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.

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.

45 thoughts on “Berberé

  1. 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.?

    • 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. 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 :)

    • 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.

      • 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!

    • 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.

      • 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!

      • 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?

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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. :))

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

    • 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!”

  8. 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”!

  9. 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!

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