Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine
About 10 and a half years ago, when I was a new vegetarian and in my first year of law school, one of my classmates introduced me to Ethiopian cuisine. Luckily, we have a small block of restaurants in L.A. that's known as Little Ethiopia, so there are many different restaurants from which to choose.
This post is about my very favorite, Nyala, so I'll get on with singing its praises. Back in my law school days, we would always go for the all-you-can-eat vegetarian lunch buffet (all of their vegetarian food is vegan). I'd fill my plate with legume and vegetable goodness, with a nice little mound of perfectly rolled injera (teff-based flat bread) to use as utensils. This was my first realization that my new vegetarian lifestyle was going to open my palate to many, many new cultures and flavors.
It's been a long time since I've had the luxury of eating lunch out on a weekday, so now I usually go for dinner, as was the case on a mid-March Saturday. I invited Happy Herbivore and her husband to join me for dinner at Nyala (our second time doing so; I forgot to take photos last time) and we each quickly ordered the Vegetarian Combination, which includes one portion of each of their vegetarian dishes plus a lightly-dressed salad.
For dinner service, Nyala also offers complimentary hummus and pita wedges. We vegans usually consume quite a bit of hummus in our lifetimes, but this is hands-down the best hummus I've ever eaten. It's obviously made from fresh, as opposed to canned, chickpeas, which you can imagine imparts a much different flavor and slightly different texture. I'd rather they didn't pool oil on top of this delicacy, but there's absolutely no reason to nitpick over that in the case of such overall goodness.
The Vegetarian Combination usually arrives with each portion neatly separated by about an inch of space atop a piece of unfolded injera (plus, a basket of extra injera). I like to eat my most favorite part last, so I started in the bottom left corner with the salad and moved my way around the plate counter-clockwise:
Yabesha Gommen (From the menu: Collard greens seasoned with fresh garlic and ginger)
Yatakilt Wot (Mixed vegetables: fresh carrots, potatoes, and cabbage cooked with garlic and ginger)
Defen Yemiser Wot (Bean stew cooked in fresh garlic and ginger)
Yemiser Wot (Red lentil stew simmered in seasoned red pepper sauce, fresh garlic and ginger)
Kik Alecha (Mild yellow split peas cooked with onion, fresh garlic and ginger)
Honestly, I have a hard time deciding which of the three legume dishes is my favorite; I love them all. So, I usually just eat them in the order presented. The Defen Yemiser Wot is really well spiced, but not spicy, while the Yemiser Wot is a bit spicy from the red pepper sauce. Kik Alecha is a lovely mild, creamy dish (I know you did a bit of a double-take upon seeing the word "onion" in the menu description of the Kik Alecha. Let me assure you that I can neither see nor taste the offensive onion in this dish, which is why I'm able to happily consume it.). Also, don't get me wrong, the vegetable dishes are truly delectable. I think I just have a preference for the lovely warming spices with which the legume dishes are infused.
If you have a chance to try Nyala, please do. You'll be giving a family-owned-and-operated restaurant your business and you'll get a wonderful meal, too. Oh, and you might even spot actor Mario Van Peebles and his family there, like we did.