Injera Goes Gluten-Free at Cafe Lalibela
Sometimes you just have to get the real deal. Sometimes you just can't take one more stand-in, substitute, sort-of-like, kinda-similar wheat-free thing. Sometimes, when you get the real deal, it's even better than the wheaty version, and there is a sublime feeling of the pieces of the universe falling in line.
Judy Nichols The vegetarian platter at Cafe Lalibela is a painter's palette of color and taste. Now, it's gluten-free.
It happened to me the other day at Café Lalibela, the Ethiopian restaurant in Tempe.
Judy Nichols Cafe Lalibela now has a beautiful brown injera, made solely from teff, a naturally gluten-free grain indigenous to Ethiopia.
I've gone to Café Lalibela many times over the years, before and after my celiac diagnosis. I loved the vegetarian platter, the beautiful mix of dishes, the brown and red lentils, chickpeas, green beans, carrots and potatoes. I loved tearing off pieces of the spongy crepe-like injera (no utensils here) to scoop up bites from the savory mounds spooned like a painter's palette on the injera-lined, oversize platter. I loved the banter around the table as everyone was forced to become more intimate while sharing the one plate of sustenance.
It was a great place to take vegetarians like my sister and my stepbrother, and it was a favorite birthday outing for our office gang.
So I was morose when, after my diagnosis, I asked and found that the injera at Café Lalibela contained wheat.
Traditionally, injera is made from teff, a naturally gluten-free grain indigenous to Ethiopia. It's fermented into a pancake-like batter, then cooked, one-side only, on a large clay plate over a fire. The fermenting gives it a tangy, sourdough-like taste. But Café Lalibela, to compensate for different cooking conditions and, our waiter said, to make the injera more palatable to American taste buds, added wheat.
Because the dishes were served on top of the the injera, I couldn't even share the meal using a utensil. So at the next birthday lunch, I stoically ordered separately and ate my lentils off my own plate, sans injera, with a fork. I don't like to put a damper on a meal because of my eating issues, so I try to never complain and just eat the things that I can. But, I have to say, it really killed the party atmosphere for me.
So you can imagine how I wanted to get out the confetti when I learned that Lalibela now serves a traditional, gluten-free injera.