From here we go without utensils. With just our fingers, we dine as Ethiopians. First, tear off a piece of injera, the flatbread on the plate above, beneath the other foods. Use it to scoop up a bit of stew and pop the whole bundle in your mouth.
The yellow preparation catches the eye, doesn’t it? It’s yekik alicha, yellow peas simmered with onions, garlic and ginger until they’re aromatic and flavorful. Softened but still offering some resistance, the peas are what Italians describe as al dente.
Ye’abesha gomen, the verdant mixture to the upper left, is collard greens sautéed with onions in clarified butter. Add a variety of spices including garlic, ginger, cardamom and smoked paprika and you taste a slightly sweet leafiness with strong spicy notes. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice brightens the flavors. Imagine gingery, lightly-smoked spinach.
So far, butter is all that keeps both dishes from being completely vegetarian, and they’re close enough to satisfy the Ethiopian Church. Both yekik alicha and ye’abesha gomen, in addition to being excellent sides, are what many careful Ethiopians consume when they’re observing one of the Church’s fasting days (no meat then, see?).
Speaking of butter, niter kibbeh is the fragrantly spiced clarified butter pictured below, and is central to most Ethiopian dishes. It smells divine, by the way:
Even more important to the cuisine is berbere spice blend. Depending on how much is added, it lends dishes anything from a pleasing tingle to a blinding heat. A little goes quite far and. as Ethiopian cuisine is increasingly popular, berbere mix is available from a growing number of vendors. Look on amazon. Of course, those of us with entirely too much time make our own:
Berbere mix is what makes doro wat Ethiopia’s nation dish. It’s the last item remaining, the stewed chicken toward the bottom of the injera. Berbere makes doro wat what it is, but the spice blend is added in modest amounts, and places the dish near the “pleasing tingle” end of the scale. Of course, all that cooking does make the chicken wonderfully tender.
A bit more about injera, the flatbread serving Ethiopia as both plate and utensil. It’s mainly teff, a grain common in Ethiopia. It’s ground into flour, is mixed with water, then sits for a day or more until it starts to ferment. This is cooked for a few minutes on a griddle or in a skillet: This results in a minorly sour, spongy bread. Contemplate a sourdough crepe and you get the idea.
Today’s six recipes were found on multiple sources. The berbere, the clarified butter and the doro wat were found on The Daring Gourmet. African Bites supplied instruction for the collard greens, while Spache the Spatula inspired the yellow peas. Finally, YumUniverse provided directions for making injera.
As everything is a first attempt, all was made from scratch, including the spiced butter and the berbere blend. The point of this exercise is to prove it can be done. Fine…it’s achievable. Still, you’ll get results nearly as satisfying by buying a can of berbere powder from amazon and in using regular butter. You even might substitute a tortillas for the injera. Let the food fanatics rage. Ignore us.
Plus, you won’t need silverware!
(Ethiopian Spice Blend)
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- 2 whole allspice berries
- seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
- 4 cloves
- 5 dried chilies, seeded and broken into pieces
- 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
In a skillet over high heat, toast the whole spices (i.e., the seeds) and chilies, shaking the pan regularly to prevent scorching. Toast until fragrant, about three minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
Grind the cooled spices in a spice/coffee grinder until pulverized. Add the remaining ingredients and grind until everything comes together and forms a powder.
(Ethiopian Spiced Clarified Butter)
- 1 pound unsalted butter, cut into (approximately) 1-and-1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion (*1)
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (*2)
- 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 3 black cardamom pods (*3)
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon besobela (*4)
- 1 tablespoon kosseret (*5)
Toast the whole spices (as in the recipe above, the whole seeds) in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until fragrant. Shake the pan regularly to keep the spices from scorching. Set it aside.
Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan, set over the lowest heat possible. The point is to melt the butter and gradually to let it come to a low simmer – that’s all. Be very careful not to let the butter boil or scorch. Continue simmering over the lowest heat possible for one hour to 90 minutes.
Pour everything through a cheesecloth and into a jar. The solids will remain in the cheesecloth, leaving just clarified butter in the jar.
1 – Shallots are better, of course. Use one large shallot, or two small ones.
2 – Chop the garlic and ginger coarsely enough to release the flavors. Because they eventually will be strained from the butter, there’s no point in taking time to make everything “pretty.”
3 – Make sure to use black cardamom, not the more common green variety.
4 – This is Ethiopian “sacred basil” and is difficult to find. You may omit it, or substitute dried basil.
5 – Ethiopian “butter clarifying herb,” similarly challenging to obtain in North America. Because I’m obsessive, I mail-ordered both. If you lack my, uh, dedication, skip it, or use a similar amount of dried oregano.
(Ethiopian Teff Flatbread)
- 1 and 1/2 cups teff flour (*6)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch of salt, to taste
- coconut oil, for the pan
Place the flour in a large glass bowl. Add the water and mix well. Cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm, dark spot. Let it sit, undisturbed, for at least 24 hours.
After a day, the mixture will begin to ferment and bubble. This is good; you want this to happen. Add the baking powder and the salt and mix again, until the batter is smooth.
Place a pan over medium heat and coat it quite lightly with coconut oil. Pour in just enough batter to coat the pan surface and place a lid tightly over the pan. Allow to cook for six to eight minutes. Lift the lid slightly to peek inside. Once the edges begin to curl, your injera is done! Carefully lift if from the pan with a spatula. Note that you don’t flip the injera; it’s so thin, cooking the side against the pan also bakes the top layer.
Add a little more oil if necessary and repeat until the batter is gone. Stack the injera, separating the layers with wax paper.
6 – There are two shades of teff available; I chose the “ivory,” or lighter, kind. The darker version is just as good, though it creates injera that looks as if it were made of buckwheat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
(Ethiopian Spicy Chicken Stew)
- 3 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons niter kibbeh (*7)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups yellow onions, pureed in a food processor (*8)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon finely-minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely-minced ginger (*9)
- 1/4 cup berbere spice blend (*10)
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup Tej, Ethiopian honey wine (*11)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 4 hard-boiled eggs (*12)
Place the chicken pieces in a medium bowl and mix in the lemon juice. Let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for at least half an hour.
In a stockpot, heat the niter kibbeh and the olive oil. Add the pureed onions and simmer, covered, over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the garlic, ginger and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes, stirring from time-to-time.
Add the berbere and remaining two tablespoons of butter and keep sautéing, covered, for half an hour, again, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken, broth, salt, and wine and raise temperature to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring now and then.
Add the eggs and cook, covered, for another 15 minutes.
Halve or quarter the eggs on a plate and serve with the stew.
7 – Homemade niter kibbeh is extraordinary, though I understand it may be found, already prepared, in a few well-stocked stores. Even “regular” butter would be alright, given the relatively modest quantities. Making doro wat with plain butter is much preferable to not making it at all.
8 – Instead, use about eight medium shallots.
9 – A microplane grater makes a wonderful (and quick) fine mince. This applies to both the ginger and the garlic.
10 – Again, homemade berbere is ideal, while the canned stuff is still great. If you have neither, substitute 4 tablespoons of paprika and 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper.
11 – I couldn’t find Tej and in fact, never had heard of it before. Fortunately, I did buy another honey wine, and it worked well. In pinch, try half a cup of “regular” white wine, with a tablespoon of honey.
12 – No thank you. Generally, I dislike eggs by themselves, and I absolutely loathe hard-boiled eggs. If you don’t share that antipathy, eggs might work here. I wouldn’t know.
(Ethiopian Collard Greens)
- 10 ounces collard greens, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons niter kibbeh (*13)
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons finely-minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (*14)
- 1 large white onion, chopped (*15)
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 fresh lemon
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the niter kibbeh, garlic, ginger, smoked paprika, coriander, cardamom and saute for 30 seconds, being careful not to let it burn.
Add the onion and saute for another three minutes.
Throw in the collard greens, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Cook for another seven minutes, or longer, depending on desired doneness. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.
13 – Three tablespoons of cooking oil or “regular” butter is fine. For more detail, see Note 7, above.
14 – A microplane grater is perfect for this. Refer to Note 9, also above.
15 – Or two medium shallots,
(Ethiopian Turmeric Yellow Peas)
- 1 cup dried yellow split peas
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 2 small yellow onions, chopped (*16)
- 2 cloves garlic, pureed
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, pureed (*17)
- 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
Rinse the peas and put them in a small saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for five minutes, then turn off heat and allow peas to sit in water until needed.
In a large pan, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for eight minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger and turmeric and cook for two minutes, until fragrant.
Drain the peas and add them to the pot. Cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and serve.
16 – Try two medium shallots instead.
17 – Again, I recommend using a microplane for both the garlic and the ginger. Note 9, above, has more details.