an ethiopian dinner

You know how sometimes a certain food gets stuck in your head, and you want to make it, and you plan to make it, and you have the recipe you want to use, but for some reason it takes you forever to actually get around to making it?  Yeah, well, that’s me and this meal.  One of my friends had mentioned last summer how she loved Ethiopian food, which I’d never had, and I decided it would be a fun kitchen experiment.

That flash of inspiration was encouraged by the fact that we developed our own sourdough starter last fall, and all winter a recipe for injera (Ethiopian Sponge Bread) was staring out at us from Wild Fermentation – an incredible resource if you are interested in live-culture foods.

The Ethiopian dinner was put off for a while because of the absence of teff flour, which is a tiny grain grown and used in Ethiopia, and the basis of injera.  We checked out all the big grocery stores here, with no luck, and I was beginning to think we’d have to just use wheat flour, which is much less exciting.  Fortunately, I discovered a bag of the beautiful dark flour at the lil’ health foods store here, and the plans were reinvigorated!

There was a bit of prep work involved in this meal because of the niter kibbeh (spiced clarified butter) and berbere paste (a combination of spices essential to proper flavor, or so I’ve been told), but now that we’ve got both made, our next go around will be really easy!  The actually time involved in cooking the meal wasn’t too bad, and totally worth it.  The flavors in this meal were incredible!

The taste combination of spices in the rich wat and the sour injera were entirely different than anything I’ve ever tasted before.  My first bite was a very memorable experience!  It was so exciting to try an entirely new ethnicity of food and experience all the new flavors that come with it.

This is a flexible recipe.  Now, I’m not an expert on Ethiopian food, but from what I read, a wat is the generic term for a thick “stew” of sorts that is the basis of Ethiopian meals.  I think it is generally made with chicken, which would be doro wat, but we used the caribou we have on hand, so I’m using the name for a beef wat – sik sik wat – which I figure is close enough!  If you are vegetarian, I think this would be absolutely delicious with potatoes in place of the meat.  (If vegan, simple use olive oil in place of the niter kibbeh.)

I’m gonna go ahead and share the recipes I used for the niter kibbeh and berbere paste, which makes this a pretty long post, but I thought it was best to include all elements!  They are also plenty of other recipes online if you’re interested in researching a bit.  If you want a really special and fabulously delicious meal, this would be a great one to try.

Sik Sik Wat
makes about 4-5 servings

4 onions, chopped coarsely
1 head garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp ginger, grated
1/4 cup niter kibbeh (recipe follows), or olive oil if vegan
2 Tbsp paprika
1/4-1/2 cup berbere paste (recipe follows), depending on how spicy you like it
3/4 cup water or broth
1/4 cup red wine (or use more water/broth)
about 2 pounds of stew meat – I used canned caribou, or potatoes if vegetarian/vegan
6 oz tomato paste
cayenne, salt and pepper to taste

Put onions and garlic in a heavy pan, without oil or water.  At high heat, stir constantly until onions appear translucent, which takes 10-15 minutes; this requires constant attention!  (If this makes you nervous, you can go ahead and add the niter kibbeh right away and cook the onions normally, but they won’t have the same “toasted” flavor.)  Add niter kibbeh and ginger.  Simmer uncovered about 5 minutes.  Add paprika and berbere paste, cooking another 5 minutes; don’t let it burn!

Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, adding water as needed to maintain a thick sauce-like consistency.  I used canned meat, so it was already cooked; of course if you’re using potatoes or uncooked meat, make sure they’re are cooked through!  Adjust seasonings and serve hot with injera.

Berbere Paste
makes about 1 cup

Note: there’s a lot of spices called for here!  The cheapest way to get any you might not already have is to check out the bulk spice section at your grocery store.

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
2 dried New Mexico chiles
1 Tbsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp water or red wine

Mix all dried spices ingredients together.  Combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor until smooth (my hand-cranked fellow didn’t get it totally smooth, but good enough for me!).  Refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze.

Niter Kibbeh
makes about 2/3 cup

1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
1 or 2 1/4 inch slices of ginger
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp tumeric

Combine all ingredients in a small heavy saucepan, and follow instructions for making ghee.  Can be stored for a few months.

Injera (from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz)
makes 9-12

1 cup bubbly sourdough starter
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup teff flour (use millet flour or all wheat if you can’t find it)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda or baking powder (optional)
Olive oil

In a medium bowl or jar, mix together the sourdough starter, water and flour.  The mixture should have the consistency of thin pancake batter.  It was thinner than I thought it would be!  Add more water if needed.  Cover with cheesecloth, or any thin cloth, and leave to ferment in a warm place, stirring a couple times.  Let sit for about 24 hours.

When you are ready to cook the injera, add salt.  If you want a moderately bubbly sour bread, leave out the baking soda or baking powder.  Adding baking soda will reduce the sour flavor and make it more bubbly, while adding baking powder will not reduce the sourness, but will increase the bubbling.  Pick what you like!  Stir well and let sit for a few minutes.

Heat a lightly oiled cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  Pour the batter into the hot skillet, taking care to spread it as thin as possible.  Add more water if needed to make it spread thin!  Cook over medium heat, hot enough to sizzle when you pour the batter on, but not so hot that it browns too quickly.

Cover the pan as the injera cooks; cook until holes appear all over and the top is dry.  Cook on one side only; don’t flip!  Remove from pan to rack or towel to cool.  Once cooled, injera make be stacked and wrapped in a towel.  I learned that if you stack them while warm, they stick together!  So be careful here.

ENJOY!!!! 🙂

This entry was posted in breads, dairy-free, entrees, refined sugar-free, sides, vegan, vegetarian and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to an ethiopian dinner

  1. This looks so interesting. I dont think i have had anything like it.

  2. Yum! I love Ethiopian food! There’s a great restaurant here in Bloomington that I’ve been dying to go back to! I’ll definitely have to try this out!

    • I hope you do try it; it’s totally worth it! I’d love to check out an Ethiopian restaurant sometime, but I don’t think there are any in Alaska…. 😦 Next time I’m out of state!

  3. mizrhi says:

    This looks sensational!

  4. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about most African food, so I adore this post. Particularly since it looks like the sort of rich, delicious food that I love and cook all the time 😀

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