Chef Amsale Sumamo doesn’t just like to cook; she loves to cook. You would think that after spending six days a week in the kitchen of her Edmonton restaurant, Langano Skies, she would want a break on her day off.
Instead she whips up extravagant meals for her family. The passion for cooking runs deep for Sumamo, a native of Gondar, Ethiopia.
Sumamo didn’t grow up cooking. She says her parents wanted her to focus on her schooling and not worry about making meals. Even though she wasn’t helping her mom in the kitchen, she was always watching and learning.
When Sumamo was 19, acting on advice from her father, she and a friend fled the political unrest of Ethiopia. They walked 11 hours a day for a week to reach El-Gedaref, Sudan.
Once they got there, Sumamo quickly realized she would have to learn to cook for survival, and taught herself to make simple dishes with inexpensive ingredients that she had grown up with.
Two years later, in 1983, she found herself en route to Edmonton, sponsored by her future husband Paul.
Adapting to Edmonton had its own challenges, as not only were Ethiopian restaurants virtually non-existent here at that time, but even ingredients for her food couldn’t easily be found — if at all. Sumamo was teaching herself to cook traditional Ethiopian dishes while having to adapt to the ingredients available.
These days most Ethiopian ingredients can be found here, but Sumamo, a self-professed control freak, insists on bringing some specific spice blends back from her trips home.
“If I’m using it, I want to know what’s in it,” she said. “We go to a spice lady who makes a berbere blend for us, and we bring it home with us — sometimes as much as 75 kilograms on a trip.”
At the Whyte Avenue restaurant she owns with her husband, Sumamo likes to focus on serving customers healthy food.
She takes pride in limiting the fat and salt while boosting the flavour with quality spices.
“Ethiopian food is all about spices,” she said. She doesn’t skimp on them.
That focus on healthy transfers to eating at home too.
While they eat most lunches and dinners at the restaurant, the Sumamos often start the day with a healthy breakfast of avocado toast or scrambled eggs, always served with fresh fruit, and — of course — Ethiopian coffee. Ethiopia was the birthplace of coffee, after all.
Another popular dish in the Sumamo household is fül (pronounced “fool”), a mixture of fava beans, onions and cumin sautéed in butter, then mashed and topped with diced jalapeno, tomato and crumbled feta.
Sumamo’s first memory of the dish is sharing it with her father in an Arabic café in Ethiopia, and it was one of the first dishes she recreated after arriving in Sudan.
There are many variations of the dish across Africa and the Middle East, but Sumamo decided on her version because she likes the burst of flavour from the fresh jalapeno and tomato on top. Usually eaten for breakfast or a snack, the dish is sure to keep you full and satisfied for hours.
- 1 19-ounce can fava beans
- 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- ¼ medium onion, sliced
- ½ tablespoon cumin
- salt to taste
- 1 jalapeno, diced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 3 tablespoons feta, crumbled
Add butter to frying pan over medium-high heat.
Add sliced onion and sauté until softened.
Add canned beans, including the liquid.
Sauté until warmed through, and mash slightly in the pan.
Spoon onto serving platter and top with diced jalapeno, tomato and feta.
Serve with pita bread.
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