- Kellie Hynes For the AJC
I am a kale woman married to a meat-and-potatoes man. Our relationship works because I cook him beef, and he holds our hound dog while I dress her in costumes. So when I want a restaurant meal that’s vegetable-forward, I buy myself lunch at a lovely little Ethiopian place. I’m obsessed with its gomen wat: tender collard greens, spicy ginger and some sort of magic that makes me crave it again even before I’ve finished the meal.
The collard greens in gomen wat are different from the greens in your grandmother’s recipe because they are savory without the addition of a large hunk o’ pig. In fact, gomen wat is vegan, as long as you cook the greens in vegetable oil and skip the spiced butter known as “niter kibbeh.” Traditional recipes call for sauteing the greens, onions and bell pepper in up to a quarter cup of oil. In the interest of healthy cooking, I reduced the oil by half. Less oil made my arteries happy, but I needed to stir more frequently to prevent the veggies from scorching. Even with all that scraping, the bottom of my skillet browned. The fun foodie term for this coating is “fond,” and it means you’re doing it right.
Most of the yummy golden bits release when you deglaze the pan with a dramatically steamy pour of vegetable broth. A word of caution: Do not become distracted while you’re adding the broth. The hot steam comes up fast and smarts if you don’t move your hand away quickly.
Unlike the hours needed to cook the greens in your family recipe, these verdant veggies are on the table in less than 15 minutes. The cook time is drastically reduced because the greens are sliced in a chiffonade cut, which tames tough greens into quick-cooking ribbons. Simply stack the leaves on top of each other, roll them into a tight cylinder, and make quarter-inch cuts perpendicularly. It seems like a lot of prep work, but once you get the hang of it, you can slice a pound of greens in just a minute or two.
My entire family cheerfully chowed down on my homemade gomen wat (of course, you-know-who enjoyed his with a side of smoked pork loin) until I discovered the recipe’s nutritional information. My delicious, iron-rich, high-fiber recipe had a whopping 18 grams of fat per serving. No, it wasn’t a calculation mistake; even though I had dropped the oil by half, 2 tablespoons of oil still add a ton of fat. I couldn’t reduce the oil in the saute any more without really burning — not just fond-creating — the greens. So, in a move that is decidedly NOT Ethiopian-authentic, I steamed the greens in the microwave first, and then finished them in a saute with only 2 teaspoons of oil. Now they’re still tender, but with a healthier 6 grams of fat per serving.
Gomen wat is enjoyed with “injera,” which is a gluten-free Ethiopian bread best described as the love child of sourdough bread and crepes. It can ferment in as little as 24 hours, so if you’re the sort of person who has a kitchen counter full of bubbling starters, it’s an easy one to DIY. Or you can serve your greens over rice and call it a day. Either way, you have a savory, flavor-packed veggie dish that gives you a lot to talk about.