“The most rewarding thing about this business is the social aspect in interacting with the customers that come in,” says Almaz Ainu, owner of Queen of Sheba in Spokane, Washington.

By Carrie Scozzaro (Pacific Northwest Inlander) |

SPOKANE, Wash.―Food is love in Almaz Ainu’s world, and it’s all meant to be shared. “The most rewarding thing about this business is the social aspect in interacting with the customers that come in,” says Almaz, who started Spokane’s Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant in 2010. “I’m a people-person and love talking with people and teaching them about my culture and food.”

Located inside the Flour Mill, Queen of Sheba (621 W Mallon Ave #426, Spokane, WA) features the traditional Ethiopian foods Ainu grew up with. “It’s part of our culture for all girls to learn to cook, so my mom taught me,” says Almaz Ainu, who met her husband when both served as Christian missionaries in Kenya. Ainu taught pre-school in Washington and California for 17 years. After a 2007 trip to Africa with her husband and two children, Ainu returned with her own mission: to open a restaurant.

As one might expect outside Western cuisine, meat features less prominently in Ethiopian cuisine than vegetables, which are showcased amongst spices like cardamom, ginger and turmeric. Berbere is an Ethiopian and Eritrean spice blend — a word from which we get barbary, as in Barbary Coast — that varies depending on the maker and application, sort of like Indian curries. One berbere essential is red chilies, which lend a beautiful scarlet-orange color and heat to Ainu’s spicy stews: yesiga we’t (beef), yebeg kay we’t (lamb), doro we’t (chicken) and the vegetarian yemeshir kik we’t.

“We cook with a lot of vegetables, herbs, spices and legumes on a daily basis, so our diet is very healthy.”

Queen of Sheba’s menu is a perfect partner for the Palouse region. Pullman, for example, hosts an annual National Lentil Festival, celebrating the fact that nearly 20 percent of the nation’s lentils are grown nearby. Almaz Ainu’s azifa is a salad with brown lentils, while yaterkik alicha (see recipe) is a simple, hearty dish of yellow split peas.

Continue reading this story at Pacific Northwest Inlander
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