Coronavirus has shut down restaurant dining and broken my heart. I pretty much abandoned onsite eating last spring, and I’m not sure when I’ll feel comfortable enough to return. I especially miss my favourite Indian and Ethiopian spots. They were more than places to eat — they let me travel, if only for the time of the meal.
With another virus surge threatening further lockdowns, YouTube cooking videos ease my nostalgia for restaurants. The challenge of trying new techniques is a small escape, which I’ve found through these four dishes: One Indian, one Trinidadian, and a couple from Ethiopia. The ingredients aren’t hard to find and the techniques aren’t hard to master, but there are some things you should know before trying the recipes.
Order your spices online
Before all this, whenever I wanted to try my hand at a new dish, I took my recipes with me to reference as I browsed through international markets. Since the pandemic, though, I’m ordering online. Berbere, for example, is a staple seasoning for many Ethiopian dishes. Several YouTube videos give directions for making it, but it’s easier and cheaper to order online, and safer than browsing shelves at brick and mortar stores.
I’ve found, too, that Ethiopian and Indian cuisines use similar spices: cardamon, chilli powder, cinnamon, and turmeric. Once I stock up, I’m good for several types of dishes. If I can’t find the exact ingredients and the video doesn’t suggest substitutions, the comments often do. Taste might be compromised a bit, but I don’t need to replicate it exactly to trigger the memory of a pleasurable experience.
Read the comments (No, really)
Home cooks produce a ton of YouTube content, so niceties like measurements and detailed instructions can often be missing. That’s when reading the comments helps, where they tend to answer questions from their audience. The informality is part of the charm and the authenticity; it reminds of the way my family cooked — a pinch of this, a bit of that — and the way I learned.
There can also be a bit of a language barrier, and the comments can help. Some of the more authentic videos for Ethiopian and Indian dishes aren’t in English, but the hosts use captions or allow commenters to add translations.
Watch these videos
I first tasted this dish from a local carryout. I knew it was a keeper, but I couldn’t afford to order it as much as I’d like. This video solved my problem. Mushroom Pepper Masala is really easy to make, and it’s delicious. It took a bit longer than three minutes, but it’s easily whipped up on a weeknight.
The instructions are exceptionally clear and include measurements — a plus for me, but this video shines when it comes to explanation of technique. After all, the way you cook a dish is just as important as what goes into it.
This video was posted in 2011 and has since racked up more than 300,000 views as a nice twist on Caribbean cooking. Chris De La Rosa launched the channel in 2009 to showcase recipes from his native Trinidad Tobago. A decade later, he has a website and channel devoted to Caribbean-inspired dishes.
The special step in this recipe is browning the chicken in caramelised brown sugar, a technique that De La Rosa says is common throughout the Caribbean. It definitely sweetens the stew. If that’s not to your liking, use slightly less sugar than he recommends. Another key ingredient is culantro. It has a richer taste than cilantro, but the latter makes a decent substitute. Or you can use recaito (sometimes called “sofrito”), a cooking base that can be found in the international or Hispanic section of your local grocery.
This spiced tea is really nice on dreary winter days. It’s easily made with cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. The only special ingredient is tossegen, or Ethiopian thyme, though a sprig of domestic thyme works as well. The comments give a special hint: The tea is more flavorful if you grind and roast the spices lightly before adding the water.
I first tasted ayib when I ordered it on a whim. I liked it because it was a palate cleanser. I searched YouTube and discovered Samrawit Asfraw’s channel with a nice collection of vegan and non-vegan dishes, and her video for ayib is as easy as it looks.
Samrawit uses buttermilk with a pat of butter. I dumped 950 grams of whole fat yogurt into a pan, and cooked it on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the liquid and solids separated. (I don’t advise using low-fat or non-fat yogurt because they don’t curdle well.)
I didn’t have cheesecloth, so I lined my strainer with a couple of coffee maker filters, propped the strainer over a bowl, and let the whey drain. A quart of yogurt made about a cup of ayib.
These are some of my favourite recipes from the cuisines I miss most, but use YouTube to explore any cuisine or technique that piques your interest. I’ve learned to make authentic sushi, bulgogi, and East African roti, so don’t limit yourself. Eating is one of the few forms of fun we can have right now, and a fun way to experience the world outside of your home without leaving your home.