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More ethnic food tastes worth acquiring: Kitfo

Photo by Manogamo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Since our list of unsung ethnic delicacies this week has so far focused on meat - most recently, raw meat - why stop now?

A couple of different colleagues lately have praised the virtues of raw Ethiopian kitfo, a spicy relative of steak tartare and its global cousins, among them the Armenian-style chee kufta featured yesterday.

Kitfo is quite unlike the simpler chee kufta and its Lebanese cousin, kibbeh nayyeh. The dish is made from minced lean beef that has been flavored with an elaborate spice blend containing chili peppers and fragrant spices, among them cardamom and cloves, and with seasoned clarified butter. It's typically served with flat injera bread and a mild cheese, which balances the spice.

With its complex seasonings, the dish tends to surprise those who didn't grow up with it, but grow to like it. Here is what Elahe Izadi, one of my NPR Argo Network colleagues from WAMU's DCentric blog, had to say about her first kitfo experience:

I'm typically very wary of undercooked meats, a byproduct of an over-protective mother who obsesses over making sure meat is well-done. But it tasted very good, and not like what I'd expect raw meat to taste like (which is gross, I guess?). And no, I didn't get sick.

But for those with an aversion to uncooked meat, the dish can also be served cooked. The food magazine Saveur has a recipe for a cooked version that details the spice blend. For purists who want to make the raw stuff at home, this simple recipe suggests grinding the meat just before serving.

But why go to the trouble? Kitfo can be found raw and rare at Ethiopian restaurants, which Southern California is fortunate to have many of.

Have an ethnic dish to suggest that tastes better than it looks or sounds? Please share.