For a long time, I shied away from cooking Ethiopian food at home. I had no idea how to make injera, the delicious, sour flatbread that accompanies most every wot, or stew, in the repertoire. Barring that obstacle, there was also the problem of getting the spicing right — when I tasted dishes in restaurants, the flavors were so complex that I had no idea what spices were involved.
Not knowing exactly where to start, I figured Wikipedia was as good a place as any to begin my education. Sure enough, the page on Ethiopian cuisine turned out to be a boon of information. I learned that many dishes are flavored with a spice blend called berbere. While the wiki page on berbere mentions the inclusion of a few things I’ve never heard of in my life (False cardamom, anybody? Or perhaps you know it by its other name, koramina?), all of the actual recipes online are made up of totally recognizable spices. All of which were in my pantry. Halleluja!
Assembling a batch of berbere spice took all of ten minutes. Toasting some of the spices before blending made the mixture incredibly aromatic — with a base of cumin and hot and sweet paprikas, it’s like chili powder with panache. With just one whiff, I knew that this spice mix would improve everything it touched.
So, spice mix down, main dish and injera bread to go.
While traditional injera takes a lot of finesse and a lot of time (days, in fact), my version came together in minutes — start to finish, making a dozen crepes took about half an hour. I simply made a basic crepe batter in the blender, substituting teff flour for most of the wheat flour. This gave the crepes a very delicate and tender texture, a perfect vehicle for scooping up the stew of your choice. While they do not have the requisite sourdough tang of a traditional recipe, they are easy to make and don’t take any advance planning. These are big plusses in my book. After all, I didn’t just want to make these for myself — I wanted to encourage anybody and everybody that you too can cook a serviceable Ethiopian(ish) meal at home.
More on that teff flour — I received mine as a sample from The Teff Company. Their flour is top notch, with a silky texture that blends like a dream. It’s ground from extremely nutritious teff, a whole grain that contains impressive amounts of fiber, protein, potassium, and iron. The Teff Company happens to have extremely reasonable prices, too — pound for pound, it’s the lowest-priced teff flour I could find online.
Injera bread, accomplished.
For the main dish, I set about recreating my favorite Ethiopian dish to order in restaurants — shiro wot, a.k.a. chickpea wot, a.k.a. chickpea flour stew. Some googling yielded a helpful YouTube video of this guy preparing a version at home. While his version looked pretty close to what I wanted, I knew that the coarsely chopped onions he included would surely make the stew chunkier than what I was used to ordering in restaurants. I had a smoother, more hummus-like texture in mind.
I also knew that with my incredible homemade berbere, I had no need of pre-made vegetable stock for additional flavor. A teaspoon of salt (plus a little from the berbere) seasons the whole skillet of shiro wot, so while this is a little higher in sodium than most of my recipes, the stew absolutely needs the salt to carry the flavors. It is one instance in which I would not skimp on the salt, and those are big words coming from me!
One more magic ingredient was responsible for the smashing success of my shiro wot. And that is my all-time pantry favorite, Garlic Gold Oil. It added toasty garlic flavor and beautiful sheen to the finished stew — I used a tablespoon at the beginning to saute the onions, then drizzled in another tablespoon at the end of cooking for gloss and extra flavor. While you can’t exactly add raw garlic at the end of a recipe, the toasty flavor of Garlic Gold Oil works perfectly to finish this dish. You don’t want to leave it out, trust me. Oh, and after you add the oil, you’ll want to whizz up the stew with an immersion blender — it really makes the dish, ensuring that any lumps of chickpea flour are obliterated and giving the stew a lightness that takes it from restaurant-level deliciousness to why-leave-the-house perfection.
One last thing. You’ll want to make the teff crepes first, then prepare the shiro wot. As for the spice mix, it will stay potent for about six months in the pantry, so you can make that as far in advance as you please. The key thing here is to make the shiro wot directly before serving — it thickens as it cools, and it’s best served hot and freshly prepared. Happily enough, it only takes about twenty minutes to cook, so you don’t have to plan too far in advance to pull it off.
Whew! I feel like I just wrote a novel. Congratulations if you read all that. Now go make some Ethiopian food and thank me later!
Berbere Spice Blend
makes about 1/2 C.
2 Tsp. cumin seeds
1 Tsp. fenugreek seeds
1/2 Tsp. black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. whole allspice
4 whole cloves
2 Tbsp. sweet paprika
1 Tbsp. hot paprika
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1. In a small (8″) skillet over medium heat, combine the cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns, whole allspice, and whole cloves.
2. Shake the pan frequently, toasting the spices for a few minutes, just until they are very aromatic.
3. Remove spices from pan and let cool for five minutes.
4. In a coffee grinder, combine the toasted spices along with the rest of the ingredients listed. Grind into a fine powder.
5. Store mixture in a glass jar.
makes about a dozen crepes
1 1/2 C. water
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 C. (120 g.) teff flour
1/2 C. (60 g.) whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
butter (for greasing the pan)
1. Place ingredients in blender in order listed. Blend until smooth.
2. Heat a 10-inch non-stick crepe pan over a medium-low flame. Lightly butter the pan, wiping out excess with a paper towel so a very fine layer of butter remains.
3. Ladle 1/4 cup of the crepe batter to the pan, shaking and tilting the pan to create an even layer of batter. Once you have an even layer, cover the pan immediately.
4. After 30 seconds, check for doneness — the edges of the crepe will begin to curl away from the pan, and the top of the crepe will be dry.
5. Use a thin spatula to carefully release the crepe from the pan and remove to a plate. These crepes have less gluten holding them together than traditional ones, so they will be VERY delicate — take care not to tear them. Once they are cooled they will be a little easier to handle.
6. Repeat steps 3 through 5 with remaining batter until it is all used up. You can stack the crepes directly on top of each other — they won’t stick.
Shiro Wot (Ethiopian Chickpea Flour Stew)
1. Heat one tablespoon of the Garlic Gold oil in a 10″, high-sided skillet over a medium-high flame. Sauté the onions for about ten minutes, until browned.
2. Add the berbere spice and sauté for another minute until aromatic.
3. Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil.
4. While whisking constantly, add the garbanzo bean flour. Whisk until thoroughly blended and thickened — it’s okay if there are a few lumps.
5. Turn off the heat. Use an immersion blender to process the mixture until smooth, then stir in the remaining tablespoon of Garlic Gold oil.
6. Serve immediately, using teff crepes to scoop up the stew.