Ethiopian Cuisine

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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.

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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.

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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.

Berberé
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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 !