Ethiopian food is not something that I have ever tasted before and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it was revered as one of the best cuisines within Africa and so I was excited at the prospect. Having now made a variety of Ethiopian dishes I can safely say that this has been my FAVOURITE featured country so far. The flavours that developed in the dishes I made were so distinct and different from anything I have had before - it was really exciting!
There are two key ingredients that are used in a majority of dishes that help to build the unique flavour profiles. The first is a spice mix - Berbere. I was lucky enough to find some (in a Waitrose of all places), but you can make your own by combining all of the individual spices; the mixes will vary but tend to have at least chilli, fenugreek, cardamom, coriander, ginger and cumin. This is the base seasoning for lots of the dishes and brings a lovely bit of spice and flavour to proceedings.
The second key ingredient is Niter Kibbeh; a spice infused clarified butter. Clarified butter is just butter that has been heated on a low heat until the milk solids separate and rise and are discarded - if you have cooked with Ghee before, this is clarified butter! Niter Kibbeh is made using the exact same process but garlic, ginger and a number of spices are simmered along with the butter, infusing the most gorgeous flavour into it. I had mine simmering for about 45 minutes and if I could choose to have my house permanently scented the way it smelled for those 45 minutes, I would.
The culture that surrounds eating in Ethiopia is a very sociable one - meals are often presented on one communal platter to be shared and eaten using your hand. A sign of respect and love in Ethiopian eating is ‘Gursha’; where one person feeds the other a bite of food.
Injera is practically synonymous with food in Ethiopia, with many Ethiopians eating it a minimum of once a day. Injera is a flatbread made using Teff flour - a grain that is indiginous to Ethiopia. The flour itself tastes quite earthy and the finished Injera has a tangy taste to it as a result of fermentation.
Proper Injera is made in a similar manner to sourdough bread - a starter is created and left to ferment for a number of days, before being incorporated into a dough, which then undergoes further fermentation. The result is a flatbread which slightly resembles a thick crepe but with a honeycomb texture across the top - a bit like a gigantic, flat crumpet.
Various stews are often served on top of the Injera, allowing it to soak up all of the flavours from the sauces. These dishes will always be served with additional sides of rolled up Injera, for tearing and using instead of cutlery. Leftover Injera is incorporated into breakfast dishes.
As you can see from my picture, this was not a success for me - there’s always one disaster dish isn't there?! I had low expectations on my ability to make this given the lengthy process required. The last fermented batter I made was for Dosas and I was gutted when they didn’t work out as I had spent days trying to make them. Because of this, my original plan was to buy Injera - as it is such a staple, I knew it had to feature. Unfortunately, I was unable to find it anywhere and resolved to give it a go…
BUT I decided to cut corners and used a quick recipe where the batter only required 24 hours of fermentation. When it came to cooking it, I had a decent batter going but couldn’t manage to achieve anything like the amount of bubbles that are supposed to form on the top. The texture is also supposed to be springy and a bit stretchy, whereas mine just fell apart. That’s what you get for cutting corners.
Did you like it?
Despite the unpleasant texture, it still tasted great. Slightly sour and earthy; it complimented the spiciness of the stews it was served with brilliantly. I am now on a mission to track down the real deal so that I can experience what it is supposed to be like!
Marks out of 10: 6/10 (0 for execution, 6 for the flavour)
Doro Wat & Shiro Wat
Unsurprisingly, ‘Wat’ translates as stew, or curry and is a catch-all term for a number of the dishes that would likely be served atop Injera. I have grouped these two together as I made them at the same time but really they are two completely separate dishes. Doro Wat: this is a rich chicken stew which makes plentiful use of both Berbere and Niter Kibbeh. This is one of the most popular dishes in Ethiopia and can be made using any meat, but chicken is the most common. The stew is made slowly, first by cooking down the onions until you basically have a paste. Meanwhile, the chicken is soaked in lemon juice, ensuring it is tender when cooked. Various ingredients are added and slowly cooked out until you have the final dish, to which hard boiled eggs are added for the final 15 minutes to soak up all of the flavour.
Shiro Wat: this is one of the most popular vegetarian dishes in Ethiopia, made primarily from chickpea flour. The first step is making the Shiro powder (this can be bought pre-made but I couldn’t find it), by toasting the chickpea flour with some Bebere and a few additional spices. It is then a simple case of frying off some onions with garlic and tomato paste, then adding the Shiro Powder and some water and simmering until your desired consistency is reached.
Doro Wat: This was time consuming to make but not labour intensive - definitely achievable for a weeknight meal. I was able to make the Injera and Shiro Wat at the same time as this just bubbled away happily.
Shiro Wat: This was super simple! You could make this from scratch in about half an hour, and it would make an excellent vegetarian addition to any sort of curry spread.
Did you like it?
Loved, loved, loved BOTH of these dishes! I will definitely be making both again in the future, as well as keeping an eye out for authentic Ethiopian restaurants where I can try the real deal.
Marks out of 10: 9/10
Beef Tibs & Gomen
Tibs is another dish that is likely to be served with Injera - although I chose on this occasion to make some rice and ‘Gomen’; spiced kale. Tibs can be made with any cubed meat, but beef is the most common for this dish. The meat is only cooked very briefly, so a cut like Rib Eye or Sirloin is best. Tibs is often served as a celebration dish, at a family occasion or festival.
This was another super quick and easy one. The steak is rubbed with some berbere, garlic, ginger and rosemary, and then cooked in a healthy dose of Niter Kibbeh. Vegetables can be added to transform the dish into a stir fry. I opted for a recipe which just added some tomatoes.
Did you like it?
Again, there was nothing not to like about this dish! Despite all of the dishes using the key ingredients of Niter Kibbeh and Berbere, I was surprised by how different they all were.
Marks out of 10: 8/10
You can view all previous 'Country of the Month' articles HERE.