Ethiopian Cookery: Niter Kibbeh, Berbere and Doro Wat

October 28, 2013

Some injera that I made, badly, in Ethiopia, 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 Recipe

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 Recipe

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 Recipe

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.


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  • Avatar
    Reply Eileen October 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    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!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen October 29, 2013 at 1:14 am

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

  • Avatar
    Reply Lee October 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    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.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen October 29, 2013 at 1:14 am

      CHUFF?! Ha ha

  • Avatar
    Reply Elizabeth October 28, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    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.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen October 29, 2013 at 1:15 am

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

  • Avatar
    Reply zuko October 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm

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

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen October 29, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Yeah probably. Just give it a go I say!

  • Avatar
    Reply zuko October 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm

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

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen October 29, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      Double pork! I am liking your work.

  • Avatar
    Reply Blackheathcoffeeshops October 29, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    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 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen October 29, 2013 at 7:34 pm

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

  • Avatar
    Reply Skye October 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    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!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen October 30, 2013 at 9:43 am

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

  • Avatar
    Reply Hungry October 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm

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

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen November 1, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Let me know if you do make it Michelle.

  • Avatar
    Reply Becs @ Lay the table October 30, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    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 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Msmarmite November 2, 2013 at 12:49 am

    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.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen November 2, 2013 at 9:48 am

      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…

  • Avatar
    Reply Niamh November 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    This looks *very* good.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen November 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm

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

  • Avatar
    Reply Catherine Edwards November 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    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!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen November 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      Zeret kitchen in camberwell is the place to go 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply pinny June 25, 2016 at 7:52 am

    omg can we have a recipe for injeera please! ?!?

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves June 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm

      I am trying! I’ll have another go at making them very soon 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Stephane May 13, 2017 at 6:24 am

    Who knows an online shop in the UK where you can order Berbere, Mitmita, Shiro, Ethiopian Cardamom, etc… ?

  • Avatar
    Reply Pete June 19, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Aaaugh! Bastard injera? And I’ve just agreed to make it for a big dinner in July. Did you ever get it to work?

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves June 20, 2018 at 6:19 am

      Haha. Short answer = no. Most people here use a combo of wheat flour and teff. Sally Butcher has a recipe in one of her books I believe so might be worth looking that up!

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