Coffee, ginger, garlic
At the heart of Queen of Sheba
If you’ve never tried Ethiopian food, you’ve been missing out on one of Africa’s most interesting cuisines. Fortunately, you can remedy that by visiting the Queen of Sheba Restaurant on State Boulevard.
Owned by friends Saba Marcos and Senait Gonfa, the restaurant opened last year in a small strip mall near Parkview Hospital. The restaurant is decorated in the greens, red and yellows of the Ethiopian flag, with musical instruments and other cultural artifacts on the walls.
But what hits you when you walk in is the smell: an enticing aroma of roasting coffee beans and warm ginger and garlic. All three form the basis of the cuisine at Queen of Sheba, Marcos said.
“Garlic and ginger we use very much in our food,” Marcos said. “We use (Ethiopian) chili, too. But most Americans (are afraid) of too much spice.”
Ethiopian cuisine is very centered on vegetables, with collard greens, lentils, peppers and cabbage in many dishes. Meats play a guest-starring role, with lamb, beef and chicken the primary sources of animal-based protein.
Nearly every Ethiopian dish is shared communally, placed on large round chargers that are covered with the ubiquitous injera, a flat, spongy bread that forms a “plate” on which piles of vegetables, lentils and meat are placed, to be shared with family and friends. Food is picked up and eaten with pieces of injera instead of silverware.
“In Ethiopian culture, we have the big plates in the middle” of the table, Marcos said. “We eat together with one plate. It shows our closeness.”
Perhaps the best way for a person new to Ethiopian food to sample the flavors that make the cuisine for interesting is by ordering a combination meal and sharing with a dining companion, as is the tradition in Ethiopian households.
“People like healthy foods,” Marcos said. “Our food, we use all the fresh foods, with more vegan and vegetarian (options). We try to provide healthy food to the community.”
The restaurant also serves freshly made fruit and vegetable juices, including spinach, carrot and strawberry juices. Customers can also order Ezekiel soup, made with 16 kinds of grains and beans, or Ezekiel bread, also made with a variety of grains. Loaves of Ezekiel bread are also available.
Marcos and Gonfa met via their husbands, who came to Fort Wayne to study for the ministry at Concordia Theological Seminary. Gonfa, who is from Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa, would cook meals for her husband’s fellow seminarians, who encouraged her to share her foods and culture with the wider Fort Wayne area.
“It’s a part of our culture, to have guests in our home to eat,” Gonfa said. “I’ve always wanted to have my own business. Saba wanted (to perform) the coffee (ceremony), and our vision matched.”
About that coffee: it plays a central role in the lives of Ethiopia’s women. Three times a day, women will gather at friends’ and neighbors’ houses to sip coffee and talk, Marcos said.
Queen of Sheba’s coffee ceremony should not be missed. Marcos takes raw coffee beans and roasts them in a dry iron pan over an open flame. The scent of the roasting beans mixes with frankincense incense, which she burns at the same time and which combines with the coffee to create an intoxicating aroma. Once the beans are roasted a dark brown, she grinds the beans and steeps them in an earthenware pot. The coffee is served in demitasse-sized cups, with honey or sugar to sweeten. The coffee, though strong, is smooth and delicious.
“Coffee is a time to share our news,” Gonfa said.
Marcos, who does the cooking in addition to the coffee ceremony, said she learned the dishes from her mother, who wrote several cookbooks on Ethiopian foods.
“I learned most of my cooking style from her,” Marcos said. “I’m not (much of) an eater, but I like to serve people the best.”
Queen of Sheba’s Lamb Tibs
1 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 tablespoons clarified butter
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ pound cubed lamb
½ red onion, chopped
½ red or yellow pepper, diced or cut in strips
1 jalapeño chili, seeded and minced
1. Heat a saucepan until very hot.
2. Add tomato and oil. Stir for about one minute.
3. Add the garlic and ginger.
4. Add the lamb and stir until well done.
5. Add the chopped onion, red peppers and jalapeño, mixing well.
6. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Add the clarified butter and mix well.
8. Serve lamb with injera, rice or bread.
First appeared in the May 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.