A simple Sunday stew to soothe stuffy sinuses



Early summer can be a bit of a bummer for those of us with allergies. Despite a profusion of local activities and excellent weather to match, I spent most of my weekend home alone, suffering from a very stuffy nose.

When enduring my not-unusual sniffles, I typically turn to soup, maybe pho, and let a bucket of hot broth soothe my sinus sorrows. But I wasn’t hungry enough to justify such a big meal. Well, I was hungry, but not that hungry. You know how it is when you have allergies.

Perusing Lansing’s selection of local eateries, I landed on Altu’s, one of my old standbys where, I’ll admit, I always order the same thing. But on this particular Sunday, a new-to-me dish — the lunch portion of mild chicken stew — stirred my curiosity. I received a thoroughly spiced drumstick served over a modest bed of yellow rice, accompanied by a small salad and a side of the restaurant’s famous cabbage. At $13, the lunch portion was only a slight discount from the full dinner, but the serving size was perfect for a midafternoon meal.

I don’t know much about different cultures’ foodways or the politics of food, or even very much about history, but I’m going to say this anyway: No matter who you are, the combination of chicken and rice just makes you feel better. And this couldn’t be truer for the mild chicken stew at Altu’s.

While noshing, I like to note little phrases in my phone’s Notes app. During this dish, I tossed out snippets like “fragrant,” “flavorful,” “a little heat but not spicy” and the phrase “rich, nourishing, delicious.” These descriptors are a woefully inadequate depiction of the distinct pleasure of consuming Ethiopian spices, which are bright, sweet and just a little bit savory. Black pepper added a little earthiness and heat without outshining the nearly citrusy flavors in the stewed chicken. Although billed as “mild,” this well-seasoned chicken leg stands on its own and should be explored, even by those who typically crave more heat. 

As an American of Polish descent, my exaltation of Ethiopian cabbage preparation should come as no surprise. This staple side gives new life to a leafy green that other cuisines don’t even approach. My simple Sunday stew, paired with classic cabbage and a tart, vinegary salad, elevated the reliable comfort-food combination that is chicken and rice. It put my mind — and my stomach — at ease, and I’ll certainly be back again.


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