Ethiopian Cookery: Niter Kibbeh, Berbere and Doro Wat
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 injera batter. I crave that stuff intensely since coming back; having eaten it 3 times a day, every day, I became addicted, surprisingly, rather than resentful.
Ethiopian cookery 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
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.
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
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
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.