Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Ethiopia

The Around the World in 80 Dishes is my own personal, culinary challenge to make 80 dishes from 80 different countries around the world.  After giving it some thought, I decided that there would be no better place to start my Jules Verne-esque adventures than the legendary cradle of humanity itself ... Ethiopia.  Some of the earliest human remains have been found in Ethiopia's valleys.  (Remember Lucy?  Her skeleton was discovered in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia's Afar Depression.)  Given I undertook this challenge to develop my cooking skills, by learning about ingredients and processes used to make these dishes, the country sometimes referred to as the "Land of Bread and Honey" is the ideal start for my own culinary evolution.

The most well known "bread" in Ethiopia is Injera, which is a sour-dough type of bread full of little air pockets, upon which the food is served.  Making good Injera takes a few days, as the batter has to ferment.  However, there are stores that sell the bread and I was fortunate enough to find a local Ethiopian store.  Using pre-made Injera allowed me to focus more on cooking the main dish.

Ethiopian cuisine is traditionally centered around thick stews, known as "wat," that are served on the Injera.  The wat begins with the sauteing of vegetables, most notably onions, followed by the addition a paste (usually garlic and ginger) and the berbere, which results in a very thick, spicy base.  After a couple of minutes, meat (like chicken -- which is "doro" in Amharic), fish or vegetables can be added, along with some water, resulting in the final wat.


I decided make a chicken wat or Doro Wat, which is also referred to as Spicy Chicken in Red Chili Sauce.  The recipe for Doro Wat comes from the World Cuisine Institute, Ltd., which sells packets of spices for various dishes, including a packet of pre-made Berbere, and includes the recipes for making each dish. The pre-measurement of the spices was helpful in making this dish for the first time.  I've tried to approximate the measurements for purposes of this recipe.

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds of chicken
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
4 cups of onion, finely diced
6 cloves of garlic, finely diced
2 tablespoons of ginger, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons plus 2 cups of hot water
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1/3 cup of Berbere chili spice (this can be adjusted to alter the spiciness of the dish)
1 tablespoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
1 tablespoon of paprika
1/2 tablespoon of fenugeek
4 Hard boiled eggs

For service:
Injera bread


1.  Saute the onions.  Put the onions in a large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.  Cook the onions for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently until they are translucent.

2.  Add the garlic and ginger.  Put the garlic and ginger into a food processor to make a paste.  Add the garlic/ginger paste, along with the olive oil, and butter to the onions and cook for another 15 minutes. 

3.  Add the spices.  Stir in the Berbere powder/paste, nutmeg, ginger powder, paprika and fenugeek, along with 1/2 cup of water.  Cook for about five minutes.

4.  Make the stew.  Add the chicken and the rest of the water to the pan.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat, allowing the chicken to cook until it is tender.  The chicken should cook about 20 minutes.

5.  Add the eggs.  Peel the hard boiled eggs and pierce them gently with a knife in 3 places.  Carefully add the eggs and cover them with the sauce.  Continue to cook for 5 minutes.

6.  Plate the dish.  To serve, ladle or place a piece of chicken and an egg on the tray.  Also make sure that you ladle some of the sauce over the chicken.  Tear a piece of Injera using your right hand and use it to pick up pieces of the chicken or egg.  Always use your right hand!


I decided to make a side dish and beverage to accompany the Doro Wat.   Vegetarian dishes figure prominently in Ethiopian cuisine.   I found a recipe for Yataklete Kilkil.  This is an interesting dish, with vegetables cooked in oil with garlic and ginger.  I forgot to add the green beans (which is okay because I am not a big fan of green beans).  Although the vegetables are cooked, they still remain crisp and only a little tender.  

Serves 4 to 6


6 small red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into pieces
1/2 pound of green beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 green pepper, diced
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 jalapenos, stemmed and seeded (if you want more heat, leave in the seeds)
1 teaspoon white pepper
Salt, to taste
6 scallions, cut into pieces.


1.  Boil the potatoes.  Bring a pot of water to boil.  Add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

2.  Saute onions and peppers.  In another pot, heat the oil on medium-high heat.  Add the onions, green peppers and jalapenos.  Cook for five minutes.

3.  Add spices.  Add garlic and ginger, as well as the salt and white pepper.  Cook for 1 minute.

4.  Saute the vegetables.  Add the rest of the vegetables (carrots and green beans).  Stir to cover all vegetables with the oil.  Add the scallions.  Cook on low for 8 to ten minutes.


For a beverage, I decided to make something that seems to be just as Ethiopian as Doro Wat ... Tej or Ethiopian Honey Wine.  Generally, Tej (pronounced "T'edge") is traditionally made through fermentation.  A little impatient, I found an easy recipe for making Tej, with just three ingredients -- white wine, water and honey.  The recipe I used called for 2 cups of white wine and 2 cups of water, but there was a lot of feedback about how the drink was "watered down."  So, I cut the water in half, making the Tej with two cups of white wine and one cup of water.  The result is very good and complements the spicy Doro Wat.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups of white wine (Riesling, Soave, or Pinot Grigio)
1 cup of water
1/4 cup of honey

1. Combine the white wine and water.

2. Combine the honey, stirring or whisking to blend the honey with the wine and water.

3. Chill and serve.

*     *     *

In the end, I really enjoyed the Doro Wat, partly because I love spicy food and also because the dish provided a different type of spiciness that I have not really experienced before.  I also enjoyed the Tej, whose sweetness is able to tame the Wat's kick.  As for the Yataklete Kilkil, it was good, but I think it is outshined by the other dishes.  While one day of cooking does not make me an expert in Ethiopian food, it has opened a new window in terms of new ingredients, processes and foods (and a beverage). 

I hope you have enjoyed the little tidbits about Ethiopian cuisine and these dishes as much as I enjoyed making them.  Now, I have to begin planning my next culinary destination.  Till next time ....


For more information about Ethiopian cuisine, you can check out some of the web sites I visited in preparing this blogpost: Abesha Buna Bet, Recipes Wiki or Wikipedia.

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