Ethiopian Cuisine

At first glance, you don’t think that the two words should go together, right? But despite the political and natural atrocities that have occurred in Ethiopia, its cuisine is uniquely complex, vibrant, and delicious.

If you’ve ever eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant, you know that you’re typically served meat stew, known as wat, along with vegetables, placed on top of a spongey crêpe-like bread called injera.

You eat with your hands, using the injera to pick up the food. It’s a fabulous experience, and one I highly recommend. This is what injera looks like up close! Plus a photo of a young woman making injera from the cookbook I mention below.

My first time eating Ethiopian food? In my dining room when I was in high school. It was during the period of time when my mother was cooking a different international cuisine every week or so. It would be German, then Chinese, then Russian, then Indian, then Ethiopian! Crazy mama.

I remember really enjoying all the smells and the flavors of the Ethiopian dishes, although some of them were too hot-spicy for me. Sadly, I was a little slow developing my taste for anything hot-spicy, even salsa!

The book my mother cooked out of was – you guessed it – the Time Life Series called Foods of the World – African Cooking.

Although I do own a few Ethiopian cookbooks, this one contains two “seasoning mixtures” that are an integral part of preparing traditional Ethiopian food, so I always refer to it for these recipes.

One mixture is a dark, rich paste called Berberé. I’ve seen it in powdered form at spice shops, but do make it from scratch the first time you start cooking Ethiopian.

The second is niter kebbeh. Delicious onion, garlic, and spices simmered in butter, then strained.

For the next few days I will be posting on these very important spice mixtures. And then we will start baking and cooking Ethiopian cuisine!

94 thoughts on “Ethiopian Cuisine

  • Mimi, that post reminds me of the Berberé spice that my brother brought back from Ethiopia a few years ago. I got great value from it. He tells me that, over there, each village will have it’s own version and each family it’s own variation on the village version. It was wonderful while it lasted. He resides in Tanzania now and I have not managed to persuade him to nip across the border and send me more.

    • oh I’m jealous. I’ve always wanted to go to Ethiopia.
      I understand that about berberé as well, that the spice mixtures vary. Just like curry powders and garam masalas in different Indian families and different villages, as well.
      Try making this and see if it’s similar! It’s very good.

  • The Time-Life books were, to this girl in a small town back in the early Seventies, the most wonderful things ever. We had some, but our neighbors had ALL and I just loved to go next door and spend hours leafing through. Isn’t it wonderful that they still hold up?

      • Not complete, but lots. Some from my mom, some from second-hand stores. But, I don’t have African Cooking, so will definitely be on the lookout for it! What about you? Do you have them all?

      • I’m 57. How old are you?!! If you’re younger than I am, then you were definitely a “foodie!” In the 70’s I was in college. When I got married my mother gifted me with her set. Not sure if I have Vienna…. But that might be it.

      • 53, so not much different in age. Oh, and it wasn’t just the food books in those days. I loved the TIme-Life travel and science books too. So, not just a foodie. Just a nerd. :) But, lucky you, for having almost the whole cooking set. I love that they were edited by Richard Olney.

  • Nice post, Mimi. So, you make the paste. Have you tried the dry spice blend to compare to the flavor of the paste? I’m curious and now have a lot of the dry spice bend (enough to last a while) and don’t really want to make the paste for a side by side comparison. ;) The red wine berbere paste is very intriguing to me.

    • I know, the red wine aspect is interesting. No, I’ve never bought the spice blend, so I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure this would be authentic, so the point that the authors researched the cuisine. There’s a lot of speculation that they really rushed through publishing these books. I think James Beard was also involved as an author/editor, but I don’t know if he was involved with the international cookbooks.

  • Chef Mimi, this is gorgeous. I love Ethiopian food, but never dared to try making it myself, though I just went wild in the spice store. I cannot wait to see what’s next. When you get a chance could you recommend your 5 favorite cookbooks, new or old? I’ve got Gran Cocina Latina on my list from you and this year and I’m loving Jerusalem. I’d love to know what else you’d recommend. Thanks for the consistently good content!

  • I have eaten at Ethiopian restaurants and the initiation was a bit daunting. Now I enjoy introducing others, just to see the look of bewilderment as they notice others dining. Thank you for posting your recipe for berberé. Having a jar handy in the fridge certainly does open up a world of opportunities.

  • There is a really good Ethiopean restaurant in the center of Brussels. I have been there often now & I love their unique cuisine & to make berberé from scratch at home sounds even better! :) Waw, well-done, dear Mimi! :) xxxx

  • Hi, Mimi–We love stuff that you put in jars and get to take out a spoonful at a time to flavor things. This definitely sounds worth doing, especially in conjunction with the wat recipe. Funny coincidence, I happened to mention Richard Olney in an answer to a comment on our last post. He was, among other things, the editor of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, including the book in your photo. Ken

  • hey mimi – I cook from an ethiopian cookbook a friend brought back for me – the nutritional institute of ethiopia published it, has guidelines on how to kill and pluck and gut a chicken, how to sort through your pulses for stones etc and makes you aware of what being a true houseperson without mod cons – and I am sure most of us dont regard buying a prepared chicken as a mod con anymore as we have moved on to chicken breasts cooked and sliced (not here until very recently but in the US for eons) – also got the berbere from Ethiopia, it is really really hot, am sure the paprika gives it the right colour . but think usually the red is chili pepper? Have you tried buying some and comparing – if you do use less than you would in your regular mix as otherwise it might kill you :) I used 100g of Berbere the first time I made Doro Wat which was a reduction of about 1/5 versus what the ethiopian recipe said to use and it was almost impossible for us to eat. thanks for posting P.

    • funny, I’ve heard of this cookbook from another commenter before! I haven’t purchased berbere, just because I make it occasionally. You know, I think it’s just like absolutely everything in global cuisine – no one family makes something the same way. The berbere recipe I’ve always used, because I like it, is spicy, but definitely not as you described, although there are 2 tablespoons of pure cayenne in the berbere recipe… This is worth looking in to, but I think there are just so many variances in berbere. I just made chimichurri, and discovered there are an infinite number of recipes for it. I’m sorry, I have no idea, but I do have someone I can ask.

  • agree- each family has their own recipe, and the most important thing is to like it. Love the pic of the glass with the spice mix btw. Did you make your own injera, thats something I have found to be really difficult..

  • The Ethiopian cuisine Offers a wide range of Surprising dishes:

    Breads such as:
    injera , dabo and ambasha.

    Pulse dishes such as:
    Yekik alicha – yellow split peas with turmeric sauce
    Azifa – mashed lentils and red onion
    kik wat -red lentils in berbere sauce

    Porridge such as:
    Baso – sweet Barley porridge
    Kincha – Spiced wheat porridge, served hot

    Beverages such as:
    Tila – bitter beer with an amber colore (home made)
    Avish – soft drink made from fenugreek and honey

    You can get Ethiopian spices for those dishes on:
    For only 2.99$ per 4oz of spice

  • One of my favorite cuisines! I often use Berberé spice mix, and cooked a few Ethiopian stews, but never tried making Injera bread, and it’s just not the same without it. Looking forward to seeing your recipes. :)

  • I’m excited to see what you might share, Mimi. I love Ethiopian food! I, too, love injera, and everything about eating with my fingers. The flavors in this wonderful cuisine are just unmatched, I think!

    • I do too. Such unique flavors. And like you said, so much fun to eat! I’m going to post on the two important seasoning paste and butter, then a different bread, and a chicken stew.

  • Yum! I always love the Marcus Samuelsson books. He does a macaroni and cheese with greens with a spiced butter that sounds an awful lot like that last flavor block you mention. I can’t wait to see all your fun this week!

  • Well that sounds like a fun project – your mom must’ve loved getting creative in the kitchen! I haven’t had the chance to try Ethiopian food, but Laura went to an Ethiopian place back when we lived in Atlanta. I remember her talking about the flatbread that they used for all of the dishes! Looking forward to learning more in your next posts!

    • Isn’t that interesting?!! And they’re how I started cooking, because they were my only cookbooks back then! Berberé really is fabulous!

  • I love Ethiopian food! My first time eating it was actually in Ethiopia, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Especially the communal way of eating, which is so much fun. Luckily we have a plethora of Ethiopian restaurants in the DC metro area, legacy of the troubles there during the 1970s and 80s. But it’s been a while…

    • Oh I’m so envious! I’ve always wanted to go to Ethiopia. What an experience. It’s such an incredible cuisine.

  • Ah, I remember thie Time-Life cookbook series- I believe they were from the 1970s! And yes, I rember eating at an Ethiopian restaurant in Adelaide, South Australia. Word does get around! I look forward to some of your recipes coming up!

    • Oh fabulous. Yes, I’m 64, and my mother used them, then bought a set for me when I married in 1982. That’s all I had until I realized there were other cookbooks out there! Ethiopian cuisine is so fabulous.

  • One of my favorite cuisines, and I have even become quite adept at making injera at home. Doro wat is probably my favorite to make but I want to start learning the lentil dishes. And I always make a big batch of berbere and sometimes can find some niter kibbeh in my fridge. I started making it with ghee to shorten the process… I had a friend who had that series and I wish she had left it in her will to me. (Rude, huh?) She used it all the time…

    • Yes! I made mine with ghee! That’s the next post, I think – niter kebbeh. Love that stuff! It is a wonderful cuisine. Please post on injera!

    • Aw, that’s really sweet. I made these posts originally back when I had 3 followers, but I’m glad to have revamped them. They are amazing dishes.

  • Last year, when we could get takeout at our neighborhood farmer’s market, there was a stand for Ethiopian food! It was absolutely wonderful, although I think they may have cut down the spice level for “American tastes”. But it was still so tasty! So glad I tried it! And what a wonderful and creative Mom you had! She sounds amazing to make all those different cuisines for you!

    • She was pretty nuts in the kitchen. Which is why I grew up being such a food snob. She didn’t teach me how to cook, but I was exposed to such fabulous cuisines and flavors. That gave me a big boost when it was time to learn cooking. Ethiopian is fabulous.

  • My mom loved to try new cuisines, too! Not all her dishes were well loved the first time around, but we were lucky to be exposed to some lovely dishes. I don’t think any Ethiopian food was on her radar, but this it sounds like there could be some fun interactive dining with these recipes!

    • Then you’re very lucky as well, because I think it definitely helps when you start cooking, which I didn’t do till I married. I was familiar with lots of ingredients, like produce and spices. It really helped. Hope you enjoy what I have coming. It’s a really unique cuisine.

  • I’ve never cooked Ethiopian, but there is a “Little Ethiopia” section of Los Angeles with at least five authentic Ethiopian restaurants in a two block span. I’m happy to say I’ve sampled most of them so your gorgeous photos look deliciously familiar. GREG

    • Oh my, I’m so envious. We’ve only been to one in Denver, one in Houston, and one in Brooklyn. They are few and far between unless you’re in the big cities…

  • Lynne and I ate at an Ethiopian restaurant in Frankfurt. It was our first Ethiopian eating experience and it was amazing. And yes we had meat stew served in injera bread. Thanks for bringing back those amazing memories. Looking forward to those spice mixtures.

  • I love communal eating, it add liveliness to dining. I had heard of this Ethiopian cuisine before and love to try them ever since, quite hard to find a restaurant here that offers that so perhaps I will do it at home

    • Well, it’s just basic cooking, but these two spice preparations are important. The second one is posting tomorrow. Then you can make all kinds of dishes!

  • I loved the Time Life Foods of the World books. I seems I remember it came about once a month and had a hardcover book and spiral recipe book like you picture. I think my favorite one was the Latin American Cooking issue. I don’t remember the issue you have, but then that was years ago. Wish I still had that set of recipe books…

    • I think they’re all fabulous and yes, there’s a larger book and the smaller recipe booklet. Doing all of Africa in only one book was a bit crazy, but I’ve also read from Craig Claiborne that he regretted doing the series so quickly. I don’t remember the details of what he said. But I love them, and it’s how I learned to cook!

  • I remember the first time I had Ethiopian food, it was at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. that my husband had heard about. Going with friends was fun, watching as all the items came out served on large circular platters laid with injera. How lucky to grow up with a mother that shared her love of cooking and foods from around the world with you.

    • In retrospect, it was wonderful, and helped me a lot because I was familiar with many ingredients. but at the time! It was a little crazy!

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