Though she holds a master’s degree in accounting, Eleni Woldeyes never felt as comfortable behind a desk as she does in her kitchen. She only spent a few years working as a number cruncher before launching Eleni’s Kitchen, the Hillsboro Farmers Market stall where she sells traditional Ethiopian cuisine.
“I ended up not liking working in the office … this is what I want to do,” she said. Woldeyes was born in Ethiopia, where she lived with her extended family. Then, in 2001, her mother received an invitation to attend a relative’s wedding in Atlanta, Ga.
“We had always wanted to come (to the United States), so when we got the wedding invitation, that was it,” she said. After the wedding, the family moved permanently to the U.S.
Woldeyes met her husband in Atlanta while earning her master’s degree. When he was hired by Intel, she moved with him to Oregon. For the first time, Woldeyes was separated from the close-knit family she had grown up with. She sought solace in the food that reminded her of home — spicy chicken and tender beef, served with aromatic chili dipping sauces over injera, the massive sourdough pancakes that are an iron-rich staple of Ethiopian cuisine.
“Being by myself, I really connected to my Ethiopian cooking,” she said.
After her first son was born, Woldeyes found herself at home with a lot more free time, which she filled by experimenting in her kitchen. After months of fine-tuning, she perfected the seemingly unattainable: a recipe for kulet, the spicy, simmered sauce ingrained in Ethiopian cuisine. By preserving the sauce, anyone could enjoy East African gourmet without the laborious, time-consuming process of making kulet from scratch.
With her jars of the chili sauce flying off the shelves of boutique grocery stores as far away as Massachusetts and Canada, Woldeyes opened a stall at the Orenco Station Farmer’s Market. Starting in August, customers will also be able to purchase Woldeyes’ wares at the downtown Hillsboro Farmers Market. She plans to introduce her selection of breakfast dishes, sweet strawberries and bananas over the injera, but will still prepare savory meat and lentil toppings alongside her new menu additions.
Her signature chili sauce, which was spotlighted in a 2009 edition of The New York Times Dining and Wine selection, is available every day of the week at the Tanasbourne Whole Foods.
– Nicole Kulik, Glencoe High School
References:Eleni’s Market offers a taste of Ethiopia at the Hillsboro farmers markets