Gary De Mattei and Kittee Berns


Part I: Gary De Mattei, The Transition Kitchen
Gary2013-200x200Gary De Mattei is co-founder of Responsible Eating And Living and the host of the Transition Kitchen. The Transition Kitchen is part of the REAL GOOD NEWS IN REVIEW web series. TK will be showing all who are interested just how easy and delicious it is to quit the animal while seamlessly transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle. THE TRANSITION KITCHEN features step-by-step vegan versions of omnivore favorites. More about Gary at
Part II: Kittee Berns, Teff Love
Kittee BernsKittee Berns has been an ethical vegan for more than 24 years and a gluten-free vegan since 2008. Author of the cookzine Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food, she is the creative force behind the popular blog Cake Maker to the Stars found at


Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to another episode of It’s All About Food. Here we are it’s the 17th of Sept…February. Why did I want to say September? Because I wish it was some other month other than the winter that we’re going through here. It’s cold outside but I don’t need to talk about the weather. Everybody’s talking about the weather. Let’s move on and let’s talk about my favorite subject—food. I’m going to bring on one of my favorite people, one of probably my favorite guests that I’ve had before on this program and he’s agreed to come back again and speak to us today—Gary De Mattei. He’s an actor, acting teacher, theatre and film director, producer, writer, chef and all around great guy that you’d want to invite to your next party. He’s also my partner in both business and life. Hi Gary, welcome to It’s All About Food.

Gary De Mattei: Hi Caryn. Thanks.

Caryn Hartglass: There you are.

Gary De Mattei: You read the introduction I wrote for you just perfectly. Happy Fat Tuesday to all people who know what that’s all about, a perfect day to try to go vegan for 40 days and 40 nights.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. I’m glad you brought that up. It’s Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (accented pronunciation) as the French or the Creole French or the Louisiana French-ish people will call Mardi Gras.

Gary De Mattei: Yeah what a great time to give up eating the animal and realize you really don’t have to sacrifice anything, you actually gain so much more.

Caryn Hartglass: I agree. I frequently say I’m not a religious person but I love to follow the holidays and I love to use them as an excuse to talk about food so all of those folks who are venturing in to the Lent period that starts tomorrow, definitely giving up the animal is the thing to do.

Gary De Mattei: I think so. I think that’s great. I mean how religious can one get to not eat anything that’s been tortured and then killed. Let’s start there.

Caryn Hartglass: Amen to that.

Gary De Mattei: Yes, amen.

Caryn Hartglass: (singing) Amen. Amen.

Gary De Mattei: Very good. This is really sort of a revival show, isn’t it?

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. I’m giving a little taste of the Swingin’ Gourmets here.

Gary De Mattei: Ah, the Swingin’ Gourmets, what a great group they are. Those guys are nutty.

Caryn Hartglass: I love the Swingin’ Gourmets.

Gary De Mattei: I do too, I wish they would perform more, all over the world.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, well people just have to invite them to do that. And they can do that by going to

Gary De Mattei: The Hey at least treat yourself to that trailer. That trailer’s hysterical. I love those guys.

Caryn Hartglass: And it is all about food.

Gary De Mattei: Yes it is.

Caryn Hartglass: It is all about food. OK, now one of the new things we’ve got going on here at Responsible Eating and Living and our theme this year is Work Harder.

Gary De Mattei: Work harder

Caryn Hartglass: Work harder. We have a new web series. I’ve mentioned it a few times on this program. We’ve put up two episodes or websodes. We’re working on a third. It features a newscast and a feature on a local business who promotes some of the things we’re in line with here at Responsible Eating and Living—organic food, healthy plant food—and then we have…

Gary De Mattei: …organic…

Caryn Hartglass: …organic. And then we have a food show called the Transition Kitchen. Mr. Gary De Mattei here is the host of Transition Kitchen. Gary, can you tell us what is the Transition Kitchen?

Gary De Mattei: I guess it’s everything you wanted to know about transitioning off the animal but were afraid to ask. It comes direct from the lips of one who knows…me, yours truly. I lost about a hundred pounds when I got off the animal. It didn’t happen all at once. I’ve lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of insight into a lot of things that I had no idea were going on. Well, I guess I had an idea they were going on but I couldn’t handle the truth. You know that famous line in some movie with Jack Nicholson, “you can’t handle the truth”. Basically I think that’s why a lot of us don’t get off the animal sooner is because the truth is really frightening. But once you face the truth, you know…

Caryn Hartglass: you’re free! The truth will set you free!

Gary De Mattei: That’s what we’re all about here at Responsible Eating and Living. It’s about the truth, so anyway that’s in a nutshell what Transition Kitchen is all about.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m always surprised when I hear you say you’ve lost a hundred pounds. I’ve heard the story many, many times but it’s always unbelievable because you look so good now.

Gary De Mattei: Well, thank you Caryn. I carried my weight well. I carried it all over me, mostly in my big head.

Caryn Hartglass: And so many people want to lose weight and I know a lot of my listeners have written from time to time how they’re struggling. You did it and you gave up all kinds of … well smoking and drinking and bad food and …

Gary De Mattei: Yes and we talk all about that in the Swingin’ Gourmets where we talk about how I went on that journey and we talk about your journey with ovarian cancer and how you and I met and it’s really a great show. I’m plugging Swingin’ Gourmets again but that’s not why I’m on your show.

Caryn Hartglass: No, not today. We’re here to talk about the Transition Kitchen. So Gary, the Transition Kitchen, it’s not a series where you talk about remodeling peoples’ kitchens?

Gary De Mattei: Ha! Good question. Sort of, we don’t remodel it like my brother Mark De Mattei, the successful contractor in Northern California—De Mattei Construction…

Caryn Hartglass: …plug, plug…

Gary De Mattei: …plug, plug, plug. Not like Mark would remodel your kitchen but we do do some demolition, do some demoing. Our objective we hope is to demolish some myths out there about folks needing the animal to make great tasting meals, great tasting food and beverage. We’re sort of elusive about it. We don’t preach. We do it circuitously. Our objective is to help you get off the animal but you do it in an upbeat, laid back way, as well as get you off some of the processed foods. Some of them are vegan because you and I both know there’s a lot of processed food out there that doesn’t contain any animal products but it’s really not the best thing for you. So we try to help there.

Gary De Mattei: I have a list of priorities: Number 1 priority for me is to do whatever I can in my own small little way to reduce pain and suffering and that means pain and suffering for all life on earth, primarily animals who have no voice. So if there’s a way to get people off the animal I’m all for it. Some of it means eating food that isn’t spectacularly healthy although I think for the most part even eating the meat substitutes that are made from plants, I think, can be healthier—maybe, maybe not, it’s a mix. You take one evil and you get another—but they’re healthier in terms of the planet because making plant foods is gentler on the planet than growing plants that feed animals to feed people. So priority number 1 is minimizing animal suffering.

Gary De Mattei: Yes, that’s the priority there.

Caryn Hartglass: But then you know I have a passion for health. I always have and I feel like my romp, I like to call it a romp, my romp with advanced ovarian cancer, with a 10 to 20% survival rate, can we underline that? I’m still here (singing) eight years later.

Gary De Mattei: That’s one of the songs that the Swingin’ Gourmets do…

Caryn Hartglass: (Laughs) It was kind of like a fast track into extreme extra knowledge about health and nutrition back eight years ago when I had to save my life.

Gary De Mattei: I was there. I saw it happen.

Caryn Hartglass: I know and I love sharing that information, how to boost your immune system, how to recover from some health treatments and from disease…deliciously, fun. It’s fun.

Gary De Mattei: The thing you could go on and on and on about is the myths involved with folks who are going through what you went through—cancer and chemo and surgery—how there’s so little being told to them about boosting their immune system. For example, getting off of sugar. We could go on forever about that, we could do show after show about it. How so many people aren’t aware that cancer actually loves sugar and yet they’re often told, you know you should really bulk up and drink Ensure and take all these food products. It’s like killing them with kindness, literally. Give them all of these treats that they want because they’re having to suffer. I think that you could probably give them more of a tough love approach on that. We’re not here to talk about that today, are we?

Caryn Hartglass: No. We’re talking about the Transition Kitchen.

Gary De Mattei: Yeah. So what I want to do is get the viewer thinking a little more about how unnecessary the presence of the animal is in your food. It becomes an imposition after awhile for me to think about how that was the first thing we thought about when we thought about planning a meal—was what dead animal are we going to prepare for our family and then what little things are we going to throw on the side. Now as a chef you also realize, wow that really stifles your creativity as well as stifling your palate. Once you become a mindful eater, I guess that’s something we can say, there’s really no stopping you anywhere, especially in the kitchen. You not only feel better, you look better, you perform better. It really doesn’t take that long. I just can’t say that enough. Everybody wants instant results. As soon as I got off the animal I started to chase things. I started to feel better. I got this tremendous amount of energy. The weight started to come off. It really does happen immediately. So the Transition Kitchen is really about re-introducing you to the wonderful world of plants. There’s a great big beautiful world out there and if I wouldn’t get sued I’d use “the world is a carousel of color, wonderful wonderful color” and of course I’d change the words to vegetables, probably have to change the music too. Anyway, I think that’s the overall Disney theme.

Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned something about stifling your creativity. I love that. I’ve said this before: Every time I’ve eliminated something from my diet…when I eliminated red meat, when I eliminated chicken, fish and dairy…every time I got “restrictive”—I don’t like using the word or that I have a diet that’s restricted because it’s not. It’s not limiting. I don’t feel deprived or anything. I’ve discovered that my world of food expanded. Each time I took something away it opened a door to so many other foods that I wasn’t ever considering so it does stifle your creativity.

Gary De Mattei: It really does. Again, we can’t handle the truth. That’s kind of a theme that keeps running through my head now that the truth is really in front of me everywhere and I’m looking for it as opposed to cowering in the corner and not wanting to see it. We’re being pelted over the head with these poor animals that we keep thinking that we have to bring to the table every night. There’s just way so much more out there. I guess that’s how society operates. It’s realizing that people are afraid of the truth so they keep reinforcing that fear. You see it every day, not just with food, but with everything. It starts with food and that’s why I’m so happy we’re on It’s All About Food. It’s a brilliant show, it’s all in the title. Unbelievable.

Caryn Hartglass: Thanks Gary. Let’s get back to the Transition Kitchen, shall we? How is this program structured?

Gary De Mattei: Pardon me? Did you say structured? What’s that? What’s structured?

Caryn Hartglass: Come on Gary.

Gary De Mattei: Kidding. On the subject of food again, and cooking food, I mean really and this is the underlying theme with a plant-based lifestyle, the rules are pretty simple. There’s no animal in your cooking, no animal in your diet, although I hate that word diet, but there’s no animal in the diet. That translates literally to mean no flesh which we call meat and their derivatives like dairy and eggs, no honey, no ants, spiders, worms, snakes, dogs, cats. Nothing that has a mother or a face or something that comes from those poor little creatures.

Caryn Hartglass: Now if we tune in regularly to the Transition Kitchen what will we see? Is it just random? Or is there a plan?

Gary De Mattei: I kid about structure but it’s actually very structured. What we try to do is we try to make it look casual, laid back. I guess it’s like comedy traffic school. No?

Caryn Hartglass: Hold on a minute. You just said comedy traffic school. I gotta stop here. If you haven’t been to California or lived in California and got a speeding ticket in California you probably don’t know what comedy traffic school is …although I haven’t gotten a traffic ticket in a very long time because I don’t have a car. If you have a moving violation as they call it in California you have a choice of paying a big fine or you can go—I think if it’s your first or second offense—you can go to comedy traffic school and have a comedian or an actor who isn’t that famous…

Gary De Mattei: …like me or you. We would actually be in front of comedy traffic school if it were out here.

Caryn Hartglass: Right, so you’d sit for a day and listen to some funny guy talk about motor vehicle rules and regulations. It’s fun. So Transition Kitchen is kind of like comedy traffic school in California.

Gary De Mattei: Yeah, we’re giving some very serious information that could be life saving. It was for me. So in reality, like a 12-step program, which is very serious. I’m structuring it sort of like a 12-step program for getting off the animal. If I had one of those horrible commercials running, like a law firm, talking to people about wanting to get their life back or whatever, I would have some horrible voice over like “if you’re curious about learning more about how not to get sucked in to eating the wrong food for you by big corporations, blah, blah, blah”. It would go on and on like that. The only difference is they’d never say that the program that they were pitching to you is for free. I think that’s the best part of this and everything we do at Responsible Eating and Living. This is my commercial now which is impromptu but I still think it’s necessary. This program is free and really it’s the best information anyone is going to get at this price. But seriously folks, it’s free…

Caryn Hartglass: …like listening to this show, it’s free.

Gary De Mattei: Like listening to It’s All About Food, which is free. We’re a nonprofit.

Caryn Hartglass: Responsible Eating and Living is a nonprofit and the show is produced by Responsible Eating and Living and you and I are Real Responsible Eating and Living and Responsible Eating and Living Real is the truth and the truth isn’t popular.

Gary De Mattei: No, sometimes it’s not. Someone said and I don’t know who, I’m paraphrasing if you tell people what they want to hear they’ll love you and, again, that’s kind of what societies are based on but if you tell them the truth they’re not going to like you very much. They might even hate you.

Caryn Hartglass: Some people will hate you, not all the people. Some people will respect you.

Gary De Mattei: Yeah, I believe that. There’s a lot of people out there who will find the truth unsettling at first but they will respect you.

Caryn Hartglass: The truth will set you free.

Gary De Mattei: Yes, I agree. Sometimes the truth can be unsettling sometimes the truth might not be somebody else’s truth. All in all I think what we’re talking about again goes back to that thing that we started this conversation with which was the torturing of animals. There’s no denying that that is the truth. I mean animals are being tortured and we can gloss it over in any way. We can say yeah we want to save the environment… you and I talk about this all the time with respect to acting. The late, great Mike Nichols talked about this in his acting classes which I’ve read about. I’ve never taken an acting class from Mike Nichols so I don’t want to mislead you but what he talks about is every scene is built on this concept that there’s a big dead smelly whale in the room that no one is looking at and they’re sort of talking over it and around it. Eventually the arc of the piece is that the big smelly dead whale is revealed. It’s no different in what you and I are talking about with respect to getting off the animal. The conversation goes on and none of us recognize or those of us who refuse to recognize that we’re talking about dead animals here that have been tortured. Once we reveal them then life seems to be so much easier. A lot of people say well you’re being very smug, you know vegans are so smug. I disagree. I think people who don’t empathize with everything that goes on out there especially with what the animals go through, they’re being kind of smug, actually very smug about refusing to believe that there’s an animal being tortured. I came from eating animals. I was raised to eat animals.

Caryn Hartglass: You were kind of smug back then.

Gary De Mattei: Yeah, I was very smug and aloof. I remember you being the first militant vegan I ever met with always being very kind to me and saying “you know what, you should consider…” “No, I don’t want to do that. No, I’m never going to do that.” I probably said it just like that, too. I probably sounded exactly like that.

Caryn Hartglass: All right, could we go to the Transition Kitchen? What are you starting with on the program, what are you making?

Gary De Mattei: I’m starting with sauces. Our first show actually started with mayo that we then made into our first of the five vegan sauces. I’ll call them family sauces as opposed to mother sauces. Everyone has their mother sauces, every culture. These are what all transitioning kitcheners or maybe we’ll call them kitchenettes should have on hand at their fingertips to pour all over vegetables and other plant foods and dip their bread in, etc. We’ve been raised to think it’s the animal that’s the tasty part of the meal but in reality it’s the sauce, I think. That’s the premise I’m going with. I’m going with that. Just as McDonald’s how they sell so many deep fried flesh nuggets. It’s the five or six sauces that they offer with them. Of course they sell it with the breading and the deep frying and the spices and the crispiness. But it’s that sauce which is basically made from salt, sugar and fat. And that’s where it’s at. I’m lovin’ it and so’s my cardiologist and my urologist and my archeologist when she unearths my bones billions of years from now and “this guy had osteoporosis because he never stopped eating pus from a cow” or whatever.

Caryn Hartglass: OK. You mentioned McDonald’s. I just have to bring up did you read in the news recently McDonald’s sales are not going too well. They just let go their CEO and CFO and they are trying to reinvigorate and reinvent whatever they’re about. And I’m saying, “get off the animal”. OK McDonald’s, you’ve got a lot of real estate, just go plant-based, start all over again. It’ll be a beautiful thing.

Gary De Mattei: Sure. What if they just replaced all McDonald’s with Veggie Grills or…

Caryn Hartglass: Native Foods

Gary De Mattei: …Native Foods

Caryn Hartglass: or Herbivores. There’s a lot of wonderful…

Gary De Mattei: Or Candle Cafés, a Candle Café on every corner.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh that’d be heaven.

Gary De Mattei: That’d be awesome.

Caryn Hartglass: What are the five family sauces of your Transition Kitchen?

Gary De Mattei: They’re based on the classic French mother sauces. Everyone who’s a foodie out there, there’s a lot of foodies out there by now, has probably seen that film One Hundred Foot Journey I think it’s called with Helen Mirren and… I’m assuming you’ve seen it but if not it’s about a young man who wants to be a great Michelin starred chef and he’s told that he must first learn to make the five mother sauces of the French cuisine, hollandaise, béchamel, velouté, español and tomato.

Caryn Hartglass: Tomato

Gary De Mattei: Each of the sauces that we’re starting with would be considered a mother sauce. We can call them father sauce, family sauce or whatever. From each mother/father/family sauce, other sauces—many, many other sauces—can be made. For example on our last episode which is on the site now for free download, did I mention for free, for free—we made a quick hollandaise with our vegan mayo.

Caryn Hartglass: It was so good. I got to eat it with the No-Eggs Benedict Arnold for Valentine’s Day. Actually I had it before Valentine’s Day but it was really delicious.

Gary De Mattei: So did I. It’s very good and it’s made without a roux which is just kind of the traditional way you make Hollandaise. You make it with egg…

Caryn Hartglass: What’s a roux, Mr. Chef? What’s a roux and how to you spell roux?

Gary De Mattei: A roux is r-o-u-x.

Caryn Hartglass: R-o-u-x, right.

Gary De Mattei: Right. And it’s essentially you put some fat at the bottom of a sauce pan, then you put in a little flour and mix it in with the fat and you cook that fat and then you add a scalding hot liquid to it and it thickens that fat. So we’re not making it with a roux we’re doing it more of a classic way where we whisk in a little fat which is an Earth Balance which is a plant-based butter. Once you get that you can put it on the Eggs Benedict Arnold that we made. You can smother it on broccoli or asparagus, artichokes. It’s delicious and it’s good as a cold veggie dip and it’s satisfying. It’s a good fat, no animal cholesterol. So our next step we’re going to make two more mother sauces. We’re going to make a béchamel which is also a white sauce and we’re going to make—and it’s normally made with milk, we’re going to use cashew cream. Then there is a tomato sauce. I guess the tomato sauce would be the best example of a mother sauce. When people think of tomato sauce they might think of a red sauce that you would put on pasta like a marinara or a bolognese. The mother sauce with respect to tomato is a sauce that we make from fresh tomatoes. We sauce fresh tomatoes that we then flavor in a variety of different ways like we’ll make a marinara out of it or enchilada sauce or barbecue sauce. Anyway that’s basically what we’re talking about when we talk about mother sauces, family sauces, whatever. Our next show is going to be doing that. Then what we do on every show is we assemble these sauces in a dish so through that 7 or 8 minute show you really do learn a lot about not just the sauces but how to then introduce these new plant-based items into your life and maybe you hadn’t thought about replacing the animal with. So it just helps you get off the animal.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s great. So what happens after 12 weeks or this 12-step program?

Gary De Mattei: Then the viewer will decide if they like this lifestyle of not eating animals or not. Maybe they’ll take some of it away with them. I’m not going to insult people’s intelligence with the show by assuming they don’t know how to cook. I’m assuming they do know their way around the kitchen. The show is clearly not a how to cook show. This is for people who actually know how to cook, maybe who have cooked the animal their whole life like I was and maybe are curious now. They’re thinking, “Why is everybody talking about the vegan thing? I saw Bob the other day and gosh he was 300 pounds and now he’s like 140 and he looks great. He looks fabulous. He looks young. He went vegan.” It’s for people who do cook or who like to cook occasionally, maybe like to throw a party, throw a theme party, maybe they’re going to throw a plant-based theme party, so they’ll take some of that away with them. Or maybe they’re going to be hooked and then they can start doing this for life.

Caryn Hartglass: What’s after the sauces?

Gary De Mattei: Soups. We’re going to talk about basic stocks on the episode after this next episode. We’re going to talk about the white stock and the brown stock which is the base for a lot of soups and a lot of other sauces like the velouté, the español. Then we’re going to talk about some of the appetizers that are out there that you think you can’t have any more just like you probably thought you couldn’t have No-eggs Benedict or Eggs Benedict Arnold. I think ours is actually better. We’re going to talk about some of the veggie meats that we use, not the processed meats that are out there that you can buy which we talk on your show a lot but we talk about Tofu Temptation, mushrooms, things you can make with beans, legumes that are meat-like and then we’ll do another 12 weeks or more. The show is vertically integrated. We give a lecture/lab. The whole show, the Real Good News and Review is kind of structured as a lecture/lab situation. You give the lecture. I do the lab and then we go visit a business that’s in line with our mission.

Caryn Hartglass: I can’t believe it but Gary we’ve come to the end of the half hour. I can talk to you all day…oh, I do.

Gary De Mattei: Wow, that was fast. That was fun.

Caryn Hartglass: Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food and I’ll see you real soon in the Transition Kitchen.

Gary De Mattei: Okay, thanks, tune in, bye!

Caryn Hartglass: Bye Gary De Mattei!

Gary De Mattei: Bye, bye Caryn Hartglass.

Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly 3/6/2015


CARYN HARTGLASS: Hello, everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. We’re back for the second part of our show here on February 17th, 2015. Okay, I’m glad I got all that out. Now, I am very excited; I’m bursting, okay. I cannot wait to start talking about… teff, truly. So let’s get Kittee Berns on the show. She’s been an ethical vegan for more than twenty-four years (yes!) and a gluten-free vegan since 2008, author of the cook zine Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food; she’s a creative force behind the popular blog Cake Makers to the Stars found at You’ll have to go to my website to see how she spells it. No, I’ll spell it: Kittee, thank you, thank you, thank you for Teff Love.

KITTEE BERNS: Hi Caryn! It’s great to talk to you.

CARYN HARTGLASS: I’ve been after Rhiannon at Book Publishing Co. to get you on the program for a long time, because when I first saw this book I thought, Oh, I just have to have this book. And then she said, “You have to wait; it’s not coming out until…” Actually, she didn’t say any of that – I have no idea what her voice sounds like because we only email.

KITTEE BERNS: I don’t know if I’ve met anyone so excited about teff than you.

CARYN HARTGLASS: I’m so excited. And we’ll learn why Caryn’s so excited about teff in a moment. And then, you were supposed to come on the show a few weeks ago, but we had that horrible snowstorm. We had to postpone, and I’m so glad you were accommodating. So here we are… oh, I have to breathe…

KITTEE BERNS: Did you get a lot of snow?

CARYN HARTGLASS: It snowed a little bit today, but the sun is out and I have some guests visiting from Costa Rica and they’re leaving tomorrow morning and I hope there weren’t too many flights delayed so they can get out and get back to their warm tropical weather.

KITTEE BERNS: Yeah. We’re experiencing what we call here in Portland, Oregon as “February Fake Out.” It’s super sunny and warm today, and everybody comes out. They think the rain and the winter is gone and then as soon as March comes, everybody remembers that it’s not Spring yet. But it’s really great today; I’m super enjoying it.

CARYN HARTGLASS: So let’s jump into teff. I’ve known about teff, but I didn’t know it was teff, whenever I’d go to an Ethiopian restaurant. Let’s talk about Ethiopian food first, shall we?

KITTEE BERNS: Sure, I love talking about Ethiopian food. So in Ethiopian restaurants in North America the injera, which is the fermented, spongy, delicious flatbread that most of the food is served on is made from teff but it’s also cut from other grains. So it’s an important thing for people to know that are gluten-free because, although it’s getting more popular to find 100% teff or gluten-free injera in restaurants, normally it’s cut with barley flour, which also has gluten (it has less gluten than other grains like wheat but it definitely has gluten in it) and also wheat flour.

CARYN HARTGLASS: I didn’t know that. Good point number one!

KITTEE BERNS: It’s really important to know that.

CARYN HARTGLASS: So if you have Celiac’s Disease or serious gluten intolerance, the teff injera here in the United States is not for you, unfortunately.

KITTEE BERNS: Well some of it is. So what I’ve noticed over the last few years, as teff and gluten free foods in general are gaining popularity, is that a lot of restaurants will make it, but they have to make it separate or special for you to have to ask for it. Or some restaurants, I know at least here in Portland, can do it if you call at least 24 hours in advance so they have time to actually make you a special batter of it.

CARYN HARTGLASS: That’s because you live in really cool food country in Portland, which is unlike anywhere. And even though in New York we have absolutely everything, Portland is a concentrated focus on sustainable food.

KITTEE BERNS: So my family is from the DC area; that’s actually where I’m originally from, and so maybe this is also not a good example because the DC area has a huge Ethiopian community. But I’ve noticed there as well that there are restaurants now that have pure teff injera. I’m gluten intolerant, so that’s important to me; when I eat out for Ethiopian I definitely want to be able to enjoy injera. So there are a number of places in the DC area where you can find it, too. You just need to be diligent and know about it. I think that’s the most important thing, and then ask for it. That way it creates a demand and restaurants know that customers want it. I’ve heard about all sorts of reasons, but one of the reasons I’ve heard is that it may be more palatable to a Western palate when it’s cut with wheat and cut with barley. So if customers show that there’s a demand for it, then I think it will make it more available. Also teff flour is really expensive.

CARYN HARTGLASS: Yeah, that’s the problem. And we’re going to fix that, because we’re going to make the demand greater. I wanted to talk about this later but I guess I’m going to talk about it because I’m talking about it in my mind and I’m going to share it with everyone right now, and that is: Here’s my vision. My vision is all the cattle ranchers out there in Nevada and other drought-ridden places, places that are really dry, and they’re struggling because it’s hard. They think there’s nothing else they can do with that property that won’t grow anything… grow teff.

KITTEE BERNS: Yeah, it’s an amazing grain. That would be awesome. I do know there is some teff being grown in Nevada. Not a lot, I think most is domestic. Some teff comes from Idaho.

And did you know that it’s illegal to export large quantities of teff from Ethiopia? I think that’s important for people to know too. So most, if not all, of the teff available here is all domestically grown.

CARYN HARTGLASS: That’s such a good point. I’m glad you brought that up. I did know that, although I forgot about it. What a concept. So teff is a very important food in Ethiopia, and they’re smart saying “We’re not going to export it and share it with the rest of the world so that people can take advantage and exploit our country because we’ve already got food security issues.”

KITTEE BERNS: Even in Ethiopia, it’s such a staple there. And they get cut with corn and sorghum and millet, even in Ethiopia because it’s expensive for people to eat too. Yet it’s a staple – it’s one of their main sources of protein. So they can’t even think about exporting it because I don’t even know if they can produce as much as to keep in Ethiopia for everybody to eat there.

CARYN HARTGLASS: Right. Well there are other countries like Bolivia, for example, they should have thought that way, too, because they started exporting quinoa.

KITTEE BERNS: I know. The quinoa problem is huge there, because it drove the prices right up and it’s not affordable for the people that live there. But yeah I agree, they’re so smart; I think they set this up a long time ago in Ethiopia, the export laws. I’m sure there are some restaurant owners from North America that probably go and fill up their suitcases with teff and come back. But I’m really lucky – here in Portland there’s an Ethiopian grocery store literally three blocks from my house. And even the teff that they sell at that grocery store, it’s the Maskal Teff, which is the Idaho-grown teff, which is pretty cool.

CARYN HARTGLASS: Do you know what you pay for it a pound? Just curious.

KITTEE BERNS: Well, the Bob’s Red Mill, that I think is the easiest for most people to find, is $8 for one of those small bags, which I think is 16 ounces, I’m not sure. But then here in Portland I can get it in bulk in most of the co-ops and supermarkets. I’m sure around the country that’s not possible. But I think probably most people would pay about $8/pound, which is a lot.

CARYN HARTGLASS: Something I learned or reminded myself of when I got your book is… Now, I haven’t made anything in here; I’ve just read it. But I’m getting ready to stick my foot in the cold water—take the plunge—and in some ways that’s what it feels like. And I’m glad I’m feeling that way, because I know many people feel that way when they’re changing their diet. And just thinking about introducing a new food or eliminating some foods, you feel some kind of fear or overwhelmed or you just don’t know what’s going to happen. And it takes a certain amount of energy to get you past that block.

KITTEE BERNS: Well I definitely agree. Even the names of the recipes in the book are in Amharic, which is the national language in Ethiopia. I thought that was important to do because that’s what the food is called. But I think if you just break it down… I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people and I had a lot of people help me test recipes for the book; one of the biggest things that people keep saying to me is how easy the recipes are to make. I think that if you just break down the steps. There are a few things that you need to make that are the basis for the recipes. For instance the seasoned oil, and once you have the seasoned oil made, you just keep it in your refrigerator. And then if you want to make red lentils or if you want to make some vegetables, then you can put it together and it can be a weeknight meal, no problem. But I think you’re right. If you’re just looking through the book, it kind of is a little bit overwhelming. But then if you break it down into small steps, the recipes are actually really manageable and amazingly nutrient-dense – so many legumes, vegetables.

CARYN HARTGLASS: I’m excited because I’m out there at the end of the spectrum in this vegan world and it’s great to find a new food that I haven’t tried before and that I haven’t made before. Now I’ve had it in the restaurants but I haven’t made it, and I’m really excited. Now let’s just mention a few things about Ethiopian food. Number one: this injera pancake thing. I don’t even know, am I saying it right?

KITTEE BERNS: In-jee-ra.

CARYN HARTGLASS: They don’t use utensils eating this food!

KITTEE BERNS: No, it’s so fun.

CARYN HARTGLASS: So you have to wash your hands, first.

KITTEE BERNS: Yes, that’s really important, especially when you’re eating with other people.

CARYN HARTGLASS: I mean, it’s important in general to wash your hands before you eat, period. And so there are all these different kinds of food. For people that are familiar with Indian food, it’s kind of similar in that you have these different soft blends of foods—beans and vegetables.

KITTEE BERNS: One of the main food groups is something that’s called wot. It’s interesting because North Americans kind of describe it as a stew, but native Ethiopians describe it more as a sauce, and I think that’s really important when you’re making recipes at home. We tend to think of Indian food, and it’s more stew-like, but Ethiopian food is supposed to have a sauce and it’s supposed to soak into the injera underneath. That’s one of the most delicious parts: right after you’ve scooped up the food and eaten it with the bread, and all of the toppings are gone, you have this succulent injera that’s soaked up the sauces underneath.

CARYN HARTGLASS: Okay. So briefly, just hold me hand here. Tell me what I need to do to make this wonderful teff-based injera.

KITTEE BERNS: Okay. I’m here for you; I’m going to hold your hand. Making injera is really fun. It’s a fermented food. So if you want to make injera, you don’t need a lot of ingredients. So also, to back up, when I make injera I make 100% teff injera. And that’s what the recipe in the book is for. There’s a little variation if you want to add other grains to it, you can. But I like pure teff injera the most. So, really, what you want to do is start with a sourdough. For people that are familiar with sourdoughs, and if you’re not gluten-intolerant, it doesn’t have to be the sourdough in the bread. You just want something that is an active starter and has wild yeast in it. Another thing that you might not know, Caryn, that is super interesting about teff, is that teff is one of if not the only grains in the world that has a symbiotic yeast as part of the grain. When you hear about folks from Ethiopia that have moved to other parts of the world and they have trouble making injera in their new homes, one of the reasons is they’re saying, because I was just reading before, I was going to talk to you today about the domestic American-grown teff, is that they’re not sure the American-grown teff has the same symbiotic relationship with the yeast, and that might be why it’s harder to make outside Ethiopia, because I was reading that there could be environmental differences, or even the acidity in the water could be different enough that that symbiotic relationship isn’t there. When I was researching for the book, a lot of recipes that have I’ve seen say you just mix teff flour with water and leave it out and the wild yeast will find it and then you can make your injera. But then a lot of people who’ve tried that don’t have a lot of success. So what I did in the book is I have a recipe that’s for a teff-based sourdough starter, but I add a little bit of yeast to it to get it going. Another thing that I’ve read that it could be is that the symbiotic yeast is on the whole-grain teff, but once the teff is ground into a flour, the yeast dissipates, which is interesting to me. So anyways, for the starter, that’s what I do in the recipe. It’s just teff flour, water, and yeast. And then you just feed it a little bit of teff flour every day for a few days. And once you have that starter made (because it takes about 5 days to get going) you don’t have to do that every time you make the injera. You just keep it in the fridge, and then when you want to make some injera you take it out, you bring it to room temperature, you add a little bit of teff flour to it to wake it up and to activate the yeast that’s in there And then it’ll take another almost two days to make the actual injera, but not quite.

CARYN HARTGLASS: The starter – you just kind of keep it around all the time?

KITTEE BERNS: Yeah. You have to be careful. If it’s the middle of the summer and it’s 90 degrees outside, it doesn’t do really, really well. If it’s super hot, you don’t want to over-ferment it. It needs a little bit more babysitting.

CARYN HARTGLASS: That happens to a lot of friends of mine in the summer – they get over-fermented!

KITTEE BERNS: Yeah. I think it’s true for any kind of ferment you’re trying to do. You just have to watch it a little bit more, because it ferments a lot faster. And the same thing in the cold, it slows down. So I give instructions in the recipes what to do if it’s hot or if it’s cold. But yeah, you don’t really do anything to it; you just kind of stir it up every day and feed it a little bit more flour, and it gets bubbly. It’s really cool—it’ll be bubbling away when you know it’s ready to go. And then to make the injera batter, it’s just some of the starter you made, filtered water (which is really important to use because you don’t want to use tap because there’s things in tap water that can kill the culture, like bleach and things like that). And then you just add filtered water, and a little bit of fenugreek and more flour, and then you let that sit around, and it makes a batter that’s thinner than a pancake batter, maybe a little bit thicker than a crepe batter. I have a video on my blog if people maybe want to see what the texture is like. It should be thin enough that you can pour it from a pitcher, but there’s a video that was recently shot in my kitchen, I’m making injera and you can actually see it. I think it’s really helpful to have a visual.

CARYN HARTGLASS: I just realized this… I think the universe works in mysterious ways, and today being Pancake Day, I didn’t realize it. And teff is kind of like a pancake, but you also use your teff starter to make sourdough pancakes!

KITTEE BERNS: Yeah, it makes really delicious pancakes. I figured that out because one of my friends in town who was helping me test recipes had a whole bunch of the starter left over, and she didn’t want to make injera. So she was like, “What should I do with this?” And I was like, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out!” And so I made up a pancake recipe, and it’s really, really good. It has a really nice tang to it. It’s got cinnamon and blueberries in it, and also a little bit of sorghum or a little tapioca, just because teff flour is a really heavy flour. And I think it’s perfect for injera but for regular baking, you need to lighten it up a little bit. So usually when I bake that’s my favorite combo – a little teff flour and a little sorghum or a little tapioca starch. But yeah, those pancakes are good. Maybe try those first – ease yourself in!

CARYN HARTGLASS: Now there’s lots of wonderful recipes in here, not just to make the injera but to make all the different dishes that you’ll put on top and that you can dip in and soak up and it’s just delicious. Now, aside from teff, are there any more ingredients in some of these recipes that would seem foreign to a simple American?

KITTEE BERNS: Probably. There’s a spice that’s really, really important; it’s one of the strongest flavor profiles in Ethiopian cooking. It’s a red spice blend that is based from chili powder and it’s called berbere. It’s what makes all of the red saucy wot and the stews and the sauces. I have a recipe for that in the book, but if people want to make the stew and they live in any kind of metro city, they should probably be able to buy it at an Ethiopian market, or the spices that go into it can be found in Indian markets. It’s such an important flavor profile for the food, people that really are gung-ho about re-creating recipes at home, I think just even ordering it online – you can get it from folks in the States that import it straight from Ethiopia. And then that way you can really get the flavor. When I lived in New Orleans, there we didn’t have access to any. We had Indian grocery stores there, but otherwise I would either get my mom to send it to me from D.C. or I would go to an Indian grocery store and buy most of the spices. So it can be done, but you definitely need to invest in a few things. I tried my hardest in the book to show what spices are optional because I wanted people to be able to make things really super authentic if they wanted to. I know a lot of cooks, and lot of vegan cooks in particular, love the chase of finding special ingredients, but I also know a lot of people don’t want to deal with it. So I really did try to break the recipes down, and show spices that were optional, whenever they are. But you definitely need to find berbere – you either need to make it or find it in the shops or buy it from a distributor.

CARYN HARTGLASS: Okay. Now I’m just thumbing through, here, and I’m looking at the Shiro Wot soup, and I probably butchered the pronunciation.

KITTEE BERNS: Uh oh! What page are you on?

CARYN HARTGLASS: 112. It uses sunflower seed milk. I’m wondering… is that something that you came up with, or is that something traditional in Ethiopian cuisine?

KITTEE BERNS: No, that’s something traditional. I have an Ethiopian friend, her name is Hidu. She’s one of my friends in New Orleans, and she was telling me about this. I’ve heard about it. So sunflower seeds are a big crop in Ethiopia, and so they show up in traditional food. The traditional dish that I’ve heard of before, because I’ve seen it in restaurants, is Fit-fit and Fir-fur dishes. They’re injera-based dishes; they kind of translate to… Fit-fit is sort of like a bread salad and Fir-fir is more like, if you think about a savory bread stuffing, kind of like what you’d have on Thanksgiving but not those flavors, but kind of the way the stuffing gets soft and has onions and savories in it, it’s sort of similar to that. And there’s something called Suf Fit-fit, which is injera, and there’s a recipe for it in the book, and toasted sunflower seed milk (which you make) is poured over the injera… it’s a perfect way to use injera that’s maybe one or two days old and it’s a little bit dry; it just soaks up the milk. And then you add maybe a little jalapeno, maybe some onion, you could put tomato in it or red pepper, and it’s one of my favorite recipes in the book. When I started researching it and making the Fit-fit dishes, I was just dancing around my kitchen.

CARYN HARTGLASS: I do that a lot – dance around in my kitchen. Well it caught my eye because in the vegan world, we use nuts and seeds sometimes to replace our standard dairy products – milk and cheese. And we’re using a lot of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds blended with water to make salad dressing and different cheese spreads, and so I was excited to see that that was there!

KITTEE BERNS: It’s totally similar. Besides that Fit-fit I was telling you about, there’s three recipes in the book that have the toasted sunflower seed milk. My favorite is the Misir Wot, which is the ubiquitous spicy red lentils that you get in Ethiopian restaurants. But instead of water, it’s made with the toasted sunflower seed milk, so it’s kind of reminiscent of more like a West African groundnut stew, if you know this flavor. So it’s got some heat from the berbere in it, and then this toasted sunflower seed milk is just really savory but it’s cooling at the same time and rich. It’s one of my favorite recipes in the book.

CARYN HARTGLASS: Sounds really delicious, and I’m really hungry now and we’re at the end of the half hour. So Kittee, thanks for joining me and I can’t wait to devour your book, Teff Love.

KITTEE BERNS: Thank you, and I’m here to hold your hand if you need me!

CARYN HARTGLASS: Okay, sounds good. Take care!

KITTEE BERNS: You too, bye!

CARYN HARTGLASS: That was Kittee Berns, author if Teff Love. Visit her at, and I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Visit me at… you know where to go! Like us on Facebook, if you haven’t, and rate this show on iTunes! All right, other than that, have a delicious week.

Transcribed by Mekala Bertocci, 3/6/2015

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