Sharing Ethiopian Flavors - 405 Magazine

Sharing Ethiopian Flavors

Caterer and chef Haiget Yosef advocates eating together and shares a traditional Ethiopian recipe.


Haiget Yosef’s transition from home cooking to cooking for a living happened when she was a teenager in Nairobi, Kenya, but the process began with an American-sounding event: she made the school lunch lady angry. Growing up in a family of 12 meant that she learned to help with the cooking while very young.

“By the time I was in my teens, I was able to cook for my entire family,” she says. “In high school, my older brother helped finance my first small business, making lunch boxes for students.”

Haiget did well with the business – to the point that she repaid her brother quickly, and her lunches became so popular that the school lunch lady “got jealous” and shut down the budding business. That early success instilled in her a love of cooking that she brought with her to the U.S.

“My first job in America was in a restaurant,” she says. “It introduced me to a way of life and food here in Oklahoma, and I loved every bit of it.”

She opened a home catering business that grew popular enough to lead to a restaurant, Haiget’s, which serves traditional Ethiopian and Kenyan food. Ethiopian cuisine is based around injera (flat sourdough bread torn into pieces and used as a kind of edible spoon), and the focus is on the experience of dining, not just the food.

“Dining in our culture is festive,” Haiget says. “Growing up, we always had relatives living with us. After the day’s activities, we came together to eat, and the ceremonies made you not want to leave the dinner table.”

The dining process eventually led to the adoption of one of Haiget’s favorite traditions: gursha.

“Gursha means that someone at the table will feed you, and according to the custom, you cannot say no,” she explains.

The togetherness gave rise to the custom of enbla, as well. It is an Ethiopian word that means “let’s eat together,” Haiget says. She was surprised by the culinary customs she found in Oklahoma: the rushed meals, the microwaved food and especially eating alone.

“In our culture, if you are alone and about to dine, you would say to someone ‘enbla,’ and they would eat with you,” Haiget says. “When Ethiopians come to our restaurant now and I serve them, they say ‘enbla,’ or when I’m busy rushing around they offer me gursha. I love the customs because they show a sense of caring for your fellow humans.”

That care for fellow humans includes a concern for food preparation and healthy eating. Meat is not central to Ethiopian cuisine, so the vegetarian options are rich and flavorful.

“Ethiopian cuisine is healthy cuisine,” Haiget says. “When people hear ‘healthy,’ though, they assume it tastes like grass, and much of their experience of vegetarian food is under-seasoned dishes.”

For this recipe, however, Haiget is deferring to Oklahoma preferences, so she picked an “easy, fast, healthy and delicious” chicken dish. While it’s traditionally served with injera, it also works well with rice.


► How It's Done

1 chicken breast
Black pepper
Lemon pepper
Garlic powder
½ onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
Rosemary powder

Cut single chicken breast into small cubes.

Marinate it with black pepper, lemon pepper, berbere (Ethiopian chili powder), garlic powder and a little bit of oil to help mix the spices according to your taste.

Place the chicken and half of a chopped onion into a sprayed pan, and sauté until the spices are all infused into the meat but not burned.

Add 2 tomatoes (chopped) and let cook 5-7 minutes with the juice of the tomatoes.

Once the chicken is cooked with almost all the liquid gone, but not dry, add julienne-cut jalapenos, ground rosemary powder and kibe (Ethiopian clarified butter).

Mix all for a minute or so for the flavors all to blend in, and then remove from heat.

► Haiget's