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.

Injera

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After posting on a couple of my favorite Ethiopian dishes, a spicy chicken stew called Doro Wat, and a spiced and fragrant bread called Yewollo Ambasha, I realized I needed to delve into this cuisine more specifically, as most of my African cookbooks are just that – the many varied cuisines of the African continent – not only Ethiopian.

That led me to purchase Ethiopia, published in 2019, written by native Ethiopian Yohanis Gebreyesus.

From the author’s introduction: “Food is an object of survival, an entity believed to feed the body and soul across different cultures around the world. In Ethiopia on the other hand, it holds another crucial dimension, one that conveys a positive human energy through a powerful saying “enebla.” Enebla, in Amharic, translates to “let us eat” and our staple food injera is made in a way that invites more than one hand to the meal. It is a moment of sharing, of caring, and of showing respect for one another.”

Enamored as a young boy by his mother’s cooking, Mr. Gebreyesus eventually made his way to France, studying at the Paul Bocuse Institute and various restaurants, plus traveling the world making new culinary discoveries along the way. Then, he claims, “it was finally time to go back to my original, in order to unfold the rich culture I am proud to be part of.”

The first chapter in this cookbook is “Injera and Flatbreads,” which probably shows how important this bread is to the Ethiopian people and their cuisine. This is a photo of injera from this chapter. It’s so beautiful.

Injera, according to this author, “requires three moons to acquire the perfect elasticity and taste.” That didn’t help reassure me much! This is a picture of the brown variety of teff, the smallest grains in existence.

In this cookbook there are 2 recipes for injera, the traditional, 7-day procedure to make the spongy, fermented batter, and a one-day injera. The author states, specifically, that “mixing and baking the injera batter is a very difficult task that takes cooks many years to master.” Great. I’d wanted to challenge myself with the 7-day, but I didn’t have enough flour, so I’m making one-day injera.

One-Day Injera
Serves 2

2 cups teff flour
2 cups bottled water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
Vegetable oil for oiling pan

In a large non-reactive bowl, add the flour and begin working in the water. Stir well. Cover with a dish towel and let sit undisturbed on the kitchen counter for 24 hours. After this period, the batter should be slightly foamy. Whisk in the salt and baking powder. (The batter will deflate as you stir.

Use a non-stick crepe pan or a large, traditional mitad. My flat skillet has no sides, so I thought it might be perfect. Moisten a paper towel with oil and wipe the surface, then place the pan over medium-high heat.

When the pan is hot, use a spouted measuring cup to scoop 1/2 – 1 cup of the batter, depending on the size of the pan. Work quickly and carefully in order to pour the batter evenly around the pan. Starting at the outside edge of the skillet, going clockwise if you are right-handed, pour the batter in a thin stream and in one continuous motion in a spiral formation, without overlapping, until you end at the very center.

Cook undisturbed until bubbles have begun to form on the surface of the injera and the batter begins to set. When about 75% of the surface batter has changed color, 45 seconds – 1 1/2 minutes, cover the pan with a large lid. A glass lid is helpful here as it allows you to check the oneness of the injera without uncovering.

Cook until the edges of the injera begin to curl, the top is quite dry, and the injera has released from the bottom of the pan, from 30 seconds – 1 1/2 minutes. Do not flip. When cooked, use a long thin spatula and a thin plate to transfer the injera to a flat basket or a large plate lined with parchment paper without breaking. Remove any strays dough from the cooking surface, and then apply more oil as necessary and reheat the skillet. The heat can be now lowered to medium-low.

Allow the first injera to cool for at least 5 minutes before placing another on top, and allow all to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

I’ve been to Ethiopian restaurants that lay multiple injera flat on a serving tray, but I’ve also seen them folded up, like when we ate at a Brooklyn restaurant called Ghenet.

More on injera: “Some people refer to our skills of manipulating injera as “dancing with fingers.” Eating with injera demands washing properly first – via a traditional water pot and bucket, brought to guests at the dining table. Having said grace, guests are invited to break pieces of injera using only the right hand. They apply the flatbread over the stews while avoiding covering their nails with the liquids, then dipping and rolling it to form a “goursha” – an injera bite that combines all the stews from the platter.”

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.

Niter Kebbeh

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Niter Kebbeh is a spice-infused butter. Along with berberé, niter kebbeh is an essential element of cooking Ethiopian cuisine. The recipe I use, and have for years, is from the Time-Life series called Foods of the World.

I made this spiced butter after the lockdown in March. It’s typically made with butter, then clarified. I used 24 ounces of ghee, which is clarified butter, instead of 32 ounces of butter. The process was easier because the solids didn’t have to be removed. Following is the original recipe.

Niter Kebbeh
Spiced Butter Oil
Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cardamom pod, slightly crushed with the flat of a knife, or a pinch of cardamom seeds
1 piece of stick cinnamon, 1 inch long
1 whole clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

In a heavy 4- to 5-quart saucepan, heat the butter over moderate heat, turning it about with a spoon to melt it slowly and completely without letting it brown. Then increase the heat and bring the butter to a boil. When the surface is completely covered with white foam, stir in the remaining ingredients.

Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and simmer uncovered and undisturbed for 45 minutes, or until the milk solids on the bottom of the pan are a golden brown and the butter on top is transparent.

Slowly pour the clear liquid into a bowl, straining it through a fine sieve lined with a linen towel or cheesecloth. Discard the seasonings.

If there are any solids left in the butter, strain it again to prevent it from becoming rancid later.

Pour the kebbeh into a jar, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator. It will solidify when chilled.

It can safely be kept, even at room temperature, for 2 or 3 months, but I keep mine refrigerated.

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!