There’s a top notch spice shop a stone’s throw from my house. Called Gewurzhaus, they stock everything. Like, everything. Truffle salt, Lemon Myrtle, Hungarian Paprikash, Saltbush, Ras El Hanout, all kinds of sugars and every other spice/blend you can think of – and they also stock a damn fine Berbere mix. Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend/paste (usually) consisting of red chilli, cardamom, pepper, fenugreek, cumin, coriander, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, clove and ajowan (Bishop’s weed, of the lovage family). It lends depth and a whole lot of fire to whatever it’s added.
Since the weather is all rainy and making me feel like braises and stews, I decided to try Duro Wat (Ethiopian Chicken Stew). I don’t think that any indigenous African food gets the culinary attention it deserves, and after tonight’s experiment I’m determined to cook more foods of African origin, especially Ethiopian.
Ethiopian food is diverse, due to all the different cultures, altitudes, histories and tribes meshed in this country (about 70 languages are recognised) however what is noteworthy is that religion plays a large part in how most of the inhabitants eat. (In the Biblical era this region was called Abyssinia, and mostly locals are Coptic Christians or Muslim). Often food is vegetarian or vegan, although some tribes eat beef and chicken stews (called wat’s). Food is always (well, in the middle and upper classes) served on a huge (about 2 ft in diameter) spongy type of unleavened bread, which acts as a platter, and when all the food has been eaten off it, it becomes the final part of the meal. It’s called injera, and is made from what nowadays is called a supergrain – tef. It’s the smallest known grain, and – strangely perhaps – is only consumed by humans in Ethiopia, sometimes Eritrea. It’s very difficult to find outside Africa (I’ll carry on searching Melbourne’s speciality healthfood stores) however countries like South Africa and even Australia grow it as animal fodder. It is very hardy and needs the minimum of water to produce. Obviously, I didn’t find it, and whilst you can make injera with buckwheat flour to create a similar slightly sour bread, the rains came down and I decided that it would be OK this time to have my wat with Spelt sourdough.
Onions feature heavily in wat, but another essential ingredient is Niter Kebbeh, which is a spiced, clarified butter. A large part of Ethiopia consists of grassland plains where livestock roam, so butter has naturally found its way into their cuisine – in a big way. They regard butter as so important that large quantities could be added to coffee (perhaps their most notable export), and food is declared ‘tasteless’ without it. The niter kebbeh I made was flavoured with fresh ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, onion and garlic.
So what you do: Marinate stew-sized chicken pieces in lemon juice for at least 1-4 hours. In this time, make your niter kebbeh, recipes abound on the interwebs, but I can advise that you allow the butter as much time as possible to infuse with the spices – strain at the last minute.
Sweat 2 chopped onions in a little oil (lid on), and when translucent and obviously cooked, add a tsp/knob of butter and fry (lid off) until the onion browns ever so slightly. Tip everything out of the pan, return it to the heat, and drain the chicken. Salt the chicken pieces and brown in the pan, then add the onion back and just cover everything with chicken stock, add a good splash of the niter kebbeh, and between 2-4 tsp berbere mix, depending on how fiery you want to go. This heat is different to Mexican, Thai or Indian. I recommending adding more as you go, remember prolonged cooking intensifies the heat in chillies.
Simmer on a slow heat for a half hour, or until a third of the liquid has evaporated and you end with quite a liquidy stew. You should end up with a lemony spicy balance, featuring secondary chilli, garlic and ginger notes. I was really impressed with how well the flavours came together in this relatively simple dish. Obviously, it should be served with injera (recipes also abound on the interwebs), but I had mine with tomato stewed okra, which is in fact Greek and only happened to be in the picture because I really like okra, and I thought it rather suited the meal.
This is so worth trying – and if anyone knows where I can find tef flour, please drop me a line!