Like a lot of the competition, the menu at Makeda Ethiopian Restaurant leans heavily on lamb, beef and chicken, the last of which appears in one of the best-known dishes of the Ethiopian repertoire, doro wat.

By Tom Sietsema (The Washington Post) |

ALEXANDRIA, Va.―Among the world’s most versatile dishes is injera, the spongy fermented bread that does double duty as a canvas for Ethiopia’s popular salads and stews and as a utensil for ferrying food to mouth. Forks and knives aren’t necessary when a diner has fingers and the ability to tear a piece from a scroll of the tangy, crepe-like staple.

At Makeda, a September arrival in Alexandria, injera also stars as a snack called kategna: toasted, burnt-red wedges that suggest a pizza with a dab of crumbly cottage cheese in the center of the pinwheel. Bite down, and the crisp slice oozes fat and fire, from a combination of oil (or butter) and awaze, Ethiopia’s answer to hot sauce. Your hands will get messy, but your stomach will be happy.

Kategna is one of several draws at Makeda Ethiopian Restaurant, whose co-owner, Philipos Mengistu, calls New York home and owns the well-received Queen of Sheba there. You could say he’s carrying coals to Newcastle, except that his business partner, Daniel Solomon, lives here and the two have been friends since they were in kindergarten in their native Addis Ababa. Their chef, Senait “Mimi” Tedla, also from the capital of Ethiopia, cooked at a school in Jerusalem and recalls learning to cook at age 8 — something of a necessity, considering she was one of nine children. If you’re not starting a meal with kategna, consider a flaky sambusa stuffed with lentils or ground beef, hit with cilantro and enlivened by a dunk in awaze. The sauce looks like ketchup, only darker, and tastes like liquid fire.

Like a lot of the competition, the menu at Makeda, its name a reference to the biblical Queen of Sheba, leans heavily on lamb, beef and chicken, the last of which appears in one of the best-known dishes of the Ethiopian repertoire, doro wat. What sets the signature apart from other staples of the cuisine is the time and effort that goes into its sauce, as complex as any Mexican mole and just as nuanced. Berbere is the most forceful seasoning, but garlic, ginger and cardamom also reveal themselves in the chicken stew that’s a source of national pride.

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