Ethiopian Cookery: Niter Kibbeh, Berbere and Doro Wat

Some injera that I made in Ethiopia, badly, and a pile of berbere

So it’s only taken me 8 months to get around to writing about Ethiopian cookery. Efficient. I have been experimenting with recipes, which means I have spent a lot of time battling with the BASTARD INJERA BATTER. I crave that stuff like a mother since coming back; having eaten it 3 times a day, every day, I became addicted, surprisingly, rather than resentful.

The uninitiated might think Ethiopian cooking would be basic, or bland, even, but in fact it is richly spiced and complex. Two of the foundations are berbere and niter kibbeh. Berbere is a rusty red spice mixture, made from dried chillies, fenugreek, nigella seeds, ginger, false cardamom and various other  herbs and spices. I managed to find a bag to bring home as the result of a twilight trek around the back streets of a small Ethiopian town. Purchased from a hut made of corrugated iron, it was like gold dust in my eyes. Precious cargo. It adds such a curious depth to a dish, and I add it to many. All very nice for me of course, but not so useful for you lot, huh? So I’ve had a go at cracking it at home. It’s not quite the same of course – the chillies are a different variety, some of the herbs and other bits are simply unavailable – but you know what? It’s not bad. Not bad at all. Recipe at the bottom of this post.

Berbere from Ethiopia 

Home made Berbere

The niter kibbeh is a clarified butter, simmered with spices including fenugreek, cardamom and nutmeg. It’s a key ingredient in the doro wat recipe below. That’s chicken and egg stew to you. Doro wat is really simple to make once you’ve done your prep and is honestly one of the most satisfying dishes ever invented. A rich, russet red like the darkest autumn leaves, it could stain a white T shirt at twenty paces. The flavour is so intensely spiced and satisfying; perfect for cooler weather and yet reminiscent of the blazing Ethiopian sun.

You don’t need to eat it with injera either as it’s great with rice; a relief quite frankly, for reasons I shall explain in the near future.

Berbere Spice Mix

Chillies (I used a handful of chillies I buy in Peckham labelled, helpfully, ‘African chillies’. They look a lot like piri piri. You could also just use cayenne, although I would use about 5 dried ones. Saveur use chillies de arbol so by all means use 5 of those if you like)
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
4 cloves
6 black peppercorns
3 allspice berries
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods
6 tablespoons crunchy dried onions (you can buy these from Indian grocers)
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon

Toast the whole spices in a dry pan, stirring constantly until fragrant. This takes a few minutes. Grind in a spice grinder with the onions and chillies until you have a fine powder. Mix with the remaining spices and salt.

Niter Kibbeh

You could of course use clarified butter for this, i.e. ghee, which saves the hassle of clarifying it yourself. You will need to use less butter or more spices though, as the recipe below allows for the loss of a bit during the clarification process.

250g butter (or just use 200g ghee to save arsing about clarifying it yourself)
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods, ground
Pinch fenugreek seeds, ground
Pinch nigella seeds, ground

If you do want to clarify the butter then melt it gently over a low heat, constantly skimming the scum from the surface. Once it is simmering, just keep removing all the scum until it looks clear. It takes ages, about 20-30 mins. Up to you. Strain it through a sieve and try to leave the white milky bits at the bottom behind in the pan. Stir in the spices.

Doro Wat

6 chicken thighs, skin removed
4 eggs
Juice of 1 lemon
1 level teaspoon salt
50g niter kibbeh (recipe above)
3 red onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons berbere (recipe above)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
500ml chicken stock
Veg or other oil for frying

Hard boil the eggs, let them cool and peel them.

Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and caramelise the onions slowly over a low heat. This will take about 40 mins to an hour. Stir them often and stop when they are sweet and caramelised.

Arrange the chicken in a dish and rub it with the lemon juice and salt. Leave for 30 minutes.

When the onions are done, add the niter kibbeh and let it melt. Add the berbere (yes it is a lot, don’t worry) the ground ginger and crushed garlic and cook out, stirring, for a few minutes.d

Pour in the chicken stock. Brush the marinade off the chicken pieces and add them to the pan too. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the lid after this time and add the whole eggs. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste and season if necessary (depending on saltiness of chicken stock). Serve with white rice or (bastard) injera.


Category: African food, Eritrean food, Ethiopia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , 23 comments »

23 Responses to “Ethiopian Cookery: Niter Kibbeh, Berbere and Doro Wat”

  1. Eileen

    Anyone who thinks Ethiopian food is bland can’t possibly have ever eaten it. So spicy and tangy and delicious…mmm. :) These spice mixes sound amazing!

  2. Lee

    That sounds like a really interesting spice mix. Don’t believe I’ve eaten a morsel of Ethiopian food in my chuff. Must fix that, soon. Ps, love the pancakey pic.

  3. Elizabeth

    I used to work in a cafe next to an Ethiopian restaurant and I was addicted to the injera. Thanks for the spice mix tips looking forward to when you crack the injera code.

  4. Helen

    Give it a go! Very much liking the name of your blog – you appreciate the sandwiches, yes?

  5. Helen

    CHUFF?! Ha ha

  6. Helen

    It’s a hard code to crack, seriously. I’m baffled.

  7. zuko

    Do you reckon onion powder would work instead of the dried onions? I’m pretty sure it’s the same thing just ground up…

  8. Helen

    Yeah probably. Just give it a go I say!

  9. zuko

    Cool beans. Speaking of beans, I made your Boston beans on Sunday night with a pork roast, still awesome!

  10. Blackheathcoffeeshops

    Thank you soooo much for this. This is the meal i most remember injera and (what I wrote down as) pollo wat from my time in Adis Ababa. The ingrediznts don’t look too inaccessible so this is going straight to my favourites!
    Keep up the good work :-)

  11. Helen

    Double pork! I am liking your work.

  12. Helen

    Brill! Let me know what you think if you make it.

  13. Skye

    There is an Eritrean restaurant (not exactly the same thing!) just downstairs to us on St Johns Hill, but their fare is quite poor. I am very excited by this post as now I can make my own injera. Hurrah!

  14. Helen

    Well I haven’t told you how to make it yet!

  15. Hungry

    sounds awesome. One for my ‘must make’ recipes!

  16. Becs @ Lay the table

    When I live in Portsmouth we had a fantastic Ethiopian restaurant and i agree, lots of complex flavours! Thanks so much for sharing some of the flavours with us :)

  17. Helen

    Let me know if you do make it Michelle.

  18. Msmarmite

    I’ve tried making injera, with some Teff I brought back from Jerusalem, but I wasn’t very happy with it. You can buy it ready made, in stacks like pancakes, from shepherds bush market, the shops not the stalls.

  19. Helen

    Yeah I can buy it from a restaurant five minutes away! I really want to crack the recipe though. Am on the fourth attempt today…

  20. Niamh

    This looks *very* good.

  21. Helen

    Cheers Niamh! It’s a great dish. Bloody love Ethiopian food.

  22. Catherine Edwards

    I can’t believe I still haven’t tried Ethiopian food, must try soon. Apologies if you’ve already blogged this but where would you recommend for a real taste of it? Love your dedication!

  23. Helen

    Zeret kitchen in camberwell is the place to go :)

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