Thursday, September 8, 2011

cooking ethiopian

Today is New Year's Day in Ethiopia: Melkem Addis Amet! In honor of the holiday, I'm sharing some of our experiences in cooking traditional Ethiopian food.

One of my favorite memories from Z's first week home is of watching him devour a whole plate of shiro wat and injera (thanks again for bringing it over, Melissa & Nathan!). He was not a great eater in those first days (or weeks or months), but Ethiopian food was almost always a big hit with him. Seeing him swipe a piece of injera across his plate always made me smile twice over: once for the joy of a conflict-free meal and again for the delightful and distinctly Ethiopian flick of the wrist Z used to scoop up his food.

For the first few months our culinary needs were met by a sweet and generous Ethiopian friend of mine and the occasional trip to Tagla Cafe. But recently I've gotten brave and tried my hand at making a few simple dishes. I've heard injera is pretty tricky to make (you have to get the fermentation just right or its a gloppy mess), so I just buy it at an Ethiopian market, along with spices, shiro, and lentils. Here are the recipes for the dishes I have tried so far, along with a few notes about each:

Crock-Pot Doro Wat
Recipe adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking

1 can diced tomatoes
1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
3 large onions, diced
2 tablespoons berbere (traditional Ethiopian spice)
2 cups water
8 hard boiled eggs, peeled

Add all ingredients except the boiled eggs to a 6 quart crock pot in the order listed above. Cook 7-8 hours on low, adding eggs for last 15 minutes.

I had chicken breasts on hand, so I used those instead of chicken thighs, but I wouldn't do that next time because they are not as tender. I used a little bit less water than the recipe calls for because I wanted to serve it over injera, not in a bowl, so I didn't want it to be too soupy. I also shredded the chicken, but you probably wouldn't need to do that if you used thighs. The berbere gives this dish an Ethiopian flavor, but other than that it was nothing like the doro wat you will get in Ethiopia or at a traditional restaurant. Despite the lack of authenticity, it was definitely tasty and I'll make it again.

Shiro Wat
I got this recipe from the woman who was working at the Ethiopian market - thankfully it is simple and I still remembered it when I got home.

Butter or olive oil

Dice the onion as finely as possible and cook it in butter or oil (for a single batch I use 1 onion and 2-3 tablespoons of butter). Cook until the onion is very soft and beginning to brown. Add a bit of finely chopped garlic during the last minute of cooking, but don't over-do it -- my first attempt was way too garlicky. Add about 1.5 cups of water to the onions and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low and slowly stir in 4-6 tablespoons of shiro, adding 1 tablespoon at a time and then stirring to prevent clumps. It is a little tricky to tell when you have added enough shiro, as the sauce will thicken a bit while it cooks. You are looking for a nice, thick, oatmeal-like consistency so keep adding, stirring, and cooking until you get there. If you want your shiro wat to be very smooth the way its served in restaurants you can transfer it to a food processor, give it a whirl, and then return it to the pot to finish cooking. Scoop a generous spoonful onto a plate of injera and enjoy!

Misr Wat
Recipe from

1 cup small red lentils
4 tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp berbere
1 small tomato, diced
Salt, to taste

Rinse the lentils in cold running water and set aside. Heat the butter in a medium saucepan, add the onion and cook until soft. Just like the shiro wat recipe, add the garlic when the onions are almost done and cook for a minute or two. Then add 1 tbsp of berbere, the lentils, the diced tomato and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 50-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season liberally with salt, and add as much of the remaining 1 tbsp of berbere as you dare... I don't add more than 1/4 tbsp and that is plenty of spice for me (and I like spicy food). Serve it over injera and get ready to dish up seconds -- it is delicious! I make a batch for my kids with only a total of 1/4 tbsp berbere and they do OK with it (though my big boys prefer to just eat the injera plain with ketchup... Americans!). This is by far my favorite dish that I've made so far, and the most authentic tasting, plus it is crazy easy. Love it.

Anyone else tried cooking Ethiopian? What worked (or didn't)? Share your recipes and tips -- I'd love to try a few more dishes. Oh and my husband is requesting meat next time... Tibs anyone?


  1. Yum, Haley! I definitely want to try these. Nick's coworkers told me the best place to get injera is a market in White Center - is that where you guys go? I tried this recipe: {} and it was great, but not sure tumeric is the most authentic? Do you know?

  2. Mmmm that recipe looks good - I'll be trying it soon! I have had this dish before but never tried to make it, thanks for sharing. We buy our injera in Madrona, so White Center would be way closer, I'd love to find out where Nick's co-workers get it! I don't know about tumeric... I'll probably try to make it with a little berbere too.

  3. thanks for posting these -am going to try your misr wat recipe cuz mine doesn't turn out so well!

    I've made the DoroWat in the crockpot -tweaking the recipe you posted...our 7 yr old Ethiopian thought it was pretty close to "the way grandma used to make" :)....same with the cabbage/potato/carrot recipe posted by Carina. Turmeric is used in a few different recipes so I think it's pretty authentic.

    here is a great site for recipes and ordering authentic spices ~

    thanks again!