Berberé

Before one can make any traditional dishes of Ethiopia, it is necessary to make the wonderfully complex spice paste called berberé. It is paprika based, but also contains onion, garlic, and many wonderful spices that add to the complexity of this unique seasoning mixture. These include cayenne, ginger, coriander, cloves, fenugreek, cardamom, and more.

The recipe I use is from the Time-Life series called Foods of the World.

It doesn’t take much time at all to make berberé, and the toasting spices will make your whole house smell wonderful.

Once you have this spice paste, as well as the other unique seasoned butter called niter kebbeh, you will be able to make a number of authentic Ethiopian dishes.

Berberé
Red Pepper and Spice Paste
Makes about 2 cups

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons salt, divided
3 tablespoons dry red wine
2 cups paprika
2 tablespoons ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups water
1 – 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a heavy skillet, toast the ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice over low heat for a minute, stirring constantly.

Then remove the skillet from the heat and let the spices cool for 5-10 minutes.

Combine the toasted spices, onions, garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt and the wine in the jar of an electric blender and blend at high speed until the mixture is a smooth paste.

Combine the paprika, cayenne, black pepper and the remaining tablespoon of salt in the saucepan and toast them over low heat for a minute, until they are heated through, stirring the spices constantly.

Stir in the water, 1/4 cup at a time, then add the spice and wine mixture. I used some of the water get get more of the wine mixture from the blender jar.

Stirring vigorously, cook over the lowest possible heat for 10 – 15 minutes.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the Berberé to a jar or crock, and pack it in tightly.

Let the paste cool to room temperature, then dribble enough oil over the top to make a film at least 1/4″ thick.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. If you replenish the film of oil on top each time you use the Berberé, it can safely be kept in the refrigerator for 5-6 months.

Now, you can buy powdered berberé, like I did when I visited Kalustyan’s in New York City, but you can see I’ve never opened it. I’d much rather make the paste from scratch.

By Published On: November 18th, 202045 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

45 Comments

  1. homecookexplorer November 18, 2020 at 6:56 AM - Reply

    Nice work here! I notice that the powder ingredients include some of those rare spices. Have you considered making 2 wat dishes both the same except in one you use the paste and in the other the powder.?

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 7:05 AM - Reply

      No, I have not! Way too much work! I could just taste them… I’m very old fashioned and making these two mixtures is what I learned originally so I’m always going to make these. And just like any other cuisine, I’m sure there are regional variations.

  2. Travel Gourmet November 18, 2020 at 7:10 AM - Reply

    Fantastic! I’m always been too lazy to make my own but this is really great so I should give it a go. I did buy some ras el hanout from a spice stall in Marrakesh where it was all ground together in front of me :)

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 7:19 AM - Reply

      That’s so fascinating. I still need to see Morocco. My list is long! And this year has cut out some major destination opportunities, as it has for everyone.

      • Travel Gourmet November 18, 2020 at 7:30 AM

        Oh you would love Morocco! My friend and I did a short cookery course and the guy told us which stall to go to in the spice market. We did get lost in the souks one time and had to pay a young boy to lead us back to the main square – but all good fun. Food and atmosphere there amazing!

      • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 7:45 AM

        I can’t wait. The colors!

  3. popsiclesociety November 18, 2020 at 7:53 AM - Reply

    Wow! What a combination of spices! I can only imagine the flavor ☺️😋

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 7:54 AM - Reply

      It’s really intense!

  4. The Parmigiana Whisperer November 18, 2020 at 7:56 AM - Reply

    What a great combination!!! sounds delicious!

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 8:02 AM - Reply

      A little goes a long way…

  5. Debra Eliotseats November 18, 2020 at 8:33 AM - Reply

    I’m only familiar with powdered berbere (which I love sprinkled on anything from baked potatoes to eggs). I want to try this paste and whip some up for the holidays as gifts. Thanks!

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 8:59 AM - Reply

      Hmmm honestly I think no one would know what to do with the paste. It’s really strong if you taste it, but has a specific flavor, so if you put it in soups and stews everything would taste the same. Maybe you should make up the ground spice mixture? Or buy it and pretend you made it?!!! I’ll have to open mine up and sprinkle it on eggs – that sounds wonderful.

      • homecookexplorer November 18, 2020 at 4:14 PM

        My friend’s advice is to be both generous with it and mix it in at the outset of for example a stew when you sautee your onions. She tends to cook the stews hard for a while, stirring frequently. That way the underlying taste of berbere infuses better, and it loses some of its heat. Its counterintuitive to what I would normally do – but there it is. She’s an Ethiopian cook!

      • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 4:34 PM

        Right. But I was saying that every stew you’d use it in would be flavored the same, whereas a powder could be sprinkled on everything, like Debra suggested , potatoes, eggs, and whatnot. I just don’t see it as a good food gift. What do you think?

      • homecookexplorer November 18, 2020 at 5:02 PM

        If you gave it packaged with a pretty printout of one of your blog recipes using it….?

  6. Jeff the Chef November 18, 2020 at 8:49 AM - Reply

    The snowflakes are back! I love this spice recipe – thanks!

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 8:57 AM - Reply

      Glad you noticed!

  7. kitchenriffs November 18, 2020 at 9:56 AM - Reply

    I’ve only had Ethiopian food in restaurants. Much as I love it, I’ve never cooked it. So of course I haven’t made berbere. Nice recipe — this really has tons of flavor.

    • chef mimi November 20, 2020 at 8:14 AM - Reply

      It a very intense flavor, very deep and rich. At least you have restaurants to go to! I’ve only been in Dallas, Denver, and Brooklyn. But, then I can prepare it at home, I’ve just never mastered injera. One more try, though. Coming soon.

  8. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen November 18, 2020 at 10:15 AM - Reply

    This looks amazing! I’m pretty sure I can smell those wonderful spices all the way here in Vermont!

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 4:34 PM - Reply

      You probably could if the wind was in the right direction!

  9. 2pots2cook November 18, 2020 at 10:55 AM - Reply

    So beautiful ! I’ll share this one with my Berbere ( from southern Algeria ) family member; he’ll be sooooooo happy to see it ! Thank you for beautiful photos as well !

    • chef mimi November 18, 2020 at 4:34 PM - Reply

      Aw, thanks! I hope it’s approved!

  10. Tandy | Lavender and Lime November 18, 2020 at 9:57 PM - Reply

    That’s a lot of paprika. I will buy some in bulk when we go to Istanbul so that I can make this.

    • chef mimi November 19, 2020 at 6:57 AM - Reply

      I know. It’s a really dense spice paste.

  11. Mary November 19, 2020 at 12:35 AM - Reply

    This Ethiopian series that you are sharing at the moment sounds really fascinating. Although just at present I don’t have the time to make these wonderful condiments, it’s a plan for the future. I’ve never had the pleasure of eating Ethiopian food but it is something I intend to rectify because it does sound hearty.
    These recipes are printed and are in the ‘to make’ tray. Thanks Mimi. :))

    • chef mimi November 19, 2020 at 6:52 AM - Reply

      Thank you! I wasn’t sure how they’d go over, honestly but the cuisine itself is exquisite.

  12. Ron November 19, 2020 at 7:14 AM - Reply

    I’m impressed, I’ve never mixed my own berberé. I think I see some doro wat or maybe my favorite sega wat…

    • chef mimi November 19, 2020 at 2:07 PM - Reply

      Yes, doro wat is coming after a specialty Ethiopian bread. The cuisine is so good, as you know!

  13. Jovina Coughlin November 19, 2020 at 7:56 AM - Reply

    Excellent condiment to have on hand.

    • chef mimi November 19, 2020 at 2:07 PM - Reply

      Glad you think so!

  14. sippitysup November 19, 2020 at 1:15 PM - Reply

    I have the powdered Berberé too. It came in a “chef’s” gift basket a couple of Christmases ago. I’ve never opened it either. That’s because I’d never come across a recipe that required it. Now I know. Ethiopian. GREG

    • chef mimi November 19, 2020 at 2:03 PM - Reply

      Well, exactly. Although Debra loves it on eggs and baked potatoes! It’s at least a bit more useful than the paste.

  15. Healthy World Cuisine November 19, 2020 at 6:13 PM - Reply

    Mimi, we are loving this! I know we have told you that a million times already but this series is so much fun. This would be a great gift idea too and throw in a couple of your upcoming recipes in a basket. Wishing you a super holiday week ahead.

    • chef mimi November 20, 2020 at 7:01 AM - Reply

      I just don’t feel that these are that versatile, but thank you. Maybe I’m just not thinking outside of the box!

  16. Ann Coleman November 19, 2020 at 8:44 PM - Reply

    I learn so much from your blog….you are willing to try foods from other countries that I’ve never tried, and you provide recies and easy to follow instructions to boot. Thank you!

    • chef mimi November 20, 2020 at 7:00 AM - Reply

      Aw thanks! I was raised that way, and when I started learning how to cook, I knew no other approach! But like I say, “so much food, so little time!”

  17. sherry November 20, 2020 at 10:19 PM - Reply

    what a fabulously tasty paste Mimi!

  18. David Scott Allen November 21, 2020 at 5:14 PM - Reply

    Will definitely need to make some of your version – the one I was taught is dry ingredients only. Can’t wait to taste the difference.

    • chef mimi November 21, 2020 at 5:15 PM - Reply

      It’s a very intense, deep flavor. I need to compare the two!

  19. neil@neilshealthymeals.com November 23, 2020 at 3:01 AM - Reply

    Niter kebbeh I wasn’t aware of. But berberé I have heard of. Interesting to see all the spices that are involved in making it Mimi. I often wonder who originally sat down in Ethiopa many years ago and thought “I’ll just add a bit of this spice and a bit of that and see what I come up with”!

    • chef mimi November 23, 2020 at 7:06 AM - Reply

      Isn’t that a funny thought! Especially with as complex as these are.

  20. Molly Pisula November 23, 2020 at 10:15 AM - Reply

    So many spices in this! It looks absolutely delicious, and I love how you toast the spices for maximum flavor. Will come back to this if I ever try to experiment with Ethiopian cuisine!

    • chef mimi November 23, 2020 at 8:42 PM - Reply

      It’s pretty fabulous and really unique!

  21. Debra November 23, 2020 at 6:27 PM - Reply

    I can smell the pungent spices from here, Mimi, and I am in love!

Leave a Reply. I love 'em!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.