes, some Ethiopian and some Israeli: a special dish of mashed peas and fried onions and spices, matbucha (tomato and red peppers), cabbage and mushroom salad, tahini, hummus, Israeli chopped salad, and olives.
The next dish was "disa" or porridge (similar to the Southern US dish of grits, but with a much smoother and richer texture). Simple to make, teff is mixed with water (don't worry, it won't go lumpy as it lacks the glutenous properties of wheat or corn), and cooked in a big simmering pot.
Once bubbling, it can be served plain, with sugar (or sugar and cinnamon), or with salt. The mixture has a slightly salty taste, so those on a low-sodium diet can easily enjoy this plain.
Afterwards, we enjoyed Ethiopian coffee. Coffee is not only enjoyed as a drink or morning pick-me-up, it has a special place in the family, community, and society.
An entire ritual surrounds the coffee, and there are special roles for who can serve, who is served first, and much more, which will be saved for a future post (look out for it!). I snuck in two small cups, as the taste is very similar to tea and was a great way to end an amazing evening.
If you're interested in learning more about teff and happen to live in the area, or if you're interested in having some awesome Ethiopian catering for any event, get in touch with Tegest by email or on Facebook.
So folks, I'm about to break out the teff, and suggest you do too.