Ethiopia Dreaming: Zilzil Alecha—Prime Beef in Green Pepper Sauce


A photo from my book “FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection” of a classic Ethiopian dish, Zizl Alecha, served with lentils, cabbage, and the iconic spongy injera, made from teff —a nutritious and gluten-free ancient grain with a mildly nutty flavor.

Though it’s been more than three years since I was cruising, winding my way through Ethiopia and following the Nile River, exploring the ancient ruins of Lalibela and searching for the remains of Haile Selassie’s Lions and the tomb or memorial of Bob Marley, tonight I found myself dreaming back to those days. I decided to whip up a culinary delight from the country I so endeared while thinking about the silly antics I indulged in a few days before crossing the border into Sudan.

Let me explain. Though the donkey dealer from whom I tried to purchase one of his finest specimens strongly talked me out of it, reasoning that the Sudanese border and customs officers wouldn’t let me into their country with an Ethiopian donkey. To be sure, I wanted to try. You can see a photo of my donkey salesman and his stable in my book FORKS. Or, you can see even more photos and some video in the Ethiopian eBook version of FORKS on the Apple Books store (only $2.99)

Though I have yet ever to find out if I could have taken my new donkey into Sudan, I did have incredible experiences and discoveries while traveling through Ethiopia. As I’ve been deep into the production and writing of my new book, I had the urge to cook Ethiopian food this evening. So I pulled out my recipe of zizil alecha, a somewhat spicy dish (well, this is Ethiopian, after all) of prime beef simmered in a green pepper sauce.

So easy it is to prepare and so tasty it is on my palate; the only slight disappointment is that here in the USA, we cannot, without great effort, make true injera, the almost spongy flatbread-like meal accompaniment that the Ethiopians make from the grain “teff.” It’s ubiquitous in Ethiopia, yet so rare to find outside this part of Africa. Most Ethiopian restaurants will import teff, but because of its expense, they typically mix it with other grains like flour. In that way, the injera you might have at an Ethiopian restaurant is not the “real thing.” For tonight, I decided to use a combo of rice and flatbread as a poor substitute.

The flavors are complex; the spice tamed and the beef tender and rich. You need to try cooking this! Alas, while you can find recipes online, I’m confident you should wait for my new book, FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection, as we’ve taken it up a notch and combined the recipe with more stories of donkeys and injera from Ethiopia and great photographs from my journey.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy a few snaps from my culinary crusade and adventure into Ethiopia this evening.

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