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.