November 2, 2010
An Ethiopian American Thanksgiving

Submitted by Aster Bekele, this was one of two winning entries in our Thanksgiving story contest

I spend most of the year working with youth, educating them using gardening at Felege Hiywot Center or at IPS 51 and 69. So Thanksgiving is the time when I give my time to my family and thank God for them. I get up at 4 a.m. and start with praying; then I start preparing Ethiopian food and American food.  That is I prepare turkey with dressing and gravy, sweet potato, macaroni and cheese, corn pudding and biscuits. The Ethiopian food includes lentils, greens, cabbage, green beans and carrot. Since we have turkey, I do not prepare an Ethiopian meat dish.

I have two sons. One is married and has two daughters, ages 4 and 6, and one son who is two-years-old. My older son is not married. They spend the night on Wednesday so they don’t have to rush on Thursday to get to my house for lunch.  When I get up in the morning, everybody is asleep and they wake up to the delicious smell of food. Usually everything is set up when they wake up.

We start eating around noon. Since everyone stays pretty much all day, we eat lunch and dinner together. I tell them not to bring anything except themselves and my grandchildren. They are not allowed to worry about washing the dishes or cleaning up. I tell them not to worry about that until I am not able to do it. We all gather around the table and thank God for bringing us together and for all the blessing He provided for us. I observe each one of them and pay attention to all the detail things they do or say and take pictures. My granddaughters do a small drama, which is a great performance.

This is the time I thank God so much and also bargain with him.  See, in Ethiopian Orthodox church, the day of Thanksgiving is the day the 30-day fast for Christmas begins, which means we can not eat anything that comes from animal.  So I say, “Lord, this is the family you gave me and Thankgiving is special to them because they are Americans.  So I can either do 29 days of fasting or I can break the fast a day later.” And, of course, usually I break the fast with everyone fasting only 29 days. We celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, as well as Dec. 25, but I don’t break the fast on Dec. 25.

In the evening, after eating dinner, everyone starts going home. I fix them a plate to take. The kids don’t want to go home, but they do eventually. After they leave I sit down and reflect on the day and praise God. Then I start cleaning up. I pick up the plates from each seat and bless each one who was sitting there. I praise God when I wash the dishes by hand thanking him for that individual family member and giving me the strength for me to do it. I get done with the cleaning without feeling the time and when that gets done, I sit again to reflect back.  This time, instead of waking up at 4 a.m., I usually go to bed at 4 a.m. I am truly THANKFUL for that special day even though I am thankful everyday of the year.

Recipe for Ethiopian Sauce


1-1lb Onion,

2-1oz olive oil

3-1oz corn oil

4-1/2oz salt

5-1/2oz ginger

6-½ oz garlic

7-6oz tomato paste (optional)

8-½ tsp black pepper

9-1/tsp cinnamon

10-½ tsp cloves

11-½ tsp allspice

12-3oz beer,

13-2oz Berbere (buy from Abysinia restaurant)

Two kinds of sauce

1- Alicha Kulet (no hot sauce) using ingredient 1 – 6

2-Key Kulet (red/hot sauce) using ingredient 1-13

You can also buy the prepared Alicha Kulet -$5.00  and Key Kulet – $7.00 from Felege Hiywot Center (1648 Sheldon St. Indianapolis IN, 46218. 317.545.2245.  Call for availability.)


1. Finely chop onion and put in a pot, add in olive oil, corn oil and enough water to give it a thickness of oatmeal. Cook on medium temperature, stirring every 5 minutes until the onion is fully cooked (about 30 minutes) or until it turns to a yellowish color.

2. Add ginger and garlic and cook for an additional 30 minutes, adding a small amount of water to keep it from drying. This is the first sauce and it is now done.

Key Kulet (red sauce)

3. Prepare Alicha Kulet and then add tomato paste (this step is optional; if skipping this step then replace with #13). Add black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt, beer and  6-10 oz water and cook for 40 minutes to an hour, stirring every 5 minutes.  Continue to add water to keep the desired consistency.

4. Add Berbere and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes and adding water to keep the desired consistency.   This is the second sauce and it is now done.

Preparing Misir Wat – Lentil dish

5. Start with Alicha or Key Kulet sauce. Add 32 oz of Red Lentils (masoor Dal from Indian International foods on west 38th street), plus 1 oz olive oil, 32 oz water and cook in oven at 350 degrees. Stir occasionally until lentils are soft.

Preparing vegetables using Alicha Kulet

6. Using Alicha Kulet add the desired amount of vegetables, salt to taste and cook in oven until done.

Recipe for Macaroni and Cheese

8 cups milk

32 Oz Kraft Velveeta cheese

1 stick of butter

1 large onion finely chopped

1 tsp salt

4 eggs beaten

21 Oz macaroni shells

Mix all ingredients except macaroni shells in a cooking pan, cover and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Mix every 20 minutes.  Add in the macaroni and cook until macaroni is done.

Recipe for Corn Pudding

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup (8 oz) of sour cream

1 package (8 1/2 oz) corn bread/muffin mix

1/2 cup milk

1 can (15 1/4 oz) whole kernel corn

1 can (14 3/4 oz) cream-style corn

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream. Gradually add corn bread/muffin mix alternately with milk. Fold in the corn.

Pour into a greased 3-qt baking dish.  Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until set and lightly browned.

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