Ch'chebsa: Comfort Junk Food and Truth Serum

Several nights ago the children were engaging in full blown ugliness. Even the oldest ones, normally capable of amazing keeping-it-together-ness were bickering, caterwauling and fighting. The toddlers were screaming their heads off and I was in that state where I try to explain to -apparently zero people because no one is listening in the slightest- If you don't leave me alone, you will not eat. It is so simple. Food requires you to let go of my body and shut your mouths. 

Somehow amid the mutiny uprising, one or three of them begged me to make ch'chebsa, an Ethiopian dish that has almost no nutritional value but tastes like candied awesomeness. It takes at least an hour to make start to finish for this many people and I didn't know how I'd make it through (Read: put on Dinosaur Train) but I tackled the dish and somehow the promise of this food made everyone chill out. The mere idea of this food acted like a natural sedative.

As soon as it was done, they came running. It was like they were sprinkled with magical pixie dust of Kindness and Good Will Towards Mother. The children who had just been fighting pulled a 180 and may have been skipping and holding hands on their way to dinner.

So how to make this unhealthy, delicious snack? Give yourself 1.5 hours to 2 hours. If you are making it for two or three people, much less time. But if you have a crowd, plan on being on your feet for awhile.

UPDATE: I learned a much more authentic way to cook this, and for instructions, hop over here to the updated post with video instruction!



Eventually, the babies found out what was going on and they came running too. Tonight, dinner had no forks. No plates. They all ate out of one bowl and I was thrilled to not watch them chew. I let them at it. Incidentally, the following picture is my new favorite of my kids. And now they will be able to answer in the affirmative if anyone ever asks were you raised in a barn? Look at how I let them eat...

One interesting side effect of cooking Ethiopian food for my children, even the ones not born in Ethiopia is that it opens up the door for discussions. Topics come rolling out without guidance from me.
Let's move back to Ethiopia
Maybe Mom and Dad can adopt __________ (the name of the girls' mom) and her come here!
Maybe she can adopt the white kids, because Mom adopted the brown kids. That way everyone has two moms.
Maybe our neighbors will move and then we will have Ethiopians move in. I wish whole town just our family with white people, everyone else Ethiopian.
Yeah! That would be awesome! 

The food brings up memories of their time with their parents, their friends at the orphanage. Tonight I learned names of people and details about the past I'd never heard. Ethiopian food is the catalyst for healing, connection with the new family and with the first family. It opens the floodgates of contentment and memories. And for the kids who haven't been or do not remember Ethiopia, food is part of their pathway there.

It should be noted, once I realized I'd fed my children solid fried bread for dinner, I quickly chopped up an entire head of collard greens and steamed/sauted it with garlic and a few spices to make gommen, another favorite Ethiopian dish. It is fast and healthy and as you can see, all my kids eat it.


I sometimes wonder if I have the only four-year-old boy in the universe who demands we buy collard greens at the grocery store. The six children ate almost two pounds of collard greens in this sitting. The bowl was empty when they were done.

I have discovered that Ch'chebsa is the ultimate comfort food. It is a royal pain to make, and worth every minute. Maybe it will bring a little happiness to your house this week, too.


SaraJ said...

I had this in Ethiopia but never knew what it was called, so happy to see this slightly hard to follow recipe. I like measurements! But I am still going to try. The kids are hilarious...

Ashley said...

I'm going to try this this week at my house as well! You are right...nothing brings up deep, tucked away memories like Ethiopian food.

Have a recipe for sambusas?

Deborah said...

That looks/sounds so good! Do you think I could make it with flour tortillas, or do I need to start with flour & water from scratch?

And it is so awesome that your kids who were born here are learning more about Ethiopian culture, and the ones born in Ethiopia are seeing it can still be a part of their life.

AnnaJ said...

Some nights are just like that, you feed your children what looks like spicy, oily bread and they celebrate you (and the food) by 1) improving their moods 2) sharing the food with each other nicely and 3) sharing stories with you and each other. A winner all of the way around for the whole family. Good job, mama!

Also, the Teeny Tiny Spice Co. in Vermont sells berbere along with other world spice mixtures if you are seeking another source.

Anonymous said...

I randomly stumbled upon your blog and I have to say you are an AMAZING person/mother!! The love you have for your children radiates in every word you write!! You remind me that there are still good people left in this harsh world. So THANK YOU!

findingmagnolia said...

Quick question: can I make this a day ahead, or is it an only-eat-fresh item? I'm trying to figure out some Ethiopian food we can easily eat at the hospital since Elvie's surgery is on Genna, and we want to celebrate, but won't be able to have doro wot at home as planned. (I'd try to take doro wot to the hospital, but we'll be in a waiting room and not a real room yet, and my child is messy, and...no. I can't.)

Melissa said...

So great!