Ethiopian cuisine - bright splots of spicy wats on round, tangy injera bread. As pretty as a painter's palette. For a while, though, it was a "restaurant-only" thing for me. I had it in the "do not attempt" pile, along with making filo pastry from scratch or deboning a chicken. There was no particular reason, only ignorance. The lovely Bianca changed all that by surprising me one day with my first tubs of berbere and niter kibbeh, from Mama Rosina's in Footscray. Now, Ethiopian is as easy as whipping out my trusty Old El Paso taco kit!
Berbere is a brick-red spice combination that is arguably the foundation of Ethiopian cuisine. Blends are individual, but feature chillies or paprika, fenugreek, and warming spices such as cloves and black pepper. The spice mix may be dry or made in to a smooth paste with the addition of onions and garlic. Mesnoy sell the paste for $40/kg and have 500g tubs in their fridge. Their blend is not particularly hot, which means you can add a lot, without scaring the children.
I regularly cook Misir Wat (red lentil dal) with berbere, and an accompanying Tikil Gomen (fried cabbage, carrot, and green chilli). I based my recipes on those from Rachel's lovely blog, The Berbere Diaries.
1 cup red lentils
1.5 onions, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or up to 1/2 a cup to be more authentic)
1/3 cup berbere (if you like it spicy, like me!)
3 tomatoes, chopped (I use from a can; you could use fresh, but remove the skins)
2 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped ginger
Wash the lentils very well in several changes of water.
Fry the onions over medium heat for around 10-15 minutes without any oil. (This is the traditional method - they won't burn as long as you keep the heat to medium, rather they will cook in their own juices.)
Add the oil and cook for a few minutes. Add the berbere and cook well for 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and lentils, and mix well. Add the water, bring to the boil, and simmer for around 20 minutes until the lentils are cooked and the wat is thick.
Add ginger and garlic and cook for 5 minutes more. Serve on top of injera.
Coming up, wat's wat on niter kibbeh - a spiced clarified butter that is used to make many other traditional Ethiopian recipes.