Beef tibs: Cooking on a budget

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One important test of the recipe: How cheaply could we make the Ethiopian meal?

I ordered one of ScratchDC's twine-tied "bundles" — a $28 box of the ingredients for awaze beef tibs with kik alicha. Then I re-created the meal twice with ingredients from the grocery store, trying to match the organic and locally sourced items that ScratchDC favors.

Then I made the dinner once more, on the cheap. I bought ingredients at Snider's Super Foods, a reliable supermarket that sells affordable meats and produce. Snider's does not carry bulk spices, so I bought (ugh) little plastic containers of spices and calculated the percentage of each one I used.

For the record, I spent $60.83 on ingredients. The amount of that food I actually used in the recipe totaled roughly $18.91, a good $9 (and 32 percent) cheaper than the ScratchDC kit.

The biggest price break came, as expected, with the meat. I shelled out $13 for grass-fed, hormone-free sirloin at Whole Foods; this time, I paid $6.71 for store-brand boneless sirloin. I saved on butter, onions and tomatoes, too. But I did not try to figure in transportation costs.

For this preparation, the price savings was clear. But what about the time involved in making it? Or, more important, the taste?

Apart from travel time, the meal required more than two hours to prepare, mostly because I didn't soak the dried peas long enough to cut down the cooking time. But the meal's flavor compared favorably to the one prepared from the ScratchDC box, though the meat was a tad chewier.

I think Ethiopian cooking is less ingredient-driven than, say, Italian cooking. Sure, Ethiopians have told me that they avoid doro wat in America because the chicken here is inferior to that in their home country, and that if you don't have high-quality beef, you shouldn't even bother eating tere sega. Still, Ethiopian cuisine relies heavily on stews and sautés, spice- and butter-rich dishes that can satisfy even with inferior proteins and conventionally grown produce shipped from God knows where.

The bottom line: Nine times of 10, I'd select the ScratchDC preparation over the cheapo variation (for obvious reasons: convenience, better ingredients, slightly improved flavor, eco-friendliness), but if I wanted to save a few bucks, I wouldn't feel cheated.

Awaze Beef Tibs With Kik Alicha

2 to 3 servings.

Vegetables cut to the same size will cook evenly. MAKE AHEAD: You’ll have some of the berbere spice rub left over; it can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month. The split peas need to be soaked for 1 hour. The seasoned beef needs to be refrigerated for 1 hour before it’s cooked. Adapted from a recipe by Ryan Hansan, founder of ScratchDC.

For the kik alicha:

½ cup dried green split peas

3½ cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup chopped white onion

1 tablespoon peeled, minced garlic

2 teaspoons peeled, grated ginger root

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the berbere rub:

1 tablespoon chili powder

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the beef tibs:

14 ounces boneless angus sirloin, trimmed of visible fat

2½ tablespoons berbere rub (see above), divided

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

1 large white onion, chopped (1½ cups)

1 large tomato, cut into large dice (1½ cups)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup sliced jalapeño pepper (seeded or unseeded), or to taste

For assembly:

2 large rounds fresh injera, for serving

Tomato slices or wedges, for serving

Cucumber slices, for serving

For the kik alicha: Place the split peas in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of the water. Soak for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the berbere rub: Combine the chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, coriander, ginger, cardamom, fenugreek, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and black pepper in a small cup. The yield is a generous ¼ cup.

For the beef tibs: Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes, placing them in a bowl as you work. Sprinkle 1½ tablespoons of the rub over them and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Once the split peas have absorbed all or most of the water, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, stirring to coat. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, then stir in the soaked split peas, grated ginger, turmeric, salt and pepper. Add 1½ cups of water; once it is incorporated, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, for about 50 minutes, adding the remaining cup of water in increments during the last 20 to 30 minutes or so of cooking.

The peas should be quite soft and close to disintegrating. If they’re done before the meat is done, keep warm on the lowest setting.

Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and tomato, stirring to coat. Add the seasoned beef; cook for about 5 minutes, then add the remaining tablespoon of rub, stirring to create a bit of clingy sauce. Cook the meat for a few more minutes; taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Stir in the remaining butter and the jalapeño slices (to taste).

To assemble: Tear one of the injera rounds into quarters and place one quarter on each plate. Tear the remaining injera into palm-size pieces, to be used for scooping up the beef tibs and kik alicha. Divide those components among the plates, creating mounds on top of the injera.

Garnish with the tomato and cucumber, plus any remaining jalapeño slices, if desired. Place several injera pieces on the plate; serve warm.

550 calories, 31 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 1630 mg sodium, 35 g carbohydrates, 7 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar, 36 g protein.