Perfect for sharing: Ethiopian cuisine lends itself to bringing together family, friends

"My parents made sure their children learned how to cook," said Yohana Solomon of Kushina Catering. Growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she was responsible for preparing Saturday lunch and dinner for her parents and three younger siblings. "I got to pick what I wanted to cook, and me and my mom would go shopping, then cook together."

The menu wasn’t strictly Ethiopian. Solomon’s parents are from Eritrea, the small country just north of Ethiopia. “Eritrea was colonized by the Italians, so we grew up eating a combination of Italian and Ethiopian food. On Saturdays, we would eat Italian food for lunch and Ethiopian dishes for dinner.”

One skill she didn’t pick up from her mom was the knack for making injera, the fermented flatbread with a spongy texture traditionally torn into small pieces and used to scoop up bites of the meal. “When my mom visits me here, she still makes it, but making it with her, I decided I needed to live in a mansion and have an assistant to do all my other chores if I was going to make injera here. It is too much work!”

Solomon came to the States in 1998, escaping the Ethiopian civil war. She worked jobs in the coffee industry, a natural for someone from a country with coffee as one of its main exports. But after having a child, she decided catering was a way to take care of her family while cooking the food of home. Solomon, who has been in Atlanta for 13 years, became a U.S. citizen two years ago.

Vegetables have always played a large role in her diet. “We are Orthodox Christian with a tradition of fasting. That means no meat or dairy, so much of our diet is vegan. It’s just the way we eat. It’s definitely comfort food. I like to say it’s food that hugs you from the inside.”

Her recipes for Gomen and Tekel Gomen will look familiar to many Southern cooks. The first is a dish of seasoned collards, and the second is a mixture of cabbage and carrots. “It’s very simple to cook Ethiopian food and not intimidating at all. It’s also healthy food and I like to buy my vegetables from local farmers. It’s a way to help the community while eating delicious food,” she said.

Her 9-year-old daughter, Seseni, is following in her footsteps, going shopping and cooking with her mother. “We eat Ethiopian maybe twice a week. It’s not food you eat by yourself. You need three or four dishes to make the meal, and you want company. My sister will join us and maybe some friends.”

And the injera that’s essential for the meal? She buys it from Yeshi Mart in Clarkston, where the owner’s mom is in the back making injera by hand just as Solomon’s mother did.

Tamar Telahun and her brother Simon Gebru offer Ethiopian/Eritrean food at Feedel Bistro, their DeKalb County restaurant near the intersection of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads. "We are Eritrean although we were born and raised in Ethiopia. Our food is in the style of our mother's cooking. It is how we pay homage to our parents, to our bloodline," said Telahun.

When she thinks back to the food her mother, Meaza Habtemichael, prepared, she says it wasn’t until she was older that she appreciated how delicious and healthy it was. “How did she know to do that? She didn’t travel all over the world learning food or study at a culinary school like my sister Abeba (Telahun) did. She just understood food and was creative. We use her cooking style a lot as an example, and she and my sister had a huge role in putting our restaurant menu together.”

Telahun’s dad, Telahun Gebru, modeled hospitality for her and her five siblings. “Sharing food runs in our blood. My mother shows her love and appreciation by cooking people good food. And my father thought food was meant to be shared, meant to be enjoyed sitting in a circle at a table with people you care about, and with strangers. He would give my mother 30 minutes’ notice and bring his clients to the house for lunch.”

She says having lentils in the house was a given in any Ethiopian or Eritrean household. “It’s like having cereal. It’s what we all grew up with. Stewed red lentils, misir wat, is a great dish to eat when you’re fasting. Lent, for example, is a huge deal for us. When you fast for 54 days, vegetables and lentils are the highlight of our life at that time.”

Her recipe for mushroom tibs takes what is usually a dish of sauteed meat or fish and uses mushrooms instead. “We didn’t grow up with mushrooms, but they make a great substitute for the meat. It was a customer who reminded me she had enjoyed this dish at my home that made us decide to put it on the menu.”

And as for injera? “We always joke and say we were never meant to make injera in America. It’s a complicated, moody food. At home, the climate is different. The temperatures more steady. Here the climate can completely change the batter in one hour and then you have no injera that night.”


Ethiopian vegetable dishes are comfort food from the other side of the globe. They'll be familiar, but with a little twist. The only exotic ingredient needed for some recipes is berbere, an Ethiopian/Eritrean spice mix available in Ethiopian groceries or from Kushina Catering.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Yohana Solomon of Kushina Catering.

Per 1/2 cup: 64 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 78 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Tamar Telahun of Feedel Bistro.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Tamar Telahun of Feedel Bistro.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Yohana Solomon of Kushina Catering.


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