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.
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!