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)