Veganism in: Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine

Somehow I never really was exposed to Ethiopian and Eritrean food before coming to Switzerland. I am not sure how common Ethiopian restaurants are around the world, but it was somehow not on my radar. Which is very unfortunate since I have been missing out. Turns out Ethiopian food is delicious and great for vegans! I have discussed several Ethiopian restaurants on my blog and I actually go back to those quite often. So, if you still haven’t tried: you are missing out.

Once again, I want to iterate that with this article I will just provide a basic overview. The culture and cuisine of Ethiopia and Eritrea is, like all cultures,  very extensive. Please check the sources below for more information. Especially the second link is full of information (it is a blog companion to a book)

Ethiopia and Eritrea

Notice in the title I mention Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. Eritrea used to be part of Ethiopia, it separated after a long fight for independence. The cuisines are quite similar, except in Eritrea, which has a coast, more seafood is consumed. Also, since this part was colonised by Italy longer, there are some specific pasta dishes found in Eritrea. I noticed several Ethiopian restaurants call themselves “Ethiopian and Eritrean” so I am sure they don’t mind I bunch them together here.

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Sambusas at Awash (Geneva)

Ethiopia is a pretty special country with a history longer than most. Literally. Since some of the oldest modern human skeletons have been found in Ethiopia. It is also the region from where the first modern humans travelled to the Middle-East and beyond. And, little known fact maybe, but it was one of the first countries that adopted Christianity as a state religion. Christians still make up the greater part of the population, followed by Islam. While initially the Ethiopian Orthodox church was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, it separated in 1959.

Food

Which is a nice segue to get onto the food, because that is what we are here to talk about! Orthodox Christianity prescribes several fasting days and periods, called tsom in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, during which animal products are excluded from the menu (similar as Pist of Post in Ukraine). This means that Ethiopian cuisine has several specifically vegan dishes, which are commonly eaten during these fasting periods.

Most Ethiopian dishes are in the form of thick, spicy stews, called wat or wot. These stews are served on top of injera, a large, thin, circular pancake made of fermented teff flour. Teff is a type of grass, and one of the earliest cultivated plants. The injera has a very specific taste due to the fermentation, and an almost spongy texture. It serves as a plate, and also as utensils; pieces are torn of to scoop up the stews (with the right hand!). In most Ethiopian restaurants you don’t get utensils (unless you ask nicely:)) and I have to say learning to efficiently eat one-handedly was a bit of a struggle, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

Injera at a table in Zara2001
Injera with salad and shiro wat – notice the holes in the injera – great for soaking up the stew juices!

During non-fasting days, different types of meat are used (apart from pork and shell-fish for religious reasons). Some dairy products are used, specifically clarified butter, niter kibbeh, for cooking (this is substituted by different types of oils during the fasting periods).  Legumes such as lentils, chick peas, and split peas are used in stews as well. Common vegetables are potatoes, onions, garlic, chard, carrots, tomatoes. For spices, the ‘berbere’ spice mix, which contains chilli peppers is very common. Some less spicy stews rely more heavy on turmeric.

Desserts are not really part of the Ethiopian food culture. The desserts that are exist are mostly imported from other cultures, like from the Italian and Arabic cuisines. The Ethiopian restaurants I have been too mostly serve Western-style desserts, or baklava. Of course Ethiopian-style sweets and pastries do exist, they are just not commonly eaten as desserts.

Drinks

Of course you can find a lot of global brands of drinks, like soft drinks, beer and wine in Ethiopia. But there are also some specific traditional drinks. However, in restaurants outside of Ethiopia, those drinks might be less common.

Let’s start with one of the most important beverages in Ethiopia:  Coffee. Traditionally it is made in a clay pot (jebena), and the beans are roasted on the spot. There is a whole coffee ceremony surrounding the drinking of coffee, which can take hours. Coffee is consumed with salt or sugar, and in some regions niter kibbeh is added to it.

For alcoholic beverages, there is tej (honey wine),  tella (beer made from barley) and areki, a strong liquor made of grain. In general beer is the most popular alcoholic drink, and in many Ethiopian restaurants several kinds of Ethiopian beer are served in addition to the local drinks.  Kenetto is a drink similar to tella, but without alcohol.

 

Zara2001 Interior
Mesob at a table at Zara2001 (Geneva)

Vegan dishes in Ethiopian restaurants

My exposure to Ethiopian food has purely been in restaurants outside of Ethiopia, so similar as for article on Indian food, there might be a Western cultural influence at play I am not aware of. What I have seen and eaten does line up with most of what I have read about the food, and most of the places I went to were also frequented by people from Ethiopia, so my guess is that it is relatively accurate. I do think the spiciness might be tuned down a bit 🙂

In all Ethiopian restaurants I have visited there is a clear distinction between the meat and vegetarian/vegan dishes on the menu card. In general the vegetarian dishes are okay for vegans to, just make sure there is no butter used. I found in most restaurants it is common to get several stews at once, which is similar to how the food is served in Ethiopia.

The stews are served on a (couple of) injera, and often accompanied by a salad made of greens, onions and tomatoes. Also, commonly the food is served in a sort of ‘sharing style’, where there is one main platter for several people. This platter is often presented in a mesob, a woven wicker basket. Traditionally these come on a foot, and all diners will sit around it to eat. Smaller versions that can fit on a dinner table exist as well.

Food at Awash
Salad, gomen wat, shiro wat, kik alecha and misir wat served on several injera

Sambusa/samosa: dough triangles filled with lentils (vegan version). Served as a starter

Injera: the sour-dough pancake made of teff

Shiro wat : mild chick pea stew, made from powdered chick peas. When I first had it I thought it was made from peanuts! It is very soft and creamy. (Careful, it occasionally contains niter kebbeh!)

Misir wat: red lentil stew with berbere spices

Kik alecha: yellow split peas, the alecha is a milder type of  stew made with turmeric

Gomen wat: Collard greens stew. I have mostly seen this dish made with spinach.

There are many more variations on these stews but these are the ones I have seen the most! Wow, writing this post made me crave some Ethiopian food! I am going to have to plan my next stop at an Ethiopian restaurant…I recently discovered some new ones 😀

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_cuisine

https://ethiopianfood.wordpress.com/ *

* This is a whole series of posts, all very interesting!

https://www.africanbites.com/ethiopian-collard-greens/

http://www.thegourmetgourmand.com/ethiopian-shiro-wat/

https://asoulfulappetite.com/african-cuisine/misir-and-shiro-wat-ethiopian-101/

https://allaboutethio.com/tfoodndrinks.html

 

 

Veganism in: Lebanese cuisine

I must confess this post is partially driven by the love for falafel and hummus. These are not specific for the Lebanese cuisine, since they can also be found in e.g. Israeli cuisine, but Lebanese eateries are more common here (in Western Europe) I really enjoy Lebanese food, with its different textures and flavours.

Hummus plate at Hummus house
Hummus with eggplant, pitas, pickles and two sauces at Hummus House (Amsterdam)

As someone that likes to eat and to travel, I have always been interested in the food eaten in other countries and regions. (Of course, as a vegan there will be many dishes I will not eat, and that is okay) The food in restaurants here has often been “Westernised” to a certain degree. This is partially due to availability of ingredients and adaptation to local tastes, creating a fusion rather than the authentic experience. That is not a bad thing! But that does makes it more difficult to experience the real deal. Especially when it comes to Middle-Eastern food, so often it is just fast-food-type places, serving kebab sandwiches and shawarma with fries. While those are for sure elements of Middle-Eastern cuisine, it is just a part of this amazingly rich cuisines. There are several common elements in Middle-Eastern foods, but all the different countries and regions have their own specialties, ingredients, spices, etc. However, access to authentic food from all these regions here is limited.

I found that Lebanese restaurants do in fact offer actual Lebanese food, and a wide variety of dishes. At a market in my city, a Lebanese family sells authentic, home-made food, and it is actually similar the stuff you get in restaurants like Le Cèdres du Liban and Homous & co.  Therefore I decided to focus on Lebanese cuisine. Many of the dishes that are found in Lebanon are also in nearby countries, such as Israel, Syria and even Cyprus. Of course, I haven’t traveled to Lebanon (yet!), so I cannot completely vouch for authenticity.

So that was quite a story! But I find it important to give a bit of background when talking about these things and to acknowledge my Western-European point of view:)

Warm mezzes at Al Boustan
Warm mezzes: fatayer and falafel with salad at Al Boustan (Paris)

History

The history of Lebanese cuisine is a rich and ancient; Western civilisation is said to have started here! The roots of some dishes can be traced back thousands of years. Due to its geographical location, it has been influenced by, and influenced the Middle East and the Mediterranean, which can be seen in the overlap with certain Greek dishes.

There have also been some specific influences from occupiers, such as the Ottomans, who occupied Lebanon for 400 years. They brought strong coffee and baklava. After the First World War the French came, and introduced specific pastries such as flan. When the French left after the Second World War, times of turmoil and stability have alternated in Lebanon, but the country is once again rising as a tourist destination.

Typical food

The ingredients used in Lebanese cuisine are diverse; grains such as rice and bulgur, fresh fruit like melons, grapes and figs, vegetables such as eggplant and cauliflower, lentils, chick peas, onions, and fish. Red meat is not very common, except for lamb (due to the Ottoman influence), poultry is used more often. The national food is kibbeh, a paté of lamb and bulgur wheat.

Vegan mezze at le cedres du liban
Mezzes at Cedres du Liban (Geneva)!

When it comes to dairy products, cheese and yogurt (labneh) are used often. Butter however, is rarely used, except in desserts. Garlic and olive oil are ubiquitous. (Good to know for vegans, for grilling or sautéing food, olive oil is used rather than butter)

Sauces are not commonly used, for flavour the Lebanese dishes depend on a variety of spices and herbs. A typical spice mix used in Lebanese food is za’atar (thyme, sesame and sumac) Other herbs that are used a lot are parsley, nutmeg, cinnamon and mint.

A very important part of the meal is the bread, or pita, a type of flatbread, which is used to scoop up food instead of cutlery.  For dessert baklava or fresh fruit such as melons are served. Baklava in Lebanon often contains pistachio nuts and rose-water syrup, rather than the honey-walnut variety found in Greece.

Food is often served as several small dishes to accompany drinks. This style is called mezze, and is similar to Italian antipasti or Spanish tapas. Mezze can be a meal in its own right. It is such a great way to have a meal if you are a person that cannot choose!

Tabbouleh at Al Boustan
Tabbouleh salad at Al Boustan (Paris)

When it comes to beverages, there is of course coffee (strong, and sometimes spiced with cardamom), but also jalab (a fruit syrup with rose water), ayran (a yogurt drink) and wine ( Lebanon is a large exporter of wine). The national liquor is arak, an anise-flavoured distilled drink. This drink apparently came into existence to replace the illegalized absinthe.

Likely vegan dishes

In the places where I have eaten Lebanese food, the following dishes were almost always vegan. (Still it won’t hurt to check, I once saw a place that used milk to prepare their hummus)

Cold mezzes
Pita – flatbread, served with every meal. The standard version is vegan
Hummus – chickpea and tahini (sesame paste) dip
Baba ganoush – roasted eggplant and tahini dip
Moutabal – similar to baba ganoush, but slightly differently spiced
Tabbouleh – bulgur and parsley salad
Dolmas (can be vegan) – grape leaves stuffed with rice
Fatoush (sometimes) – Bread salad made with pita bread

Warm mezzes

Falafel – chick pea balls
Foul Mudamas – fava beans (also eaten as breakfast)
Maghmour – eggplant, tomato and chick pea stew (sometimes called musaka)
Fatayer (sometimes) – dough triangles with stuffing, e.g. spinach
Mudardara – lentils with rice, sometimes served with yogurt
Loubiah Bzeit – Green beans with tomatoes
Shakshuka – Bell pepper stew (not to be confused with the egg dish!)

Desserts

Strong coffee, fresh fruits. Baklava is usually not vegan (butter and/or honey is used) but sometimes there are some vegan ones.

Sources:

Veganism in: Indian cuisine

Last time we talked about Italian cuisine, which might seem daunting for vegans but is in fact not. Now, let’s talk Indian food, which might sound easy for vegans, but in my experience can be more complicated than it seems. But not impossible, of course! Let’s get to it.

 

Pakora at Swagat
Vegetable pakora from Swagat (Vevey, Switzerland)

Just a little disclaimer. I have only eaten Indian food outside of India (both in restaurants and in Desi people’s homes) and that I have unfortunately not visited the country itself (yet). Therefore, the Indian food I have eaten might be a ‘Western European’ version of actual Indian food. However, since most of the people that read my blog will most likely also only enjoy Indian food in restaurants in Western Europe and the US (since that is where most of my visitors come from), I think this is not a problem.

Also, like with any cultural expression, books can be written about this topic and this is just one article. So I will try to cover the things that I think are interesting and relevant, but I might miss something. Feel free to let me know in the comments if that is the case!

 

Regional variations

India is a huge country, and there are large differences in people, cultures, climate and thus food across it. Some products are used in many regions, such as wheat, rice, pulses/lentils (in the form of dal). In India a variety of spices are grown, such as mustard, black pepper, cardamom and turmeric and they have been used in cooking for centuries.  Interestingly, potatoes, which are quite common in some regions of India, are in fact originating from South America and brought in by the Portuguese. Also chillies were introduced this way.  In the South and East of India, it is more common to eat with the hands rather than cutlery, which is not the case in Northern and Western regions.

Biryani and aloo gobi at Swagat
Vegetable biryani to the left, aloo gobi to the right

 

Most of the food served in Indian restaurants in Western Europe is actually from Northern India. The food is characterized by its heavy use of dairy; cream, yoghurt, paneer. Also, the tandoor oven is mostly associated with the Northern regions. From the Western regions, there are the chutneys, and stronger use of coconut milk and fish.  South Indian curries tend to be drier and less creamy compared to Northern versions. Dosas, a type of filled fermented pancakes, and papadums (crunchy chickpea flour breads) also are a South Indian speciality. Eastern India is mostly known for its desserts and many restaurants actually serve East Indian desserts.

 

Religion also plays a role in Indian cuisine. The major religion in India is Hinduism, followed by Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and several others. There is the idea that Hindu’s won’t eat beef, which is not necessarily true, though most prefer to eat a vegetarian diet. Similarly, not all Buddhists are vegetarian. In Jainism, vegetarianism is very common and veganism is actually encouraged. In total about a third of the Indian population is (lacto-) vegetarian, which explains the plethora of vegetarian dishes available in Indian restaurants.

 

Dal at Sultan
Dal tarka at the lunch buffet at Sultan restaurant

So yes, for vegetarians, Indian food is a great option. Unfortunately for vegans, dairy products are hiding in a lot of dishes which might seem vegan. For example: naan is almost never vegan, it has yoghurt. The ingredient which makes most vegan-looking dishes non-vegan is ghee. Ghee is a type of butter which is used a lot in Indian cooking instead of oil.  (I did read that in Europe, since ghee is less easy to come by, vegetable oil is more common)

 

Likely vegan dishes in (Western) Indian restaurants

Here is a (non-complete) list of dishes which are likely to be vegan. Still, every chef will have their own recipe, so be sure to ask. In general, it helps to be specific, especially about the ghee because it is so ubiquitous. (But as mentioned: ghee is less common outside of India, it is possible though that a restaurant will use vegetable oil)

Another general tip: avoid all creamy dishes (such as kormas), and dishes with ‘paneer’ (cheese).  As mentioned above, the North Indian cuisine is more common in restaurants in Western Europe, so most dishes I mention here are from that region. However, there are also restaurants which specifically have South Indian cuisines.

Bread

Bread in Indian cuisine is actually used as a utensil. Pieces of flat bread are torn off (not cut) and are used (sometimes together with cutlery) to scoop up the food. The most common type of flat bread in West-European Indian restaurants, naan, are usually made with yoghurt.

Vegan alternatives for naan:

Papadum: crunchy thin flatbread made of chick pea flour  (Interestingly, I have been to Indian restaurants in several different countries and they all serve papadums with sauces as an appetizer)

Chapati or roti: simple flatbread, made of flour, water and salt (sometimes brushed with butter)

 

Samosas at Swagat
Samosas at Swagat restaurant

 

 

Starters:

These starters have been vegan at every Indian restaurant I have seen them at:

Vegetable samosas – dough with potato filling

Pakora or (onion) bhajji – vegetables in chick pea flour, fried

 

Mains at Sultan
Rice with Baigan bharta (eggplant) and Alu Channa (chick peas and potato curry)

Mains:

These dishes have mostly been vegan in places where I saw them. Some of these are very occasionally made with cream, though.

Aloo gobi – potato and cauliflower curry

Vegetable or mushroom biryani – a rice dish, note that it is sometimes made with ghee and often served with raita (yoghurt sauce) to the side

Baigan bharta – mashed eggplant

Dal – lentils with spices, vegan in its basic preparation but are sometimes prepared with butter and cream though

Aloo jeera/bombay – potatoes with spices

Chana masala – chick pea curry

Desserts:

Most Indian desserts are made with diary in the form of condensed milk, butter, so in general they are a no-go for vegans. Some Indian restaurants do serve “Western” desserts like sorbets. I have on occasion had a vegan dessert! So asking won’t hurt, especially if you reserve in advance.

 

Gulab jamun at Swagat
Some Indian restaurants do serve vegan desserts! (Gulab Jamun at Swagat)

Conclusion

This article became a bit longer than initially intended…it is not easy to condense the amount of information of such a diverse subject! Also I like to talk about food. Indian food can be tricky for vegans but it is worth the hassle in my opinion 🙂

 

Sources:

https://www.culturalindia.net/indian-religions/

https://veganuary.com/eating-out/indian-cuisine/   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiquette_of_Indian_dining  

http://upbproducts.co.uk/blog/indian-food-find-differs-region-region/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_cuisine

Veganism in: Italian cuisine

In several of my posts I already talk a bit more about specific cuisines, for example in my post on Kutchi (Afghan cuisine).  I thought it would be useful to have some in-depth articles about vegan dishes from different countries/regions, either if you are planning to eat at a restaurant serving a specific cuisine, or if you are actually planning to visit that country! Of course every restaurant is different, but with an idea of what dishes could be (made) vegan, going out vegan might be less daunting !

Let’s start with an easy one. Italian food? Easy?? With its use of (Parmesan) cheese, fish and meat ? I hear you think. But yes! In my experience with Italian restaurants ( check my previous posts e.g.  Hotel Malibran in Venice) I have found that at real Italian places there is always delicious food to eat.

Focaccias in a display at Farini
Vegan & non-vegan focaccias at Farini (Italy)

In general the Mediterranean cuisines are supposed to be pretty healthy. Important components are olive oil, vegetables, legumes and nuts, fresh fruits  and grains, and a limitation of meat and dairy products. What sets apart the Italian way of food preparation is simplicity. Dishes usually have few ingredients, letting the quality of the ingredients shine.

Italian cuisine is itself quite diverse, with polenta and risotto from the North, pizza from the Naples region, meaty pasta sauces in Central Italy, more fish-based dishes, tomato sauces and capers from the Southern regions. The tomatoes themselves were actually introduced quite late, as they come from South America. Olives and artichokes, however, where already used in the ancient Roman Empire.

I touched upon the general structure of Italian meals in a previous post (La Tecia Vegana ), so I won’t get too much into that here.

Likely vegan dishes

All right, so now you are in a nice Italian restaurant, whether in Italy or not, and you study the menu. What do you actually choose? It depends of course on where you are, and many Italian restaurants will have nicely labelled vegan options. If not, it also depends a bit how comfortable you feel asking for a breakdown of a dish. Here is what I usually go for.

Bruschetta with olive oil and cherry tomatoes at Bar da Gino (Italy)
Bruschetta with olive oil and cherry tomatoes at Bar da Gino (Italy)

Starters:

Olives: of course

Focaccia – these breads are likely vegan and tend to be made of the same dough as pizza (so: water, oil, salt, flour and yeast)

Bruschetta – grilled bread topped with olive oil, garlic and/or tomatoes

Mains:

Steer away from the obvious meat and fish plates and get right into carb-y goodness:

Pasta with tomato sauce at Hotel Malibran
Pasta with tomato sauce at Hotel Malibran (Italy)

Pasta – spaghetti and penne is almost always vegan whereas tagliatelle is mostly made with egg. Stuffed pastas (such as ravioli and tortellini), risotto (often made with butter) and lasagna are very unlikely to be vegan.  Also stay clear of pesto dishes (usually has cheese) and white sauces. Your best bet are the most simple red sauces.

Examples:

spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, oil and pepper flakes) is literally just that

spaghetti alla marinara (spaghetti with tomato sauce)

penne all’arrabbiata (penne with spicy tomato sauce)

Pizza – most pizza dough is vegan. Try to find a pizza marinara, which is just pizza with tomato sauce. I also see often pizza with grilled veggies, that is a good option too. In case they do have mozzarella, it is easy to ask if they can be left out since most pizza is made to order anyway.

Pizza marinara at Luigia
Pizza marinara with capers at Luigia (Switzerland)

Many Italian restaurants will have some vegetable side dishes, such as grilled aubergines or other vegetables, artichokes, or panzanella salad (bread salad, occasionally vegan).

 

Desserts: Unfortunately, this is the area with the least amount of choices for vegans. Most sorbet ice cream is vegan, however, make sure to confirm this. The alternative: end your meal with a nice espresso. Very Italian!

Soy cappuccino at Bar da Gino.
Or a soy cappuccino if available and you are a terrible heathen in the eyes of Italians 😉 (Italy)
Sources:
& my own experience eating a lot of Italian food both in Italy and outside of it 🙂