If you give Genet Mulugeta a few days notice, she’ll prepare the doro wat like it’s done back home. Plenty of onion softens in the pan, low and slow for hours with the pottery-red of berbere chili powder, butter, garlic, and zaps of cardamom. That sauce deepens in color and flavor over hours until it’s a dark velvet fire of a thing with spice and tang. For Dallas’ Lalibela, she serves it with lime and vinegar-brined drumsticks and a single boiled egg. Give the 20-year-old restaurant some notice, and you’ll get the entire bird stuffed with a dozen boiled eggs because that's the way it's done for family meals.
“I think that makes the difference. I do it like it's done back home,” Mulugeta says. She hails from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which is where she sources all of the dry spices for Lalibela’s stunning dishes. Why? The spices shine. The cardamom, she says, as an example, has a much stronger flavor. Only the garlic and ginger are sourced here in Dallas. Her spice cabinet is entirely Ethiopian born. Other joints might overload their doro wat with paprika. Mulugeta’s dish is sundown-maroon with hot spices and cardamom.
On a recent visit, the restaurant has far fewer people than it deserves. Sweet incense fills the room as Mulugeta heads back into the kitchen to prep the order. The sound of a sizzle leaps out. For dine-in, the wat is heaped into a bowl, served with rolls of injera, that tender bread base that you use to pluck up all that stupendous sauce, and ayib (the fresh crumbled cheese). To adapt to takeout, the fall-off-the-bone chicken and clay-red sauce are heaped onto a hemisphere of the injera while extra bread rests on top. Good things happen inside the container on the drive home.
The sauce soaks the edges of the bread and becomes its own gravy-dipped meal (they deliver via Grubhub and Seamless). Sliced lettuce and tomato, dressed with a little oil and vinegar, and a scatter of ayib are there to cool things down.
“It just has to absorb all of the spices,” she says (regarding a traditional doro wat execution).
Mulugeta has spent two decades cooking at Lalibela. Her kids swing by to help when they’re able as she sizzles-up her mother’s recipes. In May, she’ll celebrate 21 years in the kitchen.
“This pandemic has been tough. And now, there’s a lot of competition. But we’re doing all right,” she says with a slight smile. “People say my doro wat is different than anyone else’s.”
Lalibela, 9191 Forest Ln # 2, 972-792-8442.
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