The Spices of Ethiopia
Ethiopia, located in the Horn of Africa, is one of the oldest countries and cultures on the continent of Africa. In ancient times it controlled the sea routes on the Red Sea and was deeply involved in the spice trade between India and Rome. The Hebrew Bible tells us that the first Ethiopian emperor paid regular tribute to King Solomon in ancient Israel with an “abundance of spices.” For over three thousand years it has incorporated many spices into its cooking and has developed its own unique spice blends that have become characteristic of its cuisine.
Like all peoples, Ethiopians have migrated throughout the world bringing their distinct cuisine and spice blends with them. Spice Your Life recently had the opportunity sit down with one of the premier Ethiopian chefs in the Twin Cities and owner of the award-winning “Fasika” restaurant to taste some signature Ethiopian dishes.
Mr. Atrafou Yeshidagne migrated to the U.S. 38 years ago in 1981 and tells the story of how when he first arrived in America he was living with some friends one of whom was doing the cooking for the group. But, after tasting his friend’s cooking, Atrafou decided that he could do much better and volunteered to take over the kitchen duties applying what he had learned from his mother as a child growing up in Ethiopia. His friends were so impressed with the results that they eventually urged him to open a restaurant and helped him find a suitable location which has been the site of Fasika’s operations ever since.
According to Mr. Atrafu, the signature spice blend of Ethiopian cuisine is “Berbere” which is a unique blend of many spices including ginger, coriander, cardamom, paprika, nutmeg, allspice, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon, salt, and ground chilis. Like any complex spice blend the exact proportions vary from region to region and cook to cook in Ethiopia. Mr. Atrafu uses Bebere in most of his dishes but prefers to import his blend directly from Ethiopia rather than making his own.
The national dish of Ethiopia is called “Doro Wat” which is a rich chicken stew liberally spiced with Berbere which gives it a deep orange-red color. Doro Wat is usually served on top of a delicious flat, spongy bread called “Injera” which is made from “Teff” which is an ancient grain that was first cultivated in Ethiopia. The Injera serves as a kind of plate on which the Doro Wat is placed along with other condiments, lentils, and sometimes eggs. The food is then eaten by tearing off a piece of Injera and scooping up the Doro Wat with the fingers.
The following recipe for Doro Wat makes four servings and can be prepared in about an hour.
- 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons dried cilantro or 1/4 cup fresh, chopped
- 2 tablespoons Berbere
- 4 hardboiled eggs
- Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent.
- Add chicken, 2 tablespoons of the Berbere, bell pepper, salt and garlic.
- Coat chicken well, add tomato paste and water and stir well.
- Simmer for 35-45 minutes.
- Add cilantro and taste to adjust seasoning.
- Add a hardboiled egg to each served plate
- Doro Wat is traditionally served on the Ethiopian flat bread Injera, but alternatively may be served over rice or in a bowl with Naan flat bread on the side.
Doro Wat makes a delicious meal on a cool fall evening or anytime you’re craving something spicy, healthful, and different. Enjoy!