Half a lifetime ago, I moved to Berkeley to attend college at the University of California—the birthplace of the countercultural revolution of the 1960s. I missed the action by a generation, but even as a wide-eyed freshman in the early nineties, I saw that the hippie flag still flew proudly. Aging Deadheads, Telegraph Avenue panhandlers, and hackey-sacking students alike reveled in the free-wheeling, anything-goes spirit of the community. For many of us who were living on our own for the first time, the intoxicating scent of freedom was in the air. (The air smelled like other things, too. We’re talking about Berkeley, after all.)
And why not? College is the time for experimentation. Some of my peers dabbled in mind-altering substances. Others explored alternative cultures, music, religions, sexual identities, and politics. Some took off all their clothes and strolled around campus naked.
Me? I was just there for the food.
I’d never tried African cuisine before college. But not long after my newly-laminated student ID was in my wallet, one of my friends—an oh-so-worldly sophomore—invited me to dinner at The Blue Nile, a now defunct Berkeley institution (right next to People’s Park!) that served up rich, spicy Ethiopian stews and a sweet honey wine called tej.
There, in the restaurant’s dark and cozy dining room, I was introduced to a multitude of fragrant, assertively spiced dishes, from yebeg alicha (a hearty lamb stew) to siga tibs (beef sautéed with onions and tongue-tingling spices). These long-simmered stews came served atop a thin layer of soft injera bread. My friend showed me how to tear off bite-size pieces of the spongy, sour bread and use them to scoop the stews into my mouth. Everything was lip-smackingly delicious. I was hooked on Ethiopian food.
After that, I made a point of seeking out Ethiopian and Eritrean joints. Wherever I happened to be—from Berkeley to Harlem, San Francisco to Boston—I’d make sure I wound up seated before a wicker mesob, hungrily tearing into a platter of slow-cooked meats, vegetables, and lentils.
Henry never really understood my all-consuming obsession with this cuisine. The glacially slow service at my favorite Ethiopian restaurants in San Francisco always drove my impatient husband nuts. Still, when prodded, even he would admit that the dishes are worth the long wait.
We both especially love doro wat—a slow-simmered spicy stew with fork-tender pieces of fall-off-the-bone chicken meat. Sadly, most Ethiopian restaurants only serve one or two chicken drumsticks with each order.
That’s one reason I decided to create my own Paleo-friendly doro wat recipe: I wanted to load up this fiery stew with as much chicken-y goodness as possible.