ETHIOPIAN SPICED COLLARDS I.E. GOMEN WAT (GLUTEN FREE)

You thought your aunt's vinegar and bacon fat soaked collard greens were delicious? Reader: meet Gomen Wat. Gomen Wat: meet reader. Also, Gomen Wat meet reader's spice cabinet. You're going to get intimate. 
 
Big surprise, the secret to this dish (and, ahem, every dish) is fat. I never realized it before I made it myself, but every excellent Ethiopian restaurant I have ever eaten at uses high quality fats. Here, I use ghee -- my preferred fat of choice. 
 
Have I talked about ghee before? Ghee is ... amazing. Ghee, or clarified butter, is the result of slowly boiling and skimming off all of the impurities from butter. Casein (milk protein) and lactose (milk sugar) are the "impurities" that I'm talking about, and they float to the surface of the simmering butter as a layer of white foam. Completely pure ghee is lactose and casein free, perfectly digestible by the lactose-intolerant, and those of us sensitive to casein (me... and my whole family). More reasons to love ghee: it has a high heat tolerance, making it an ideal oil in which to fry and cook; it's shelf stable i.e. needs no refrigeration i.e. is great for traveling; and it's considered medicinal in S. Indian Ayurvedic medicine, often prescribed for tummy troubles, skin issues, and ... ok, just about every issue that pitta people have to deal with. Pitta people (again, this is an Ayurvedic distinction) have fiery constitutions, and ghee is considered cooling and sattivic or clear & clean. It chills the constant, over-abundant heat of fire folks. 
 
Ghee, although a pure oil, gains a nutty and aromatic quality because it is cooked with milk solids which caramelize under prolonged heat. I've grown well-accustomed to its scent of toasted almonds and caramel and butter. 
 
Ethiopians make ghee as well, although they add spices during the process. I can only guess that it's this ghee that is used in the best of Ethiopian restaurants, and it's why some shine out distinctly amongst the rest. I won't go so far as to say that this is a cultural food secret, but it is certainly not common knowledge. This Gomen Wat that I made at home tastes incredibly similar to the vegetarian dishes at Richmond, VA's The Nile -- by far my favorite Ethiopian restaurant so far. The oil makes the difference. 
 
As per usual in my kitchen, I cook with a very taste-as-you-go attitude. For this recipe I did a lot of adjusting of spices as I went, as I encourage you to do at home as well. Gomen is really all about the spices, so adding an extra pinch of this or that to your liking is easy to do without harming the dish. All of the spices are complementary, so you can really play around with the different levels of clove vs. paprika, for example, and still end up with greens that make your mouth water. 
 
Note: Now I know I just said ghee is the key, but coconut oil is a suitable vegan substitute. Although, I might add some toasted almonds to the top to get the nuttiness ghee naturally achieves.
 
Gomen Wat Recipe
 
Ingredients
 
3 tbsp ghee or coconut oil
1 tbsp black cardamom seeds
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cumin seeds
 
1 medium sweet onion, chopped 
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 lbs collards, stemmed and chopped into long strips
1 tbsp clove
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 & 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup rose or white wine vinegar
 
salt and pepper to taste 
 
In a medium pot, dry toast cardamom, allspice, and cumin for 2 minutes over low heat. Add ghee and fry 2 minutes more. 
 
Add onion and garlic, cooking until soft and slightly translucent. 
 
Add collards, clove, paprika, cayenne, and water and cook 40-55 minutes over medium heat, until most of the water has evaporated and the collards are completely soft. 
 
Top with vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot. Enjoy!
 
xo -- Renee
 
(p.s. Why not as many pictures, you ask? Well... I took a bunch but I must have knocked my lens against something as a larger than usual portion are coming out blurry during my shoots. Any suggestions on fixes or alternate lenses to purchase welcome!)