Exploring Ethiopia -- cuisine and food traditions of a country..

Have you ever been to an authentic Ethiopian restaurant? My favorite place in south bay has this cozy dining room where friends and family gather around a dining stool sharing the food and the laughter! Its walls are drepped with native art and the tables are adorned with various artistic earthen and wooden-wares with a background native music tune humming along! The large wooden serving-wear has a spread-out injera (famous ethiopian bread or 'dosa' made from teff) decorated with very delicious and spicy currys to be scooped up with the injera and on the side is a nice hot pot of coffee! Hmmm, see, now I made everyone hungry (including myself!)

Through a happy coincidences of many things I recently ended up reading a lot about Ethiopian food. A friend lent me a book on Ethiopian cuisine, at the same time I happened to have rented an africa cookbook from library and while Googling on Ethiopian cuisine I came across this site with a wealth-load of information about the cultures and food traditions of this old society. It is amazing how similar ethiopian cuisine is to Indian cuisine and I hope like me you enjoy reading and cooking up some ethiopian food today! Would you like to go on a culinary tour of Ethiopia?!! You don't need an air ticket or a visa just bring along an empty tummy and a creative curiosity to explore this world of rich cuisine!
(Follow the read more link after the related recipes for the rest of the post...)
Ethiopia is an eastern african country with its roots and traditions dating back to a few centuries ago. It is a place of vast diversity with its raging highlands, low-lying plains and vast desserts. Did you know that Ethiopia is known as a country of 13-months of sunshine? Apparently their ethnic calendar has 12 months of 30-days each and a 13th month of 5 days!

The food is as diverse as the land! The most distinctive Ethiopian food is its slightly sour Injera bread which is an Ethiopian bread (or 'dosa') made from fermenting the nutritious power-house 'grain' teff! Teff is a grass of a plant native to northern ethiopia.

A collection of very spicy vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries are prepared to be scooped up with the injera! The curries in ethiopia are called 'wot' and they generally range on the spicy side. Because ethiopia is home to many people who maintain a vegetarian diet many months a year, their vegetarian palette is extensively developed with such delicious and spicy legume dishes as misir wot (spiced red lentil curry) and duba wot (spicy squash stew) and like Indian cuisine they also have many vegetarian side-dishes like Gomen (ethiopian collard greens) and alicha stew (very similar to Indian cabbage sabzi). Meat is a major part of the diet mainly consisting of poultry and beef; because of the religious reasons pork is traditionally not consumed.

The traditional drink is coffee or a honey matured mead called tej. Coffee drinking is considered a main part of the culture with most vivid descriptions of coffee drinking ceremonies! Most interesting of all is that there is no dessert in their everyday meal, thats a bummer, right? ;)

So all my readers, you are all invited to my ethiopian dinner party today! On menu we have some store-bought injera (a good substitute would be buckwheat pancakes or just plain old naan; I am gonna tackle Injera making in part2!), some spicy misir wot with the berbere spice mix, ethiopian collard greens and to balance it off a nice healthy and fresh injera salad! So, lets get cooking :)

Berbere -- Ethiopian spice mix (This is the most common ethiopian spice blend. Most of the curries are flavored with this spice)
Source: adapted from the epicurean recipe here
1/4C dried red chilis - de-seeded for hot chilis
1Tbsp paprika
1/4tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4tsp garam masala
1tsp cumin powder
1tsp coriander powder
1/4tsp cinnamon
1/4tsp all-spice
1/4tsp cloves
1/4tsp whole black peppers
1/2tsp onion powder
1/4tsp garlic powder
1/2tsp ginger powder
1/2tsp salt
1/4tsp dried sacred basil powder (optional)

Grind all the ingredients in a spice grinder and set aside. Keeps for a couple of weeks.

Recipe for Misir wot (spiced red lentil curry)
Source: My take on this dish from my favorite restaurant.
1C split red lentils
3C water (adjust more water as needed during cooking depending on how liquidy you want the wot to be -- no set rule here, see what works best!)
1/2 large onion -chopped into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic - crushed
3tsp berbere spice mix (more or less depending on the spiciness of chilis used and your tolerance to spice)
few tsps tamarind paste (this is my addition; not much authentic but tasty!)
1Tbsp oil

  1. Heat oil in a pan. When medium hot, add onions and saute until onions start to brown.
  2. Add garlic cloves and saute a couple of minutes until aromatic
  3. Add berbere mix and saute for a few more minutes (taking care not to burn).
  4. Add washed lentils, water, enough salt and cover and let cook for 20mins or so. (split red lentils cook much faster than other lentils).
  5. When the lentils have cooked through add the tamarind paste.
  6. Take off the heat. Taste and adjust accordingly.

Recipe for Gomen (Ethiopian collard green)

Source: Influenced from this book recipe.
1 bunch collard greens -- 10/12 large leaves
1/2 medium onion - chopped into small pieces
2 clove of garlic - minced
small piece of ginger - minced
salt/1Tbsp olive oil
1tsp lemon juice

  1. Wash the collard greens and remove the tough stems. Chop into large pieces.
  2. Boil the greens in enough water for ~20minutes or until the leaves are very tender.
  3. Remove from heat, drain the water. Chop the boiled greens into as small pieces as possible.
  4. Meanwhile heat a pan with olive oil. When hot add onions and ginger-garlic and saute for 5minutes.
  5. Add chopped collard green pieces and salt. Cook (uncovered) until all the water has evaporated.
  6. Drizzle with a little bit of lemon juice.
  7. Enjoy with some warm injera!

Recipe: Injera salad

Source: Inspired from local Ethiopian restaurant dish
1/2 of large Injera
1 firm tomato
1Tbsp chopped red onion
juice of 1lime
dash of red wine vinegar
dash of olive oil
dash of red chili pepper flakes
salt & pepper

  1. Chop injera into tiny byte-sized pieces.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together. Adjust the seasonings per taste.
  3. Let stand for half an hour or so for injera to soak up all the delicious flavors!
  1. This is my interpretation of the traditional ethiopian food. There are many places where I diverted from the recipes -- mainly using olive oil (instead of palm kernel which is more traditional) and garam masala (instead of using cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg individually).
  2. While reading I realizes that all these recipes are tailored for people living outside of ethiopia.. the more traditional recipes have ingredients which can be a bit hard to find like sacred basil (tulsi?), bishop weed, rue seeds etc. If you want the more authentic version, try this book.
Next time I plan on trying some home-made injera and a most delicious ethiopian appetizer called sambusa! So stay tuned for part dux.... Till next time leaving you with some of the sketches from Ethiopia (inspired a lot by some of the sketches from Exotic Ethiopian Cooking book)


Preeti Kashyap said…
The sketches are wonderful..I shd put up mine too so that you have a look at it. I am not as good as you, but still trying. It is a Ethiopian party indeed...so many wonderful recipes ....can't wait to try the misir wot with berbere spices!
amita said…
I like ethiopian food too so similar to Indian, no? great post and great sketches too!
Jhonny walker said…
I have been a fan of Ethiopian...but this one is a different world altogether! Thanks so much for the post!
PJ said…
Preeti, thanks! You should definitely put up your sketches; I would love seeing them! I am sure they are very good :)

Amita, thanks! I know, ethiopian food is my favorite too!

Jhonny, thanks! I am so glad you liked the post!
ruchikacooks said…
My pleasure. Plantain flower is really delicious.

ethiopain food is absolutely delicious. Your platter esp the injera and greens reminds me of my fav restaurant in Boston. Lovely spread PJ.
Hi..this is my first visit here, you have a great blog, worth a visit...

Like to explore more about Ethiopian food, hope you will enlighten me on this.
Sonia said…
Thanks so much leading me to this Ethiopian food..err...restaurant! Felt like I had a virtual tour with you. Very well explained PJ! I really didn't know you can explore your culinary knowledge so far. Your hubby is really lucky! :)
Reading at ingredients..sound like we should not miss this food and worth to try some day! :)
Does that book contains veg recipes which you recommended in end of post here.

Thank you for a beautiful post and info! :)
Keep it up gal!
PJ said…
Ruchika, thanks! I wish I do get to try plantain flowers sometime. I am a major fan of ethiopian food too, as you can see from the length of the post :)

Treat and trick, welcome to my blog! thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words! I am so glad you liked visiting this place and hope to see you soon again :)
PJ said…
Hi Sonia, I'll be sure to tell my husband that ;) The Exotic Ethiopian Cooking book has a good amount of vegetarian recipes but the problem I had with that book is that it has a lot of hard to find ingredients like rue seeds, bishop weeds without any mention of possible susbstitutes. I thought the Africa Cookbook instead (http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Cookbook-Jessica-B-Harris/dp/0684802759/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264644928&sr=8-1) was much better and much more followable :) Sketches were better in the first book though, I so wanted to put up some photos of traditional Ethiopia but since I didn't have any relied heavily on sketches instead :)
Rujuta said…
PJ .......Those sketches are so ooo-lalala.....lovely
And the guided trip to Ethiopia is wonderful... Thanks for sharing the various recipes... they are interesting... i will def. try ...
Would love to know more abt the cuisine of Ethopia
Parita said…
Fantastic post PJ, Ethopian spice mix sounds very spicy and tasty na? Oh those skteches are gorgeous!
Cham said…
I ve seen in few blogs about this injera! Never tasted yet- u even sketch well!
Pari Vasisht said…
Hi PJ, Thanks for taking me on a tour to Ethiopia...I really felt like that. I could sense the similarity in the eating habits and I loved the idea of 13th month.I have realised blogging helps us to learn and explore so much.

I have not tasted this food yet but I am surely getting inclined to try my hand. I loved the spice mix, it's quite a blend of Indian spices and the european herbs. I am sure will yield a great flavour.

Your sketches are indeed very nice.
Pari Vasisht said…
Hi PJ, Thanks for taking me on a tour to Ethiopia...I really felt like that. I could sense the similarity in the eating habits and I loved the idea of 13th month.I have realised blogging helps us to learn and explore so much.

I have not tasted this food yet but I am surely getting inclined to try my hand. I loved the spice mix, it's quite a blend of Indian spices and the european herbs. I am sure will yield a great flavour.

Your sketches are indeed very nice.
PJ said…
Rujuta, thanks! I am so glad you liked the tour of Ethiopia :) The sketches are just time-pass; I wanted to actually post photos of Ethiopia food traditions, but since I didn't have any, put sketches instead!

Parita, thanks! The spice mix was really interesting.. very close to indian spices! I am glad you liked it.

Cham, you should definitely try some injera then! I think you will like it.. it has a slightly sour taste (more like dosa just a bit thicker and less oil).

Pari, thanks dear! Yes, so true.. blogging gives us this avenue of collecting bits and pieces of knowledge and information from everyone and experience these different cuisines! I am so glad you liked the post.. :)
Sushma Mallya said…
A completely new cuisine..would love to try this one and very beautiful sketches too pj...platter looks yummy and interesting...
Priya Suresh said…
Very new cuisine for me too..love to explore these sorts of new cuisine, thanks for sharing this fantastic dishes, love those beautiful sketches PJ..
Padhu Sankar said…
After I started blogging,I am exposed to different cuisines.Informative and fantastic post
lubnakarim06 said…
You rock PJ with pics, post and sketches.....love to try this recipe....spice powder sounds extremely flavourful and aromatic....
Spice said…
Lovely sketches...and thanks for a all free trip to ethopia....
Joanne said…
I LOVE ethiopian food, especially the bread. If you go to an Ethiopian restaurant, they cover the table with the bread and then just pour the food onto the table! But the best part is that you then get to eat the delicious bread that has sopped up all of the food's juices.

You picked some great Ethiopian recipes to share. I love the sound of the lentil dish.
Deepa G Joshi said…
lot of similarities with Indian food they have, dont they? I actually felt that I was in one the restaurants..nice tour PJ..cool sketches too..excellent work there.
indosungod said…
PJ, what a delicious post. Kojo Namdi show on our local NPR station had an hour devoted to Ethopian food and I had made up my mind to visit our favorite Ethopian restaurant again and here you are tempting me to take a different path and try them for myself.

I searched for berbere mix and could not find one. Looks like I should make some for myself.

Love the injere bread that is peeking out, is the recipe coming up soon?
indosungod said…
In all that I forgot to mention those beautiful sketches, they are beautiful. Shall we expect more of them ?
SE said…
wow..PJ..just couple of days I was thinking about the Ethopian cuisine, as I've never been to any restaurant...and lucky me ,.. iget to see some awesome recipes from you !!!

did you know, they have a dish called sambusa which is ours samosa !!!
Mints! said…
Loved your tour. I prepare red lentils with Berber sauce as well. There used to another good Ethiopian restaurant in Campbell which closed during recent economic crisis. They were super friendly. There are few good ones in the city as well :)
Malar Gandhi said…
Really enjoyed ur write-up buddy...thanks for this lovely culinary ride to Ethiopia. Food looks fabulous:)
PJ said…
Sushma, thanks! Ethiopian cuisine is so similar to Indian (in terms of flavors and spices) that I am sure most of the Indian foodies will love it.

Priya, thanks! I am so glad you liked the post, recipes and the sketches :)

Padhu, so agree! It is such a great advantage of being a blogger, isn't it? You get to see all these different cuisines and different ways of preparing traditional dishes.. its the best thing about blogging, I say!

Kitchen Flavours, thanks! I am so happy you liked the post, recipe and the sketches :) The berbere spice mix is so similar to Indian, I am sure you will totally love it!

Spice, thanks! I would love to take you on such free culinary trips to all the places in the world :)
PJ said…
Joanne, so true! Thats my favorite injera too -- the one which soaks up all the spices and sauces. I am so glad you liked the recipes that were picked.

Deepa, thanks! Yes, Ethiopian cuisine is so similar to Indian cuisine; it is amazing how come one gets so known all over the world and the other doesn't :) I am glad you liked post and the sketches.

Indo, I would love to see the Kojo Namdi show.. I don't think it has aired so far over here. NPR does such a great job show-casing different cuisines, right! Yes, the recipe for injera is coming soon, may be in part2 of this post :) Thanks for your lovely comment.

SE, thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words :) Yes, I know of sambusa! In-fact its my favorite ethiopian appetizer.. stay tuned for a part2 of this post sometime later next month with a take on injera and sambusa :)

Mints, welcome to my blog! You know, I think I know which Campbell place you are talking about.. was it 'queen of sheba'? I used to love it too (though I don't remember if it was campbell or san jose). yeah, luckily for us bay area still has some excellent ethiopian places!
These sketches are superb. And the dish too. Do visit my blof when time permits. http://shanthisthaligai.blogspot.com/
Nupur said…
What a wonderful post- I love eating out at Ethiopian restaurants but have never tried to put together an Ethiopian meal on this grand scale.

In what store did you find the injera? Did it taste like the real thing? Your post is making me so hungry :)
PJ said…
Malar, thanks! I am so glad you enjoyed my tour of ethiopia :D

Shanthi, thanks and welcome to my blog! The sketches were just a make-do as I did not have nay ethiopian photos of dinner ceremonies that I really wanted to put along-with the post :)

Nupur, thanks! My local 7-11 sales injera made by some local ethiopian ladies. It is amazing I did not know about this until a day when my husband asked an ethiopian friend of his what he does about injera and he said he mostly buys them at 7-11! Ones I get are the best in-fact better than what my restaurant stocks!
Anu said…
Food looks fabulous... Never tried Ethopian meal..
Namitha said…
If you take out the basil it's very much like our Indian curry powder..All the dishes sounds great.thanks for sharing PJ
And the sketches are fantastic...you are doing great , girl !
A great post indeed !
Oh PJ,this is an amazing post-love reading different cuisines of the world and u sure rock with this detailed read and the recipes are so so wonderfull....
thank u for introducing me to a world i knew nothing about....
Nithu Bala said…
I'm new here..you have a wonderful space..Thanks for sharing world recipes..everything looks so delicious..
Sarah Naveen said…
I love ethipian cuisine..There is one in Ny city, where i always love to go...Thanx for sharing this info
PJ said…
Anu, thanks! Ethiopian is so similar to Indian based of flavor profile that I am sure you will love it!

Gulmohar, thanks! Yes, i agree it is very close to Indian curry powders.

VanillaStrawberrySpringfield, thanks! I am so glad you enjoyed reading about Ethiopian food!

Nithu, welcome to my blog! I am so glad you enjoyed reading this space, I am off to visit yours now.

Sarah, thanks! Oh yes, ethiopian restaurants are sure my favorites too!
Radhika said…
What a great post! Love your sketches too. I am a big fan of Ethiopian food but never tried to make it myself so will definitely give your recipes a try!
Thanks so much for dropping by and be my follower. Hope we could always visit each other. Nice to know you PJ. Have added you in my blog list.
Unknown said…
Lovely read PJ...very informative...the recipes are so different and well presented. Clicks are wonderful too...
indosungod said…
PJ, here is the link,


It is geared more towards Ethiopian restaurants in the DC area but they talk about the culture and how the food evolved here.
PJ said…
Radhika, thanks! I hope you try cooking ethiopian food.. it is quite a fun :)

Trick and Treat, welcome! Look forward to many more delicious recipes from you.

Supriya, thanks! I am so glad you liked the recipes, clicks and the read about Ethiopia :)

Indo, thanks so much for the link! I listening to it right now.
Hayley said…
Hey P J

lovely tour of ethiopia...sounds good..similar to indian food..must try one of the recipe..pics are lovely... you went to ethiopia, i went to greece...come and join me..

Sunitha said…
I have heard quite a bit from my Indian friends about Ehiopian food.. Now you have definitely given me that last nudge needed to find a restaurant in a rush. Oops.. sorry I will just make them at home following your recipe.. thanks you much..great great post. Loved you sketched keep going.
PJ said…
Hi Jagruti, thanks! Greece, wow, sounds lovely.. I'll stop by right now and join you :)

Nostalgia, yes, Indian food is so similar to the Ethiopian food, I am sure you will love it! Hey, go to the restaurant and have fun, we will just say you enjoyed ethiopian food, thats what most important anyway, isn't it!
Sayantani said…
never tried Ethiopian food but whatever you have written it seems exotic. will soon try this lentil recipe. sketches are beautiful. enjoy every moment of this tour PJ.
pierre said…
when I lived in washington D i used to go to ehtiopien restaurant and found that so good ! in paris I have not been yet in on of these !! but this food is really delicious !! PIerre
PJ said…
Sayantani, thanks! Ethiopian food is so much closer to Indian food that I am sure you will love it!

Pierre, based on some other comments too looks like DC has some excellent ethiopian restaurants indeed! Thanks so much for stopping by :)
Yasmeen said…
Love the spicy touch in all the Ethiopian dishes.The teff bread sounds very interesting.You are such a good artist.Thoroughly enjoyed the meal :D
Kalyn Denny said…
I used to travel to Washington D.C. five times a year for meetings and I loved to eat Ethiopian food at several places there. All your recipes sound great to me; I am inspired to try cooking some Ethiopian food myself!
PJ said…
Yasmeen, thanks! So glad you enjoyed the meal :)

Kalyn, welcome to my blog! Based on a few other comments it does seem like DC has some of the best Ethiopian places! I should visit these next time I visit DC. Thanks so much for your kind words I am so glad you enjoyed reading this post :)
Anonymous said…
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Padmajha said…
Nice reading your detailed post.Felt like I was on a virtual tour!!Ethopian food sure looks temepting.Will try a few :).The sketches are cool!!!
shahana said…
I havnt tried any Ethopian food till now.Thanks alot for sharing these wondeful recipies.
PJ said…
Anon, thanks! glad this was useful.

PJ, thanks! I am so glad you enjoyed the virtual food tour of Ethiopia :)

Shahana, thanks! Ethiopian food is very close to Indian so I am sure you will love it :)
Dolly Sharma said…
Wow PJ..what a post. I'm so impressed by your passion for cooking. I really appreciate all the research about this beautiful Ethoipian cuisine. Due to ur efforts we get to understand a new cuisine. Awesome sketches PJ. U have captured the essence of Ethiopia so well. If you don't mind could I have that platter pls with all the mouth watering and yummy food..Looking forward to Part two..
Anonymous said…
Wonderful post.

I used to get together with a friend, and we'd explore and research a cuisine, and then cook a feast from it! We managed to do Sichuan (in China), Morroco and Persia before he moved away.

I enjoyed reading about your exploration.
PJ said…
Hi Dolly, thanks so much for your sweet words :) I am glad you liked the post, recipe and the sketches.

Maninas, oh wow, that sure sounds so much fun to cook up different cuisines with friends!