International Cooking: Food from Ethiopia

Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa in East Africa. It is the 13th most populous country in the world and the most populated landlocked country.

The country was ruled as the Kingdom of Aksum for a long time, even extending north into what is now Eritrea. But the kingdom eventually collapsed, and Ethiopia was divided into smaller kingdoms. The country’s current border is a result of a series of conquests by Emperor Menelik II, starting in 1878.

Ethiopia was occupied by Fascist Italy in 1935, then the British Army in 1941. Ethiopia regained sovereignty in 1944. However, things have not been exactly peaceful since then, as the country has suffered from inter-ethnic clashes and political instability.

The major religion is Christianity, which was embraced in 330, though there is also a large Muslim population, with Islam arriving a few hundred years later.

Ethiopia is growing quickly economically, but it is still a developing country and many of the people live in poverty with low literacy levels.

What Do People Eat in Ethiopia?

Many Ethiopian dishes are a type of ‘wat’ or thick stew, and they can be made up of vegetables or meat. They are often very spicy. It is common for a meal to include several different types of stews, along with the traditional flatbread, injera.

The most popular spice mix is called ‘berbere’, consisting of powdered chili and a variety of other spices, which may include cardamom, fenugreek, coriander, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cumin, and allspice. I got my berbere from The Spice House.

Many dishes also make use of a spiced clarified butter called niter kibbeh. I did not buy or make it but instead tried to make up for it by adding extra spices to dishes that called for it. I’d like to make it sometime but I feel like it’s only worth it if I’m making a lot, and then I have to find uses for it!

There are a lot of vegetarian dishes in Ethiopia, largely because many Ethiopians restrict their meat intake as part of their religion. Meat is also expensive and, as someone on the Ethiopian subreddit pointed out, many of the meat dishes seen at restaurants are mostly consumed on holidays, or by rich families.

The most commonly consumed meats are beef, lamb, goat, and chicken. You would be unlikely to find pork, since most Ethiopians do not eat it due to their religion.

Coffee is important in Ethiopia, both as part of the local commerce and as a part of the country’s culture. Some sources say that the drinking of coffee originated in Ethiopia. A coffee ceremony takes place after each meal.

What I Made

Awaze Tibs (Spicy Beef)

Awaze Tibs (Spicy Beef)

Awaze tibs is a spicy stir-fry made with beef, but there are also versions of tibs that use other kinds of meat such as lamb.

The recipe didn’t specify what cut of meat to use. Since this is meant to be a stir-fry, I’m assuming something like flank steak or sirloin would be best. But I had some chuck in the freezer and wanted to use that, so I cooked it for a while before proceeding with the rest of the recipe so that it had time to become tender. After cooking the beef, I sautéed some onion, garlic, and jalapeños. Then I added the sauce, which is made from berbere, pepper, cumin, ground ginger, salt, olive oil, and water. I added the cooked beef, then let everything simmer for a few minutes. Finally, I added some lemon juice.

I served this topped with cilantro, with homemade French bread on the side. I had intended to serve this with injera but the dough wasn’t ready yet. This could also be served with rice.

I really enjoyed this dish! I’d like to try it with lamb next time.

I got this recipe from Low Carb Africa.

Injera (Fermented Teff Flatbread)

Injera (Fermented Teff Flatbread)

Injera is a traditional Ethiopian flatbread, though I feel it’s a lot more like a pancake or crepe in texture. It’s got a sour taste due to the dough being fermented for a few days. Traditionally, it is made with teff flour, so it’s gluten-free. But teff is often combined with other, cheaper flours, so if you are avoiding gluten it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients in any injera you’re about to eat.

I did try making injera earlier when I cooked food from Eritrea, but the process took longer than expected, which resulted in me rushing a little. I also had trouble keeping the injera together when cooking. The injera was edible but didn’t really turn out like it was meant to. This time, I used the same recipe, but instead of rice flour, I combined the teff with regular white flour. The added gluten is meant to make the dough easier to handle, and it really worked.

I started by combining some of my sourdough starter with both flours and some water. Then I let the mixture sit, covered, for 4 days, because that was how long it took to start looking right (it’s meant to have some bubbles and have a thin layer of liquid on top). The recipe said it would take 2-3 days, and although it’s cool here at the moment, it’s not super cold, so I had anticipated 3 days. So it did take longer than I expected. The mixture didn’t look exactly how it was meant to, since it didn’t have a lot of liquid on top, but it smelled like my sourdough starter does when it wants to be fed, so I decided I didn’t want to leave it any longer.

At this point, I boiled some water on the stove and added some of the injera mixture. I cooked this, stirring, until it was like a thick porridge. After it cooled a bit, I added it to my blender with the remaining injera mixture. I poured the resulting batter into a bowl and let that sit, covered, for about 7 hours. This part was meant to take up to 6 hours if it’s cold, and when the batter is ready, it’s meant to be bubbly. Mine didn’t really have many bubbles but I didn’t have any more time to wait so I had to cook it.

I heated a non-stick pan and lightly greased it. Then I poured some of the dough in, ensuring it spread out. I had to turn the pan a bit to get it to spread, but ideally you are meant to just pour it perfectly. This didn’t happen for any of my injera!

Each injera took about a minute or two to cook. You only cook them on one side. They are supposed to get all bubbly, and mine did, so I declare this a success. I definitely don’t think they are perfect, but I do think they are at least identifiable as injera, unlike my first attempt.

I think this is kind of an acquired taste. These flatbreads tasted like really strong sourdough. I wouldn’t say they were bad, but they were definitely unlike anything I’ve had before.

The recipe I used is from Lin’s Food.

Shiro Wat (Chickpea Flour Stew)

Shiro Wat (Chickpea Flour Stew)

Shiro wat is a thick stew made primarily out of chickpea flour. It is a widely consumed staple in Ethiopia as it is cheap, nutritious, and easy to make.

In Ethiopia, you can buy shiro powder, which is a combination of chickpea flour and spices. To make my own, I toasted some chickpea powder with berbere, cardamom, cumin, and garlic powder. The recipe didn’t say what I was aiming for, but I stopped when the color had darkened a little.

Next, I cooked some onions in olive oil for a few minutes before adding garlic and tomato paste. After another 30 seconds or so, I stirred in the shiro powder, salt, and water. I cooked the mixture until it became a thick stew. The oil was meant to float to the top when it was done, but that didn’t happen for me. I did also use less oil than called for, so that could be why, since I didn’t feel I wanted my shiro wat to cook any longer.

I served this with some of the injera I made. It was quite good; better than things I have made with chickpea powder before, though it probably isn’t something I would make again.

I used the recipe from Urban Farmie.

Enkulal Firfir (Ethiopian Scrambled Eggs)

Enkulal Firfir (Ethiopian Scrambled Eggs)

I’ve made quite a few versions of scrambled eggs throughout this challenge. It’s one of my favorite breakfasts so I love learning new variations.

To make this, I started by cooking some red onion in ghee with a little berbere. Then I added some tomato and jalapeño and cooked for a moment before stirring in the eggs. I served this topped with some cilantro, with injera on the side. This can also be served with French bread, but my injera was finally ready so I got to use that.

I didn’t follow a recipe here; I think this is the kind of dish that doesn’t really need one. I saw a lot of recipes that include tofu instead of or in addition to the eggs, but I’m not a big tofu fan so I just stuck with eggs.

This was a delicious take on scrambled eggs!

Doro Wat and Gomen Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew and Collard Greens)

Doro Wat and Gomen (Spicy Chicken Stew and Collard Greens)

Doro wat is a spicy chicken stew that also contains whole boiled eggs, and it is Ethiopia’s national dish.

Making doro wat begins by caramelizing red onions, then adding garlic, oil, salt, and berbere. I actually used the oil for caramelizing the onions because they were not releasing liquid as the recipe said, and were starting to catch on the bottom of the pan even after reducing the heat.

I added ghee and tomato paste, then the chicken. I used boneless skinless chicken thighs rather than bone-in pieces, which is more traditional. I just prefer to not have to dissect chicken pieces to get out the bones when they are in a stew like this. I added some water, then let the stew cook until it thickened and the chicken was tender. Then I added the eggs and cooked for a few more minutes (not 15-20 as the recipe suggested, because I didn’t want my eggs to get cooked too much more).

This was really good, probably one of the best things I have made during this challenge. I’ll definitely be making it again.

The recipe I used is from Chef Lola’s Kitchen.

I served this with injera and gomen wat. Gomen wat is made by sautéeing collard greens with onion, ginger, garlic, tomato, chili, and some spices. I thought it made a nice side for the doro wat.

This recipe also came from Chef Lola’s Kitchen.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed everything this week, but the doro wat was easily my favorite dish, followed closely by the awaze tibs.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Fiji.

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