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!