መልካም ምግብ! mälkam məgəb! Good eating! – Ethiopian Cooking
If you’ve ever had Ethiopian food you’ll be excited about this post! And if not you’re in for a treat. Ethiopian is one of the most original, and delicious cuisines, is made to be eaten communally, uses a variety of spices but not too much, is naturally gluten-free, vegetable heavy, easily vegan-able (replace any ghee/butter with oil) and all around great.
It is very common to ‘fast’ (refrain from meat products, dairy and eggs) during the week in Ethiopia and only eat meat together with family and friends on the weekend. The Christian tradition can also dictate fasting days Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, all of lent and other religious holidays during the year. In the capital, apart from tourist-centric places, you will not be able to find meat, fish, dairy or eggs during fast days and periods.
The classic Ethiopian meal is served communally on large round pancake-like bread called injera, with multiple curries (wots) and dishes laid on it. A piece of the injera bread is ripped off by hand and used to scoop up a little mouthful at a time. It’s a really lovely way to eat and very social.
There aren’t a lot of resources online about Ethiopian cooking (unless you speak Amharic) and some of the videos are the best of youtube, home cooks sharing their knowledge. I hope you like them as much as I enjoyed researching!
The Ethiopian Pantry
Spices – commonly used spices are: garlic, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, black pepper corns, korerima, beso bela, nutmeg, cinnamon, ajwain (carom), cloves, dried chilli, paprika
Berbere spice mix – literally meaning ‘hot’ in Amharic (the Ethiopian national language) this blend of spices is used in everything. It is made with variations of fenugreek, coriander, cardamom, cumin, chillies, allspice, cloves, pepper, paprika, ginger, garlic, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, mustard seed, black cumin, carom, rue seeds, ethiopian basil (besobela), salt. Wine can be added to make it into a delicious marinade.
Shiro is chickpea flour, also known as besan or garbanzo flour.
Mitmita is a spicier (hot!) spice mix commonly used particularly with beef dishes. It’s main ingredient (by far) is chilies, and then cardamom, cloves salt, all toasted and ground into a powder.
Mekelesha is a blend of seven spices that is sprinkled on wots at the end of cooking, much like garam masala, to give a lovely aroma. The seven spices are: cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, nuteg, cumin, indian long pepper (called timin in Amharic), cloves.
Korerima is often referred to as cardamom in recipes but is actually different, it is much larger and should be used if possible.
Beso bela is also known as sacred basil. It refers to the dried leaves not the seeds. Normal basil can’t be used as a substitute.
Kosoret is another Ethiopian spice, it is closer to oregano but lighter and more floral.
Niter kibbeh – is the spice infused clarified butter that is the other secret ingredient of Ethiopian food. Without this ingredient it will be impossible to make real Ethiopian tasting dishes at home.
Lentils are used as a staple legume, both red and green varieties.
Mesir Wot is a red lentil stew and Azifa is a lightly spiced lentil salad.
When you think about Ethiopian food, it’s impossible not to think about the injera bread that is used as the edible serving dish and cutlery for all the wonderful dishes.
Injera bread is gluten free as it is made from teff flour (if celiac check this when buying it already made or in a restaurant as regular flour can also be used in its production). Teff is a grass that is found in Ethiopia and Eritrea and is high in fibre, iron, calcium and protein, it is the staple bread served with Ethiopian meals. The bread is fermented over days and has a sour taste and a spongy texture.
If you can’t buy it already made but can get teff flour, with time and effort (mostly waiting) you can make it at home. It ferments over a few days and up to a week depending on how warm it is where you are. It is a long process! But to have a truly Ethiopian meal it must have injera bread.
I think that’s enough for today! Below is the instructions on how to make injera and also a video of excitable, professional eater Mark Wiens in a restaurant in Addis Ababa that gives a nice overview of an Ethiopian meal.
Vegans and vegetarians and Ethiopian cooking
Ethiopian is a dream cuisine for vegans, and by default vegetarians, as it is common for Ethiopians to have vegan meals (‘fasting’) meals more than 250 days a year for religious reasons. As mentioned earlier niter kibbeh does use butter so make sure to ask, also it is possible to use clarified palm oil to replace butter so check that too if you refrain from it.
If ordering at a restaurant ask for the yetsom beyaynetu, yetsom means fasting and beyaynetu means platter.
Gluten free Ethiopian dishes
Ethiopian cooking is traditionally gluten free, but like anything these days when ordering double check as wheat and barley can be used in the preparation of injera.
#funfact wheat flour is not added as a cheaper filler but because different water and altitudes outside Ethiopia changes the fermentation and texture of the bread.
Ethiopian cooking pages we love
How to Cook Great Ethiopian is probably the best online resource with lots of videos and recipes.
Cooking with Mali is an Ethiopian woman living in the US sharing her recipes via YouTube. It’s in Amharic but with subtitles in English.
Ethiopian Foodie is another great YouTube channel where Helen shares her recipes simply with such a sweet accent that you’ll wish you speak Amharic! English subtitles are provided along with step-by-step instructions.
I am no Food Critic but has a couple of lovely recipes with easy to follow instructions.
Martie A has easy to follow recipes and gives instructions in English and Amharic.
The photo “Injera, Fasting Food, Ethiopia” by Rod Woddington is licensed under CC BY 2.0