Ethiopian Cuisine


At first glance, you don’t think that the two words should go together, right? But despite the atrocities that have occurred in Ethiopia, and the extreme poverty that has stricken the nation, their cuisine is uniquely complex and vibrant.

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 crepe-looking spongy 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!

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! I remember really enjoying all the smells and the flavors, although some of the dishes 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.

Which is what I’m cooking out of today. Although I do own other cookbooks that pertain to more restricted cuisines of the African continent, this cookbook contains two “seasoning mixtures” that are necessary to prepare prior to beginning the foray into the wonderful world of Ethiopian food.

I have to mention that when I married my husband, he was very meat-and-potatoes, not that it was his fault. But as I cooked different international cuisines and we ate, he quickly expanded his culinary repertoire. To the point that, he asked me to make Ethiopian food for Thanksgiving the second year we were married!

The first recipe, below, is a spice paste called Berberé. I’ve just recently noticed that it can be purchased, but it’s so easy to make. It is a paprika-based spice mixture that is toasted, cooked, and turned into a paste. I will type the actual recipe as it is in the cookbook.

Red-Pepper and Spice Pasta

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
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
3 tablespoons dry red wine
2 cups paprika
2 tablespoons ground hot red pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups water
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan (preferably one with an enameled or nonstick cooking surface), toast the ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice over low heat for a minute or so, stirring them constantly until they are heated through. Then remove the pan from the heat and let the spices cool for 5 to 10 minutes.


Combine the toasted spices, onions, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the 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, red pepper, black pepper and the remaining tablespoon of salt in the saucepan and toast them over low heat for a minute or so, until they are heated through, shaking the pan and stirring the spices constantly.


Stir in the water, 1/4 cup at a time, then add the spice-and-wine mixture. berb2

Stirring vigorously, cook over the lowest possible heat for 10 to 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 inch thick. Cover with foil or 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 or 6 months.


Now for my confession. I don’t know where my head was. I mean, I’ve made this stuff before and the recipe is so straight forward. But I accidentally grabbed my 16 ounce bag of paprika and used it, instead of measuring out 2 cups. As I proceeded with the recipe and it was not behaving properly, it dawned on me what I’d done. Oh well. I fudged everything and got it all to work, and hopefully have all the right proportions of ingredients. But that’s why, in case you’re really observant, you’ll notice that my wine-spice paste is actually a liquid. I needed a lot more liquid to turn all of that paprika and other spices into the resulting berberé!

Tomorrow? Niter Kebbeh !

46 thoughts on “Ethiopian Cuisine

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. Hi chef mimi
    Found this competition that I think some of you might be interested in!
    They are looking for people that can cook the national dishes of their country and you can win an iPad mini or money.
    Here’s the presentation about the competition:

    And here’s their facebook page:

  9. 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.

  10. 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..

  11. 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

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