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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Berbere: The exotic spice mixture that is the backbone of all Ethiopian Cuisine

Everything you need to make Berbere (you'll only need the rasp if shaving fresh nutmeg)
My grandfather lived in Ethiopia in the late 1960s and my father visited several times, once staying for almost a year. Unfortunately, my grandfather died before I was born but my father introduced us to Ethiopian cuisine at a very young age. The next several blog posts will be about Ethiopian cuisine. It is truly its own delicious and unique experience, but the only thing I could remotely compare it to is Indian food.

Ethiopian cuisine is basically made up of 3 components:
  • Wat - the spiced vegetable casserole-like side dish (usually collard greens, cabbage, beans or potatoes)
  • Tibbs - the most common style of stewed meat (there are others as well)
  • Injera - a flat sourdough type bread with a delicious tang and a spongey texture
Injera is used to line the serving tray. The tibbs and wat are placed in a small pile on it. Additional injera is served like a tortilla so you can tear off very small pieces and use it to pick up the food. The tangyness of the injera brings its own fun to the party. In traditional Ethiopian cuisine, there are no silverware involved.

This particular post is about how to make Berbere, which is a blend of spices that is the backbone of almost all Ethiopian cuisines. Not to be confused with the talentless Canadian entertainer, Berbere has an exotic taste that I can't really compare to any other flavor. When I smell it in its uncooked form the first thing that comes to mind is, "MMmm! This would be delicious as a Doritos corn chip flavor." Does that put it into perspective for you? :)

It can be difficult to find in stores and the versions I've found don't taste quite right. Many of the same spices are needed to make niter kibbeh (or qibe), the spiced butter that is the other backbone, so I just make my own since I'll need them to make the spiced butter anyway.

  • All the ingredients are easily found at any grocery store, except for the Fenugreek. The only place I've been able to find it are at Indian grocery stores. You'll have the choice of powder or seeds. The recipe uses powder, so if you decide to buy the seeds, just pulverize them in a grinder or with a mortal and pestal then use the amount below. Fenugreek adds a sort of maple syrup flavor to the mix.
  • You can substitute any dried ground chili you like for the heat and add more or less. I prefer to go light on it then add more if desired later
  • Note that there is no salt in this recipe. I believe you should add or remove salt directly to the dish as needed. Keeping it separate also gives you control over how much Berbere you want to add.

1/2 tsp fenugreek (sometimes called "Methi Powder" in Indian grocery stores)
1/4 c smoked paprika (not sweet)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (I always use fresh grated nutmeg, but regular will work fine)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp hot chili flakes (You can use ground dried chilis if you like.)

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container for up to six months.

This mixtures is especially delicious on beef and vegetables like collard greens, cabbage, potatoes. It's the primary flavor in the Ethiopian dish beef tibs.

1 comment:

  1. I found you! Excellent blog and we shall have to get together and cook sometime! :) ~ Heather