Blogging about communal meals (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) made me aware of the importance of the main cooking pot: The flavors developed here enhance the taste of the accompaniments. In Ethiopian cuisine, the central “pot” is injera bread, which is both the dish that holds the accompaniments as well as part of the meal itself. Breaking bread becomes a communal experience as pieces of injera are torn to scoop up the side dishes that are piled in small mounds on the bread platter.
Injera is made from an ancient gluten-free grain called teff. Teff flour batter is fermented overnight and gives injera its characteristic sour taste. The cooked pancake-shaped spongy bread balances, both literally and figuratively, an assortment of cooked vegetables, lentils, and meat. Side dishes range from lightly spiced to the richly spiced flavors aided by the spice blend, berbere (pronounced burr-burr-ee). Berbere gives the meat stew (wot) and red lentil sauce its rich red color and complexity. Depending on family or regional traditions, there are at least 8-10 different spices in the berbere blend.
Proper etiquette requires that you eat with your fingers, working your way from the edges of the injera toward the middle. This has a practical aspect since the soft spongy center soaks up the sauce from the stew by the end of the meal.
Doro Wot – Chicken Stew
Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 4-5 tbsp
Onion – 2 large, chopped finely
Garlic cloves – 6, peeled and minced
Ginger – 2-inch peeled and minced
Chicken –1 lb, washed
Berbere powder – 2 tbsp
Tomatoes – 2, chopped
Salt – 1 tsp
Boiled eggs – 2 (optional)
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until cooked down
- Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from the heat. Process the cooked onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, until it becomes a fine paste.
- Add the paste back to the pan and continue with the cooking.
- Add the berbere powder and sauté for one minute.
- Add the tomatoes and incorporate into the mixture.
- Add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
- Add the boiled egg during the last five minutes of cooking, so that it will absorb the flavors.
Misir Wot – Red Lentil Stew
Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 3-4 tbsp
Red lentils – 1 ½ cups, cleaned until water runs clear
Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely
Garlic cloves – 8, peeled and minced
Berbere powder – 1-1/2 tbsp
Tomatoes – 2, chopped
Salt – 1 tsp
- Heat a pan with oil.
- Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the berbere spice powder and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and cook them until incorporated with the contents in the pan.
- Remove from heat and process them to a fine paste.
- Add the paste back into the pan and bring the contents to a simmer.
- Add the lentils to the paste. Mix well, and add 3 cups of water.
- Cook on low heat, until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the consistency of the lentil stew should be thick such that it can be scooped up with injera.
If you do not want to make all the accompaniments, make one meat or lentil dish with berbere spice and keep the rest of the accompaniments easy – such as a simple steamed greens or salad.
Red Lentil Stew
Ethiopian Green Salad
Marinated Beet and Potato Salad
Note: This time I used store-bought injera for convenience. I am planning to include a recipe as part of a series on fermented breads.
I was introduced to the three communal meals, the inspirations for the last few blog posts, by my friends (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) and relatives who had lived and worked in Ethiopia (injera). I would love to hear from you about your personal favorite communal meals.