The goal of Meatless Monday is to find vegetarian dishes that satisfy even dyed-in-the-wool meat lovers like me. In my experience, there are few better ways to forget the flesh than dining on Ethiopian food. Why? Hearty stews are part of it, but I think the real answer is that few things are more emotionally rewarding than filling up on bread. And that’s the cuisine’s raison d’être.
This weekend, I headed to Alexandria with this in mind. Injera, to the uninitiated, is the Ethiopian sourdough bread that forms the cuisine’s foundation. The fluffy, towel-like flatbread serves as both a liner for the plate and as a utensil for picking up everything from salads to braises.
I chose Makeda Ethiopian Restaurant for its many combination plates. If I had decided to go pescatarian, I could have ordered a veggie combo with fish. For non-vegetarian diners trying Ethiopian food for the first time, the Taste of Makeda plate serves as a thorough intro with all the classics like doro wot, but also an appealing avocado salad I hadn’t tried elsewhere.
I ordered the basic veggie combo, which has seven dishes through which I was able to taste my way. But my first bite was of injera. Like any sourdough, the level of acid can vary greatly from version to version or even batch to batch. To my palate, the more sour the bread, the happier I am, and Makeda’s injera made me very happy.
The acidity of the bread worked magic with the sweetness of the fasolia wot, a sautée of al dente string beans with a bit of carrot for color. This was an unexpected highlight, but my heart will always belong to a well-made misir wot, and Makeda’s version is one of the best I’ve had. The red lentils were cooked to the point of creaminess, yes, but they retained a pleasant bite, leaving each lentil popping beneath my teeth. These were expertly prepared lentils, flavored with clarified butter and the earthy berbere spice that gives the dish not only its description-defying flavor but also its brick-red hue. None of the stews disappointed, though I did find myself returning to the fasolia wot and misir wot far more than the collard greens or cabbage.
There aren’t many restaurants with woman chefs in charge of the kitchen, and part of the appeal of Makeda is that chef Senait Tedla clearly cares about her customers. She visited my table to check on how I was enjoying my meal and seemed genuinely delighted when I reported satisfaction. And it was no lie. If skipping dinner is any indication of a successful lunch, then Makeda was a triumph. // 516A S. Van Dorn St., Alexandria