Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ethiopian Cooking Night: Appetizer, Ayib Be Gomen

Ayib Be Gomen is a form of cheese dip served as an appetizer or as a side in Ethiopian cooking. I try to keep in mind while saying this that Ethiopia is such a poor country that the bulk of the population would not be so blessed as to have appetizers and might make an entire meal of what we would consider a side. Its a sobering thought. We are so blessed to have food at ready access. Further, we have enough to pick and choose and make our meals interesting. I'm thankful to get to experience the food from the many diverse cultures but its food for thought to consider that I can try some of their most amazing dishes all in one meal while the people of the country may only taste each dish on a few occasions in their entire life.

My Aunt B. and Uncle A. recently adopted two children from Ethiopia. While I live some distance away, I've enjoyed seeing posts and getting to visit with them during recent family gatherings. Its hard for me to picture the world from which they've come. Indeed the world they have expressed they don't want to return to due to the hunger and extreme poverty of the situation. Of course at 5 and 7 years old, this expression looks much more like extreme worry. When taken to the store for school supplies, there was a small freak out because the oldest was afraid they were buying him things to send him back. He didn't want to go back and neither of them want to eat the food from their native country...yet. Hopefully one day they'll be ready to embrace their culture, enjoying its good parts and trying to help those in situations similar to what they were in prior to adoption. I'm glad they're part of our family.

I guess you could say they served as part of the inspiration for the Ethiopian Cooking Night. Prior to that, Charles had requested an Ethiopian cooking night but I was very hesitant. Lets me be honest, I had no idea what Ethiopians ate and was a little afraid that my friends might not like it. How could I choose dishes from titles that looked so foreign? What was Doro Wat? The names for other dishes appeared even more foreign. While not typically intimidated by trying out unfamiliar dishes on my friends, the Ethiopian dishes remained untested until I had the opportunity to try them first hand. It would have been different, I think, had there been posts with pictures or descriptions of the foods available. Either way, I had Ethiopian food in Boston at Addis Red Sea this past fall and was convinced that it would make a fun addition to cooking night!

The first item on the menu was the appetizer. Oddly, when N. and I were in Boston, she selected Ayib Be Gomen as part of her meal while I made a face thinking it sounded quite unappetizing. How would you react to the idea of cottage cheese and collard greens. YUCK! I was WRONG. She talked me into trying it and I found it to be delicious. The combination of a few spices with the humble core ingredients of cottage cheese and collards created quite the transformation. This isn't scientific but they went from YUCK to YUM!

Yum, however, is not very descriptive. Combined with the spices, the cottage cheese and collards reminded me of a spinach and artichoke dip. This makes sense given the cheesy nature combined with a green leafy vegetable. The spices brought in nutty, sweet, and savory flavors at once to create a fairly quick appetizer that was nearly devoured while we prepared the main dishes. The yield for this recipe was close to 6 cups but that didn't stop it from disappearing at an amazing rate. Yay for a new, unique appetizer!

Ayib Be Gomen is not a very photogenic appetizer but quite tasty.

Ayib Be Gomen (Cottage Cheese with Collard Greens) (adapted from Saveur)

Serves: 8 people as an appetizer, 6 - 8 as a side dish
Prep time: 10 min.
Cook time: 30 minutes (This includes the time to prep the butter)


2 Tbsp Ethiopian Spiced Butter (Nit'r Qibe) or unsalted butter * recipe below, I wouldn't skip it.
1 1/2 lbs collard greens, remove stems and chop coarsely
1 lb cottage cheese
1" of ginger, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped

How To:

1. Prepare a steamer or boil water in a double boiler with steamer to steam the greens for 20-25 minutes. Drain in a colander to remove all liquid and chop finely. Set aside.

2. While the greens steam, prepare the butter. This will be enough butter for more than this single dish but if you're making multiple Ethiopian dishes its no problem. If not, you could simply season unsalted butter with the seasonings listed without clarifying the butter for a quick solution. Ethiopian spice butter directions follow at the end of this recipe.

3. Strain cottage cheese in a strainer over a bowl to remove excess liquid.

4. Puree ginger and garlic in a small food processor with 3 Tbsp water.

5. Heat the spiced butter in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent (6-8 minutes. Add the paste made of ginger and garlic and cook an additional 3-4 minutes.

6. Add greens to the frying pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, while stirring, until all ingredients are hot. Transfer to a bowl or dish and stir in the cottage cheese.

7. Serve with crackers or Injera (Ethiopian crepelike bread).


Ethiopian Spiced Butter (Nit'r Qibe) (adapted from Saveur)

Makes ~3/4 c.
Total time: 20 minutes


2 sticks (1/2 lb) of unsalted butter
1/4 tsp ground black cardamom seeds (at the regular grocery store)
1/4 tsp. fenugreek powder (Available via Indian grocery, Whole Foods, and some groceries. Its inexpensive.)
1/4 tsp. ground black caraway seeds (I bought whole caraway seeds and crushed them)

How To:

1. In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium-low heat. Foam will form. Skim the foam off the surface. The butter should come to a gentle simmer (small bubbles that do not populate the entire pot but occur in perhaps 30% of the surface area). Continue removing foam until the butter is clear. This takes me about 15 minutes. Saveur suggested 30 minutes. I think 30 minutes is more than enough time but 15 should be plenty.

2. When the butter is clear, strain it through a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. You don't want the solids from the bottom of the pan to be in your final solution.

3. Stir in cardamom seeds, fenugreek powder (crumbled fenugreek), and caraway seeds and mix well.

4. You can cool and transfer this to an airtight container and use up to 3 months. Alternately, you can go ahead and use it as we did in our cooking night recipes.

Reaction: DEVOURED. It was safe to conclude (based on the empty bowl) that this dish well well liked. Note: For those with lactose issues, some of the seasoned collards can be reserved separately without combining with cottage cheese. This was also enjoyed.

Hungry for more? See the rest of the Ethiopian Night Menu in upcoming posts.

 Appetizer: Ayib Be Gomen (Cottage Cheese with Collard Greens)  [today's post]
 Bread: Injera (spongy crepe like bread)
 Entree: Doro Wat (Flavorful chicken dish)
 Side (very mildly spiced): Fosoleay (carrots and green beans)
 Side (spicy) : Yemisir Alicha wet ("mild" lentil stew)
 Dessert: Tiramisu (sweet dish natively from Italy but used as a dessert for guests in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has no                
                             culturally native desserts.)


  1. Oh, my. That looks ridiculously quick and tasty! Um, will you host another Ethiopian cooking night sometime during the fall, please!? With tart cherries on top?

    I can't wait to see the rest of the Ethiopian night posts!

  2. This was a great cooking night. I'm going to make the Collard Green Appetizer this weekend!!

  3. Your story is very interesting. My sister tried to take me to an Ethiopian in Oregon and turned my nose up to the idea. How could a poor starving nation have much in the way to offer in the culinary world? I have since opened my mind and ate at a restaurant in Atlanta, Ga. My husband and I were so taken away with the rich stews and tender meats that we went back 2 weeks later on our way home from vacation. Since then we have tried some recipes.

    In making berbere I could not find fenugreek so we went to as Asian market. We were given a bag of methi kuriya which is suppose to be the same. Another source mentioned that you could use garam masala instead of berbere. I was glad I had not read that source before making the spice mixture because my house smelled so wonderful for the aroma of the warmed spices. My Misor Wat came out well and everyone loved it. I am going to give your ayib be gomen a try. I love all the ingredients.

    1. I apologize for the extreme delay in reply. I was nearly devoured by my dissertation work and now (a couple of years later), I noticed your message when I bounced back over here to do some updates and prepare for resuming posting.

      I'm glad you tried the Ethiopian restaurant and enjoyed yourself! I'm also glad you branched out and tried some new recipes. I have at least 4 other recipes to post alongside this one. They are slated to be added among the first when new posts resume in probably February of this year.

      To answer your question about fenugreek, it can be hard to locate. I have found it at Indian markets and it was labelled as dried fenugreek leaves in English and as Kasoori Methi (I think that is Hindi). The leaves should last longer than a powder form. I love the Wat dishes are they are very flavorful and found them to be tasty without being excessively spicy hot.

      How did you like the Ayib Be Gomen?