Friday, July 13, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Eritrea

After having eaten a wonderful Bhutanese dinner of Kangchu Maroo, or Pig Trotter Curry, my thoughts turned to my next culinary challenge.  As I have previously noted, my challenges are almost always determined by using a random country generator websites on the Internet.  I consult the website and it provides a country like ... Eritrea.  I then do a lot of research.  My focus is three-fold: (1) to learn about the country, (2) its culture and (3) its cuisine.  While doing this research, I develop a theme for the blog post and the post itself begins to take shape.  I read websites like Wikipedia, the State Department, and/or other news sites, like BBC News.  I turn to more culture and/or culinary focused websites.  With respect to a country's cuisine, I try to learn about the ingredients and cooking processes that they use to make each dish.  While I read a lot of websites, I cannot incorporate it all into a blog post.  If I did, I would be writing a book.  So, a lot of editing has to take place.  When it is done, it looks like the following:

The history of Eritrea dates back to at least 1890.  At that time, Italian forces arrived on the Red Sea shores of Ethiopia, looking to establish colonies for Italy.  At the time, Ethiopia was an independent country; however, that did not stop Italy.  It created a colony that not only stripped Ethiopia of its access to the Red Sea, they also split a major ethnic group, the Tigray.  The colony was what would become Eritrea.  Over the months and years that followed, Italy's colonization reinforced the split between the Tigray Ethiopians and the Tigray Eritreans.  This split lead to the establishment of the Eritrean identity.  In 1935, the Italians invaded Ethiopia, but lost the war in 1941.  After the conclusion of World War II, in 1952, the United Nations created a federated Ethiopia, which included a separate government for Eritrea.  The Eritrean government was dissolved in 1962, when Ethiopia's Emperor, Haile Sellasie, annexed the region into Ethiopia.  The annexation sparked a thirty-year civil war.  That civil war ultimately led to the emergence of Eritrea as a country.

Despite this violent history, Eritrea shares a lot in common with Ethiopia when it comes to cuisine and food. The cuisines of both countries feature stews, with chicken, lamb and vegetables.  The stews are served with injera, a yeast-risen flatbread that has a spongy texture and a slightly sour taste.  There are differences.  Some are superficial, such as the names used for the dishes.  Ethiopians use the Amharic names, such as Doro Wat; Eritreans use the Tigrinya name, like Tsebhi Dorho.  Others are more substantial.  Eritreans then to use less seasoned butter and, which makes their dishes lighter than the Ethiopian counterparts.  Eritrean cuisine also includes influences from other cuisines.  The use of tomatoes in Eritrean cooking reflects the influence of Italy, while the use of cumin and curry powders highlights the influence of the Middle East.  


The first dish is D'Nish Zigni or Fiery Potato Stew.  This dish reflects both the influence of Italy and Ethiopia.  The Italian influence is reflected in the use of tomato paste to thicken the stew.  The Ethiopian influence is reflected in the use of Berbere spice mix to increase the heat of the dish.  The Berbere spice mix used in this dish is an Eritrean Berbere, as opposed to an Ethiopian Berbere.  D'Nish Zigni is served with injera.

Recipe adapted from
Serves 4

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 teaspoons of Berbere (recipe below)
6 medium potatoes, cubed
1 small tin of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of salt
4 cups of chicken stock

1.  Saute the onions.  Heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat.  Add the onions and saute for five minutes.

2.  Saute the potatoes.  Add the Berbere spice and potatoes and saute for five more minutes.  Add chicken stock and simmer for ten more minutes.  Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate it.  Season and simmer for ten more minutes.  
Add the chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes before adding the tomato paste, season to taste and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Read more at Celtnet:
Copyright © celtnet


Although I made D'Nish Zigni, it is not the dish that will qualify for the challenge. Instead, the culinary challenge for me is to make Tsebhi Sega.  This is a minced meat dish that is made with either ground beef or lamb.  Whenever I have the choice, I prefer lamb over beef.  This challenge had multiple components, requiring me to cook not only the meat, but also make an Eritrean Berbere spice mix as well as an herb butter known as Tegelese Tesmi.  I have included recipes for both the Berbere and Tegelese Tesmi with the recipe for Tsebhi Sega.  And, as with the D'Nish Zigni, the Tsebhi Sega is served with injera.

Adapted from
Serves 4

2 medium sized onions, chopped
2 tablespoons of sunflower or other vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of Eritrean Berbere
1 tablespoon of Tegelese Tesmi
1 teaspoon of chopped ginger
1 teaspoon of chopped garlic
6 large tomatoes, skinned and sliced
2 pounds of shredded or ground lamb or beef
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Saute the onions.  Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onions until they are light golden. 

2.  Add the other components.  Add the Berbere and Tegelese Tesmi, along with some water if necessary.  Continue to simmer on low for ten minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger, as will as the sliced tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper after another five minutes.  Continue to simmer for about fifteen minutes. 

3.  Cook the meat.  Add the ground lamb or beef and continue to cook until the meat is done.  If the mixture becomes too dry, add a little water. 

To make the Tsebhi Sega, one must make an Eritrean version of Berbere.  And, just like Ethiopian Berbere, there are many different recipes, each with different spices and different proportions.  Ultimately, I had to settle on one recipe, but I still had to make some adjustments.  Most notably, the version I decided to use called for 20 crumbled dried peppers.  The problem is which dried red peppers to use.  I noted that some recipes call for a mix of piri-piri chiles and cayenne peppers.  Still 20 peppers is a lot.  After a lot of thought, I decided to use the proportions of ground red peppers (4 to 6 teaspoons) called for in the Ethiopian version.   

Adapted from Recipes Wiki
Serves 4

4 to 6 teaspoons of dried red peppers or chilies (or 20 dried red peppers)
3 tablespoons of sweet or hot paprika
2 teaspoons of dried cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of allspice
1 teaspoon of fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon of coriander seed
8 cloves
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon of dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of salt

Put all of the ingredients up to the salt in a frying pan (except for any powders).  Heat for two minutes, stirring constantly.  Add to a spice grinder.  Add the salt and any powders and grind everything.

Finally, to make Tsebhi Sega, it is also necessary to make Tegelese Tesmi or herb butter.  This is a relatively new process for me, because I have not had to clarify butter or make ghee in the past.  Of all of the components for this main dish, I actually had the hardest time when I made the Tegelese Tesmi.

Adapted from Yummly

1 cup of unsalted butter
3 1/3 ounces of water
2 small onions, shredded
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons of ginger, shredded

1.  Melt the butter.  Put the butter and water in a frying pan and heat them until the butter has melted.

2.  Simmer with the other ingredients.  Add the other ingredients and simmer the mixture on a low fire for thirty minutes, until the mixture stops skimming and the butter is clear.  Do NOT stir the mixture.

3.  Finish the butter.  Sieve the butter and allow to cool down in a well closed jam jar. 

*     *     *

Overall, I think this challenge is a success. I am completely stuffed, in part due to the D'Nish Zigni and Tsebhi Sega, and in part due to the injera.  One of these days I will make my own injera, rather than rely upon the bread I buy from a local Ethiopian store.  But, that would be an entirely different challenge.  Until that time ...


For more about the history and cuisine of Eritrea, check out Konrad Licht and the Washington City Paper.


Ashiq Rahman said...


I am very impressed after reading through parts of your blog. With your cooking skills I think you could be interested in this competition I have found. You cook your national dish and then you have the opportunity to win an iPad mini or money. It could also be a good chance for you to let more people know about your blog since you will be shown on their homepage and in a cookbook!Here's the presentation about the competition:
Here's the presentation about the competition:
Competition: Win iPad or Money
And here's their facebook page:
Facebook Page

I hope you will be win..


Anonymous said...

Ground beef for tsebhi sega? Everyone I know cut the beef in to tiny cubes

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...