Berbere Spice, Cardamom, Fenugreek, and Ginger

If you’re trying to learn a cuisine that’s not easily found in Central Vermont, Ethiopian isn’t a bad place to start. There’s a clear central cast of flavors and techniques. From there you can invent variations with a high likelihood of tastiness. . .and Ethiopian food is a hop, skip and a jump from Eritrean food, which brings in Italian influences, and then you’re off and running . . .

Okay, here’s the down side: injera. Down side in terms of things that are a pain to cook, not in terms of taste . . . it tastes just fine. 

Injera is the spongy, fermented, thin bread used as utensils (and sometimes a tablecloth). It’s made from teff flour (a grain described here in the trusty Whole Grains Council grain of the month feature). The flour at Hunger Mountain Coop is dark brown teff flour, while I believe the ivory version is the one more likely found in Ethiopian restaurants. There are many recipes for injera online and the one that worked best for me is this three day process. The recipe that I thought was most delicious tasting was this one from Swedish-Ethiopian chef Marcus Samuelsson, which also happens to be very easy and require no fermenting period. . .  but it didn’t taste authentic (how, as someone who has never visited Ethiopia, I can make that call I don’t know, it just didn’t). I’d recommend the Samuelsson version with strawberry jam at brunch.

A central tenet of Ethiopian cooking is liberal use of Berbere Spice. It’s a hot spice blend with paprika, cardamom, fenugreek, and other spices blended in (here’s one sample version from Saveur). This spice is what’s used to make Doro Wat, a dish with chicken legs and hard boiled eggs. I added chicken wings to the dish, first marinated in, then basted with, a mixture of reduced ginger ale, milk stout, berbere spice and a little brown sugar. The Doro Wat recipe I used came from the new cookbook Hot Bread Kitchen. That recipe isn’t posted online as far as I can tell; here is one from Serious Eats as a replacement. I also used a Doro Wat-like approach with minced beef to make the stew for Thursday Night’s sit down dinner. You can put it on red lentils, or yellow split peas. The Berbere Spice also works great as the primary seasoning for a Bolognese pasta sauce.

If you’ve got Berbere spiced meat and don’t have the patience for injera, and don’t want to go the pasta sauce route, these little fried dough snacks called Dabo Kolo go well it too. I used half whole wheat, half all purpose flour. 

Another excellent staple: Niter Kibbeh. You simmer aromatic spices in butter for a looonng time and then you use it in everything. As with so many dishes I made this week, it involved cardamom, fenugreek, and ginger. Here is the recipe I used, from Serious Eats – I substituted shallots for the onions because i had a lot on hand and I like them. First, I used this to make the best crostini ever by brushing it liberally on thin sliced bread that I then toasted in the oven. Then, I made the best carrots ever by shredding carrots and cooking them slowly in Niter Kibbeh until they were dry. Then I stirred in crushed salted peanuts. Goes well with injera (naturally). Probably you could put this butter on anything, including stewed cardboard, and it would taste great.

For dessert. . . ah, dessert isn’t really A Thing in Ethiopian cuisine. I did really enjoy this article “What’s for (Ethiopian) Dessert?” that explores the lack of desserts – and the recipe for candied chickpeas is tasty. With a very dark chocolate and coffee, you have a perfectly serviceable dessert. 

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