Category: African food

Ethiopian Cookery: Niter Kibbeh, Berbere and Doro Wat

October 28th, 2013 — 12:29pm

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.


23 comments » | African food, Eritrean food, Ethiopia, Travel

Suya: Nigerian BBQ

May 29th, 2013 — 9:38am

Suya started to occupy my thoughts a few years ago when I noticed a takeaway place in Peckham: Obalende Suya Express on the high street. To say the place looks ramshackle is putting it mildly – the sign is caked in pigeon shit and interior design consists of a few stick-legged metal chairs with  scraps of fabric hanging off them. Obviously I went in, and I caught them on a good day; the suya was tender, smoky and like nothing I’d tasted before. Sadly the quality isn’t consistent. Boo. Thoughts turned to making my own.

A colleague of mine regularly travels to Nigeria and once, very kindly, she brought me back a package of suya spice. It came wrapped in someone’s bank statement. I tried it out at a friend’s BBQ but the results were a bit weird; the meat released a musty fug that smelled like Peckham down wind on a bad day. Rotting yams with a hint of fish and the dusty corners of an African back alley. That was several years ago, but recently I decided to have another crack at it.

Basically suya is either sliced beef, chicken or fish, rubbed in a mixture of (crucially) ground peanuts and a mixture of flavourings including paprika, onion powder and ginger, amongst others. This is called tankora. The meat is threaded onto skewers and cooked and as far as I can tell, the smoke flavour is essential. It is served with a pile of tankora at the side plus some sliced onions and tomatoes.

Cracking the BBQ out again this weekend seemed like a balls out banger opportunity to salve some psychological wounds and get back down with the suya. Obviously there’s no point doing things by halves so we decided upon a suya three way cook off: a home made version, vs. the scary Nigerian must-in-a-jar vs. a packet of ready made mix picked up on Rye Lane.

Suya spice from Nigeria…mild but musty 

The Peckham blend…spicy 

Home made version mixed with the peanuts

Making your own tankora is basically a case of grinding up the nuts but stopping before they become peanut butter, then mixing with the other flavours and smearing onto the meat. We did this right before cooking which worked very well; the meat is sliced so thinly that to marinate it seems less necessary.

Really tasty sirloin from Flock and Herd in Peckham 


Three way taste off

As we were grinding up the nuts to make the home made marinade it occurred to me what had gone wrong with my first attempt – the spice mixes are sold to be mixed with peanuts, not used neat. No wonder it was a little *cough* intense. It turns out that the home made version was the most vibrant, as you would expect. Handy really, considering not everyone can get bank statement wrapped packages from Nigeria, or nip down to the local African shop.

It’s hot, this recipe, humming with chilli and ginger. The ground nuts add buttery textural intensity, which made the gloriously tender sirloin seem even more so. In short, it was bloody tasty. A new BBQ favourite.


600g sirloin steak, cut into slices about a cm thick (get the butcher to do this as it can be a bit tricky)
50g peanuts (salted is fine, just don’t add any extra salt to the mixture)
1 teaspoon chilli (grind up whatever you have, or use chilli powder)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder OR you can be a fly beeatch like me and use 1 teaspoon ground up crispy fried onions from a bag

Grind up the peanuts in a spice grinder or blender. Stop before they become peanut butter. Add all the other spices and smother with the paste. Grill over the direct heat on a BBQ, leaving the inside slightly pink. Serve with a pile of the spice mixture if you like, and some sliced tomatoes and onions.

18 comments » | African food, Barbecue, Meat

Fruits, Labour and Progress in Antsokia Valley, Ethiopia

March 16th, 2013 — 6:09pm

It was 1984 when news of the famines in Ethiopia broke in the UK; I was 4 years old. Antsokia valley was one of the worst affected areas, and I’ve been there for the past 3 days, visiting people who lived through it, and learning about how the area has changed and learned to support itself, with the help of the aid organization World Vision.

Four million people were affected by the famine, and there were 15-20 deaths each day. I met the man who informed the government of the situation at the time, Girma Wondafrash. A community leader, he told the authorities that people were starving, initiating the relief effort. He spoke about how he mobilised a community to build an airport in Antsokia, overnight, in order for emergency aid to be delivered. A remarkable story. I think about Live Aid and Bob Geldof and all those images of desperate people on the telly, as I’m hearing the story from the man who actually started the whole thing, sat right in front of me.

Girma Wondafrash.

We’ve been travelling out to World Vision’s ‘area development programmes’, along dusty roads where women and children walk, carrying water, bags of onions and sugar cane; men herd cattle or tug lines of camels bearing wood or straw, scarves piled on their heads to shield the sun. Donkeys plod relentlessly with burdens of rocks. The landscape changed as we arrived here from Addis Ababa; what were once patchwork shades of brown change to green as crops flourish. Red onions are a major source of income, a variety called ‘Bombay’ which can be harvested 3 times a year; some are exported but most are consumed by Ethiopians. The fields in which they grow are now irrigated, and we walk along irrigation streams to a fruit farm. I find out just how effective the system is by plunging my foot into a puddle of sloppy mud.

Onion farming.


World Vision’s development programs run in 3 phases: the emergency relief phase, which is what we saw with emergency feeding programmes during the famine, rehabilitation, and then development. After the emergency feeding ended, the Ethiopian land and its people were in such dire need that a lot of work had to be done in preparation before rehabilitation could even start. The people didn’t know the capacity of the land; where previously they’d been growing simple grains, now they grow vegetables and fruits – avocados, mango, papayas, bananas, oranges and limes. 

Bananas on the tree with magnificent flower.


Oranges and avocado.

At another farm we meet a man called Abebe Aragaw who survived the famine and now runs a flourishing fruit business. Trees groan with the weight of huge papayas and mangoes, the latter being a good example of how the seedlings have been modified in research centres to ensure better rewards for the farmers; the new trees yield much more fruit, more often. At another farm we see modified trees that are smaller, meaning women are able to harvest the mangoes. This seedling development is clearly a major boost for the farmers.

Abebe on his farm. Ethiopians are smart dressers; clothes may be threadbare, but they still turn out in suits.

Abebe with his lunch box, made from animal hide.

Desta Aragaw, a member of a farmers’ association, on his farm in Antsokia Valley.

Ripe apple mangoes on the tree.

We also see fresh coffee beans; coffee is one of Ethiopia’s major exports and is crucial to the economy. Aside from that, it’s incredibly good. I’m a hardcore tea drinker, and yet I’ve stuffed several pouches of coffee in my rucksack to bring home.

Coffee beans.

Abebe shows us around his farm with pride, and describes how he has plans for the next ten years, including setting up his own shop. Every Ethiopian we meet seems to have a clear goal for the future, not a single person faltering at the question. They have developed strength and self sufficiency and the will to keep moving forward is strong. The lush farms, buzzing with insects and bird song, seem so far away from the images of planes dropping emergency rations on parched soil. It’s hard to believe it ever really happened.

13 comments » | African food, Enough Food For Everyone IF, Eritrean food, Ethiopia, Travel, World Vision

Making Injera in Ethiopia

March 13th, 2013 — 4:47am

Today I spent time with a group of women who have received support from World Vision to set up their own injera making business. All of the women were identified as particularly in need of help, living below the poverty line for various reasons. Some are HIV positive and were previously uneducated about living with it or were unaware they even had it, while some were unable to earn a living for other reasons, such as being dependent on a husband who died.

Lemlem Tesjay (above) is effectively the manager of the injera group, of which there are about half a dozen members. Aside from earning the women enough money to do things like cover the expenses of their children going off to university and of course, a salary for themselves, they have the benefit of companionship; they are friends and can discuss family issues, financial issues, womens’ issues, together every day. They also have the benefit of a work space which they rent from the government – this would not have been available to a single person.

A member of the group, Letay Naezgi, took us through the entire process of injera making. She was stuggling to make ends meet after her husband died, travelling out of Addis Ababa to buy goods which she then attempted to sell for a higher price in the capital. It simply wasn’t enough. Now she is able to take a regular salary each month, make sure her children are well nourished, and was even able to pay for herself to visit relatives in the North of the country.

Injera is made from teff, a grain which grows in Ethiopia. The women take it to the local mill where it is ground to a powder.

Teff before grinding

The teff is sifted 3 times

Then mixed with water and some of the yeasted mixture from the previous batch

This then goes into the bucket to ferment for 3 days

After this time, water is boiled and combined with some of the teff mixture from the bucket. It is heated again until boiling, then cooked for 5 minutes. It’s now ready to become injera.

Letay expertly making injera

Fuel for the injera pans

The injera are cooked on massive, floor standing hot plates, which are sprinkled with ‘something like cabbage seed’ – this looked a bit like polenta and I’m sure is used for the same purpose as the latter serves when sprinkled under pizza dough. Once on the plate, they’re covered with a giant hat and cooked for about 10 minutes before being shimmied onto a sort of flat basket and transported over to a different work top to cool.

Letay of course makes the injera cooking look incredibly easy; they produce a minimum of 100 a day, but can produce up to 500, depending on orders. They ask if I want to have a go, which of course, I do. My injera and those of my fellow novices spark fits of giggles amongst the women. They’re all sort of thick, wonky and craggy rather than thin and even as they should be. ‘YOURS HAS A FACE!’ I helpfully inform Jo.

With our ‘finished’ injera

They might not be much to look at but we’re rather proud nonetheless. They still taste like injera and we gobble them up with a mound of chilli powder for dipping.

The World Vision development program here has been of such vital importance to these women. When once they could barely afford to survive, now they’re self sufficient and supporting their families. The benefits are not purely financial however. The women who are HIV positive have received education in living with the virus. They have received small business training. Importantly though, there’s a sense of empowerment. We ask Lemlem how she has changed since her involvement in the project and she describes how she tells people, ‘anyone who is strong enough to work has the power to change their lives’ – she particularly wants other women and their children to know this. I decide to ask her how the men in Ethiopia feel about women becoming more empowered and she smiles and answers that although they are aware this is now ‘a thing’, some of them choose not to really acknowledge it. Times are gradually moving on.

This is such a powerful collaboration, and it starts me thinking about the power of people working together for change, the essence of the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign that I’m here to highlight. What could we do to help change our approach to food and make it less wasteful? More sustainable? How about sharing an allotment or garden with friends or neighbours? Perhaps your mates don’t have the time to maintain that garden all by themselves, but would like to see it used more effectively. Or how about office lunching? A group of colleagues clubbing together with one person bringing a simple lunch for everyone each day, instead of feeding money into the hands of big companies with questionable sourcing of ingredients, not to mention interesting approaches to paying tax. 

The idea of this campaign is not not make everyone feel guilty, but to address the root of the problem, which lies in the way food is grown and distributed. If we can all make a small change at a local level, the knock on effects could be very powerful indeed.

14 comments » | African food, Enough Food For Everyone IF, Ethiopia

Hello From Ethiopia!

March 10th, 2013 — 3:19pm

I am currently in – you’ve guessed it – Ethiopia. As we descended into Addis Ababa this morning on an overnight flight, the ground looked like an undulating patchwork quilt of browns and greens, snaked through with curly rivers and the odd road. It looked pretty much how I’d imagined it.

What do you think of when you think of Ethiopia? For most it has an image that’s stuck in the 80’s – small children crying, malnourished, with distended bellies and big pleading eyes. There is still poverty here of course, but now Ethiopia has the fifth fastest growing economy in the world, the second in Africa. The country has changed at a staggering rate in the past 20-30 years and that’s why I’m here, to learn about what’s changed, and also what still needs to be done.

The charity who have organised the trip are called World Vision, and the campaign I’m here to write about is called Enough Food For Everyone IF. It’s a collaboration between many charities and organisations, who are working together with the aim of ending the global hunger crisis. As they put it, ‘the world produces enough food for everyone, but not everyone has enough food’.

As I said, this is a collaborative effort, and in order for the campaign to be a success it needs action on the part of millions of people around the world. If we can all do one small thing to change the way we buy our food or consume it, then the collective effect could be immense. I’ll be coming back to this in later posts.

So what will I be doing out here? Well I’ll be travelling to visit World Vision projects, such as a group of HIV positive women who are making injera, something I am very excited about. If you’re not familiar, injera is a staple flatbread, like a giant bubbly crumpet, made from a fermented teff or wheat flour mixture. All food is served on top of it and indeed eaten with it as pieces are torn off and used to scoop up food with the hands. It’s eaten at least twice a day here. As much as I’m excited about the injera however, I’m also keen to learn about some of the other foods Ethiopians eat; I visit Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants regularly in the UK, but beyond the staples, I’m clueless. I expect many of you are too.

I’ll also be visiting World Vision health and agricultural projects, learning about how the country has developed since the famines in the 80s. There’s going to be a huge amount to think about. I’m excited and also kind of nervous. How will I feel seeing everything I’m about to see? Slightly guilty perhaps? Inspired? Sad? Elated? Shocked? I think it’s going to be a huge emotional merry go round.

Tomorrow is the first day of our adventure, and I’m the keenest of beans to get started. I just hope my words can do it justice.


11 comments » | African food, Enough Food For Everyone IF, Ethiopia, World Vision

Whole Cauli Tagine

January 22nd, 2013 — 2:38pm

Diet? January? Pah! I’m sorry but we need insulation during this snowy month and I’m all about blubbering up. Okay I’m actually going to join the gym as soon as I get paid. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks eating things like langos, an Italian feast and my own bodyweight in melted cheese at Forza Winter. Oh and after Forza Winter I ordered a pizza at 2am. And then finished it for breakfast. And then and then and then and theeeeen. So you see I need to cut down on the cheese intake and up it on the veg side of things, which is how this cauli tagine came about.

The cauli is one of my favourite vegetables, and the once poor, unloved brassica is now apparently back in favour. I’ve wanted to steam one whole for ages and it seemed perfect for the tagine; it would cook gently inside, picking up all the spiced aromas over and hour or so. It would also look pretty snazzy on zee table.

I streaked the top of the brain-like cauli with saffron steeped in water; a flavour I used to hate with a passion. I found it soapy and unpleasant. The most expensive spice in the world? Didn’t get it. Well, I did; it’s very laborious to harvest of course but still. I’ve come to like it through cooking Iranian food and although I still wouldn’t count it among my favourite flavours, it sure does look purdy and I find it fragrant when used with appropriate modesty.

The cauli was cooked in a rich, thick sauce of onions, garlic, tomatoes and a few dried apricots, with a dried lime for a sour note; dried limes are amazing, when plucked from the bag they smell like lime sherbet. Spices went in, whole and ground; the onions taking on a beautiful amber hue from the turmeric.

It took rather longer to cook than I’d imagined, which has been my experience with the tagine thus far. I predicted an hour – it was more like one and a half. We ate it with a minty cous cous and a yoghurty drizzle effort which was basically yog mixed with diced pickled lemon and some garlic, briefly simmered to take the fiery edge off.

A seriously satisfying dish and, all importantly, insulating. I felt sufficiently sleepy, particularly when curled up with a glass of red and some Attenborough on the laptop. In bed by half past nine. Result.

Whole Cauli Tagine (serves 4, I’d say)

1 whole cauliflower
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 large onions, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods (I like cardamom, a lot)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 scant teaspoon ground turmeric
1 dried red chilli
Pinch saffron (optional and like, totally not necessary)
1 dried lime
Handful dried apricots (preferably Persian)

Start by heating up the tagine slowly. Add some oil, then sling in the onions. Let them cook slowly for about 10 minutes. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then crush in a pestle and mortar with the dried chilli. Add to the tagine with the other spices and the garlic. Continue cooking for a further 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes and dried lime, plus the apricots. Let the sauce cook down for 20-30 minutes until it’s starting to look all thick and gooey and lush. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Remove all the leaves from the cauliflower then trim down the base so it’s all nice and neat. Place the cauli on top of the sauce. If you want to use the saffron, steep it in a little boiling water for 5 minutes then steak across the top of the cauli. Put the lid on and cook on a gentle heat for about 1 hour to 1.5 hours, depending on the size of your cauli. When it’s tender, it’s cooked.

Serve with herby cous cous (I used mint and parsley) and yoghurt with chopped preserved lemons and garlic which has been simmered to take the edge off, then crushed.

26 comments » | African food, Tagines, Vegetables


July 16th, 2011 — 4:37pm

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t spend all my time eating jerk pork and barbecuing things in the rain. I do other stuff, okay? No really. Here’s some things I cooked, ate and felt happy about in the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, a little tooting on my own trumpet as I point you in the direction of The Independent’s ’50 Best Food Websites’ article. They said nice things about Food Stories and 49 other sites, including blogs, online suppliers and all-round giants like Chowhound. I’m flattered to be included.

And while we’re talking about ME, I’ll take a moment to point you once again, this time in the direction of my recipe column at AoL Lifestyle. The latest recipe is a very easy smoked mackerel ‘pâté’.

I’ve been out on the town too, as per. Sometimes a woman has to step outside of Peckham you know. Last weekend I made what was frankly a humongous schlep up to the wild wilderness of Seven Sisters to the Akhaya Cookery School, for a Nigerian cookery class. What with Peckham being ‘little Africa’ and all, I wanted to find out more about the ingredients I see in local shops every day. During the 3 hour class we made egusi (a soup thickened with melon seeds), jollof rice (rice cooked in a spicy tomato stew) and akara (black eye bean fritters). The akara were my favourite; very light, savoury fritters, which are incredibly easy to make. I’ll be experimenting with those so expect a recipe soon. The classes cost £75 per person, you cook 3 dishes per class and take home more than enough food for 2 people. Here are some pics:

The bright and airy classroom.


 Very familiar ingredients for the Peckhamite; dried shrimp; chilli flakes; black eye beans; palm oil.

Egusi soup. The white stuff is the egusi (ground melon seeds), mixed to a paste with water then added to the soup. The green dried stuff is afang (a dried leaf which is a little like Spinach). 

Fried plantain chips. You can’t hear a thing when you’re eating them – that crunchy.

I’ve been eating out too. Last night I perched very happily for several hours around the bar of the Maille Mustard Pop-Up in Spitalfields Market. They kindly invited me down to try the ‘mustard menu’ cooked by Kerstin Marmite Loving Rodgers. I had rather too much fun; the market was buzzing, the wine was flowing and the food was great. It’s on tonight and Sunday too. Here’s the lowdown in pics:

If it’s mustard you’re after…

A ‘Mustardy Mary’  = the best ever bloody Mary. I can’t ever drink one again unless it has wholegrain mustard in it. A brilliant idea.

Steamed artichoke with mustard mayonnaise.

Smoked haddock with mustard and cheese and Asian mustard greens. The fish was umami-packed and delicious. The name of the yellow flower in the middle escapes me but Kerstin picked them from her garden; they surprised everyone by tasting incredibly sweet and delicious. A flower actually worth eating.

Amazing cheese board featuring Langres, Moustardier, Charollais and Comté surrounded by palmiers.

Mostarda tutti frutti ice cream with berries, mint sugar and mustard candy floss. Kerstin and I are both of the opinion that tutti frutti ice cream should be BROUGHT BACK IMMEDIATELY.

And in between all that, I’ve been rapidly expanding outwards due to my extremely close proximity to The Rye pub, which is serving Meatwagon food for the summer. In addition to my favourite chilli burger I’ve been packing away the following, at least 3 times a week.

Smoked pork sandwich

Pulled pork sandwich

Baby back ribs with slaw and deep fried okra. I will be deep frying okra very, very soon.

Smoked buffalo wings with blue cheese dip.

What can I say, get yourself down there.

The Rye
31 Peckham Rye
SE15 3NX

So there we go. Ooof. I think I need to go and exercise now.


17 comments » | African food, Cookery Classes, Food Classes, Food Events, Food From The Rye, Peckham, Pop-up Restaurants, Press, Round-ups, Sandwiches, Sandwiches and The City, Street Food

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