“My mom showed me how to make traditional Ethiopian foods,” says Musie, “and that was part of my growing up.”
Life can have unexpected twists, as Veronica Musie has certainly learned. An Eritrean by birth, raised in Addis Ababa in neighboring Ethiopia, a geology student in college, and now a U.S. citizen, she cooks for and runs an Ethiopian restaurant called Vera’s Kitchen in Manassas, Virginia. And for all these life challenges to work out, she thanks then-pastor Father Bob (Robert C. Cilinski) of All Saints Church in Manassas. He stepped up, she said, to help her with settling into the family’s new American life and community.
Raised in a very devout Catholic family, Musie recalled how faithful her parents were. “My Mom and Dad were very Catholic,” she said. “In Eritrea where my parents lived and even the small town and surrounding region were all Catholic. When the family moved to Addis Ababa, my dad went to Mass daily and became very involved in the local Holy Savior Catholic church. He became its treasurer and both parents helped raise funds for the local community. … We attended daily and Saturday Mass, and I sang in the choir at the Holy Savior church.”
Musie also thanks her Mom for teaching her basic cooking skills. As she recalled, her mother was a great cook, and believed in serving and feeding her family healthy foods. “My mom taught me to cook when you reach that age when you can work in the kitchen,” she said. “My mom showed me how to make traditional Ethiopian foods, and that was part of my growing up.”
After attending college in India, Musie returned home to Ethiopia where she lived for a few years. Then she went on a trip to the United States via Rome. But at the time, dangerous political unrest in Ethiopia caused her to seek political asylum in the United States. Later, when Musie married a fellow Ethiopian and settled into her new life, she said she had wanted to work with computer networking.
But after she started raising her children, she stayed home and cooked, never serving her children canned or bottled foods. “I cooked every meal from scratch,” she said, “and even when they were babies, I cooked from scratch. My mom came here to help me and cooked organic foods.”
Musie also started donating meals to her parish during Catholic week, delivering meals for the school’s teachers and bereavement for the All Saint’s family during a funeral. “When my children went to All Saints School in Manassas,” she said, “I always took them the food, and people loved the food aromas. So I started doing a catering business, but it was quite expensive to get a commercial kitchen. Then a restaurant near my church closed, and the owners gave me a good deal. After that, I went to culinary school for six months.”
Having been opened now for almost three years, Vera’s Kitchen showcases Ethiopian food to the locals, but her menu is really a mixture of cuisines. It includes typical breakfast fare, such as omelets and a yogurt parfait, lunch salads and sandwiches and dinner with both Italian and Ethiopian entrées.
“The most popular are Ethiopian meals,” she said, “and patrons can choose a trio of dishes. I love what I cook, and every dish has unique seasonings. Everything is fresh, including the garlic, onions and herbs.”
Summarizing her long journey from home cook to restaurant cook, Musie noted that she is very grateful to All Saints Church for helping her and her family. “Father Bob was very nice with helping and with recommendations,” she said. “And helpful, too, during my treatment for cancer. He was the best priest I ever had.”
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Yellow Split Peas (Kik Wot)
An Ethiopian/Eritrean vegetarian dish served with injera (Ethiopian flatbread). Serves 3 to 4.
- 1 cup split peas
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon each minced garlic and minced ginger
- 1 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more as desired
- 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and sliced
Boil the split peas in water on medium heat with salt. Cook until al dente. Skim and remove any foam.
Add the olive oil to a large cooking pan, and add the onions. Stir for 5 minutes until brown. Add the split peas, turmeric, and garlic, to the pan. Finish up with ginger. Add salt, garnish with sliced jalapeño.