Sik Sik Wat

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In Ethiopia, the word wat is basically the word for stew. But this is no ordinary stew. Ethiopian wats, no matter what meat is used, whether cooked or raw, are spicy, saucy stews of vibrant color and endless flavors.

Two main seasoning ingredients must be prepared first before following through with a wat. One is Berberé, a rich paprika-based mixture, and niter kebbeh, a fragrant infused clarified butter.

This stew is a classic example of a wat. I hope you get a chance to make it! The recipe is from African Cooking, one of many of a Foods of the World series from Time Life.

Sik Sik Wat
Beef Stewed in Red Pepper Sauce
To serve 6 to 8

2 cups finely chopped onions
1/3 cup niter kibbeh
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger root
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons berberé
2/3 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped and puréed through a food mill (I used a teaspoon of tomato paste)
2 teaspoons salt
3 pounds lean boneless beef, preferably chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy 4- to 5- quart enameled casserole, cook the onions over moderate heat for 5 or 6 minutes, until they are soft and dry. Don’t let them burn. Stir in the niter kebbeh and, when it begins to splutter, add the garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg, stirring well after each addition.

Add the paprika and berberé, and stir over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the wine, water, pureed tomato and salt, and bring the liquid to a boil.

Add the beef cubes and turn them about with a spoon until they are evenly coated with the sauce.

Then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan partially and simmer the beef for about 1 1/2 hours. Sprinkle the wat with a few grindings of pepper and taste for seasoning.

Sik sik wat is traditionally accompanied by injera or yewollo ambasha, but may also be eaten with Arab-style flat bread or hot boiled rice. Below left, injera, below right, yewollo ambasha.

Plain yoghurt may be served with the wat from a separate bowl.

Doro Wat

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Doro Wat, which translates to chicken stew, is a traditional Ethiopian dish.

It’s very simple to prepare, only require sautéing and poaching. But it must be made with the spice paste and the spice-infused butter to create the really unique flavors of Ethiopian cuisine.

Doro wat, as with other stews are typically eaten with injera – Ethiopian stretchy bread that looks like a large spongy crepe. It’s made with teff flour, and it’s used to pick up the meat and vegetables, and wipe up the juices. No forks!

Please go to an Ethiopian restaurant for the whole dining experience. You won’t regret it! Here is a photo of injera from one we went to in Brooklyn, New York, called Ghenet.

The recipe for Doro Wat comes from the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook entitled African Cooking.

When I made this stew, I served it to friends who had never experienced Ethiopian cuisine before, along with yewollo ambasha. They loved it.

Doro Wat

3 pounds boneless chicken thighs, trimmed
1 lemon
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup niter kebbeh
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 1″ piece fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup berberé
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
6 hard boiled eggs

First, cut up the thighs into about 3 or 4 manageable pieces, and place them in a large bowl. Squeeze lemon juice into the bowl, add the salt, and toss the chicken. Let the chicken marinate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the niter kibbeh to a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and ginger and sauté for another few minutes.

Add the fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg and berberé to the pot and cook the onion mixture for a few minutes, or until the berberé becomes completely combined with the other ingredients.

Then add the white wine and water and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken pieces to the sauce, cover the pot, and cook for 15 minutes over low heat.

Pierce the hard boiled eggs with the tines of a fork, and place them in the pot with the chicken. Cover the pot again and cook for another 15 minutes. Ooops I forgot to do that.

Serve the chicken hot with plenty of sauce, and make sure each serving includes a hard boiled egg. Any kind of bread would be good with doro wat, and comes in handy with the spicy sauce.

After you’re done using the berberé, remember to put more oil over the top!

Yewollo Ambasha

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If you decide to make this traditional Ethiopian bread, your life will be changed forever. I can guarantee you that. It is fragrant, delicious, and perfect for Ethiopian stews, or wats. I just like saying the name – yewollo ambasha!

My first experience with Ethiopian cuisine was when I still lived at home. My mother owned the Time-Life set of cookbooks called “Foods of the World,” and she tore through them like it was nobody’s business! Every week we’d be served food from a different country, whether we liked it or not! (My only bad experience was with Chinese fried tiger lilies.)

The set consisted of spiral-bound, small recipe booklets, and a larger companion book with photos, history, and stories. This is the cover of the African cookbook.

Being the geek that I was, I loved to look at the photo-filled book. I was enamored with the different-looking people, the colors of their food, and various cooking equipment.

I’ve mentioned that I began cooking seriously in 1982, when I got married. My husband was limited, shall we say, in his experience with food growing up – quite the opposite of me. However, I didn’t really know this, so I cooked through cuisines naively and we ate. More importantly, he ate.

As a girl, I never dreamed of my wedding, but I did dream of eventually having Thanksgiving turkey, something my mother refused to make…. something about French people not liking turkey. (Enter eye rolling.)

The first year my husband and I were married, I got my wish! A full-on turkey with all the fixins. The second year? My husband asked for Ethiopian food. Yes, I created a food monster!

I don’t remember what all I made, but I know this bread was a part of the menu.

Yewollo Ambasha
Spice Bread
Makes 1 – 12” round loaf

1 package plus 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
10 tablespoons niter kebbeh, melted over low heat, divided
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, pulverized
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon berberé

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 of the lukewarm water. Let the mixture stand for 2 – 3 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely. By habit, I always add a little sugar on top of the yeast.

Set the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for about 5 minutes, or until the yeast bubbles up and the mixture almost doubles in volume. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water, 8 tablespoons of the niter kebbeh, the coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, white pepper and salt, and stir with a whisk or spoon until all the ingredients are well blended.

Stir in the flour 1/2 cup at a time, using only as much as necessary to make a dough that can be gathered into a soft ball. Also by habit, I always start with a slurry, using only a small amount of flour, and let that rise first, then proceed.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough. Sprinkle the dough with a little extra flour if it sticks to the board. Repeat for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth but still soft.

Tear off a small piece of dough, roll it into a ball about 1/2” in diameter and set aside. Place the remaining dough on a large untreated baking sheet and pat and shape it into a flattened round about 10” in diameter. To decorate the loaf in the traditional manner, make the impression of a cross on top of the loaf by cutting down 1/2” with a long, sharp knife into the dough, “dividing” it into equal quarters. Then with the point of the knife, cut 1/2” wide slits about 1/2” deep and 1/2” apart crosswise along both cuts of the cross so that the cross looks like the map symbol of railroad tracks. Holding the tip of the blade steady at the center of the cross, make shallow cuts at 1/4” intervals all around the loaf to create a sunburst or wheel design on the top. I did the best I could. Flatten the ball of dough and press it firmly into the center of the loaf.

Set the loaf aside in a warm, draft-free spot for an hour; it should double in bulk. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the bread in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes, until it is crusty and a delicate golden brown.

Slide the loaf onto a wire cake rack. While the bread is still warm, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of niter kebbeh and the berberé and brush the mixture evenly over the top.

Yewollo ambasha may be served while it is still warm, or may be allowed to cool completely.

It’s so pretty I almost hate cutting into it, but the fragrance is so lovely that it’s never stopped me!

Berberé

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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.

Berberé
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.

Ethiopian Cuisine

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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!