This MBA missed the tastes of Ethiopia — so he starting growing it for himself

by Selam

At the edge of his farm, Menkir Tamrat walks over to a pepper plant and pulls back the dark green leaves to reveal dozens of shiny red peppers.

“Looks like we have a whole bunch of ripe ones, red ones, ready to be plucked,” he says as he rubs his hands together.

Over the next few weeks, Tamrat will harvest the long rows of peppers. Then he’ll dry them, crush them and make them into spice blends essential to Ethiopian cuisine. Tamrat includes over a dozen separate ingredients in these blends and he focuses on balancing heat and color while building flavor.

Tamrat wasn’t always a farmer. He grew up in the countryside of Ethiopia in the 1960s. Then, in the early 1980s, he came to the Bay Area, got his MBA and started a career in high-tech management. The food from his homeland was never far from his heart, but when he tried to recreate it with local California ingredients, something was missing.

“Because I couldn’t create the chili powder from off the shelf chillies,” Tamrat explains. “It’s a hit and miss, how do you know which one might be the closest?”

So Tamrat went back to Ethiopia and brought back the seeds he needed to start a garden. He filled his yard with herbs and vegetables and peppers, and he found that these fresh flavors made all the difference.

“This leaf called koseret,” Tamrat says, holding up a stem of dried herbs. “You can never find it. It’s not used in any other cuisine. And it’s got its own unusual taste.”

For decades, Tamrat’s garden was just a passion project. But when his tech company downsized in 2009, Tamrat took the opportunity to grow these Ethiopian flavors on a larger scale. He connected with a local farm. By that summer he had 5,000 pepper plants taking

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