What to Eat
Although complex in nature, Ethiopian cuisine is simple to prepare. Many of the traditional dishes are stews — one-pot-meals, if you wish. Home cooks can easily prepare the basic dishes of Ethiopia and are highly encouraged to do so. When you begin your culinary exploration, you will treasure what this unique, earthy cuisine reveals.
A necessary element of Ethiopian cooking is called berbere. It is a red paste made up of a multitude of spices and herbs. Berbere must be prepared before venturing into the world of Ethiopian cuisine — or it would be like trying to make chili without chili powder, or stock without bouquet garni. Berbere is an essential ingredient.
Another important ingredient is butter — but butter that has been flavored with onions, garlic, ginger, and spices. When this prepared butter, called niter kebbeh, melts in your pan, it transports you to a land far away. You will wonder how Ethiopia has kept niter kebbeh a secret from the culinary world!
Wat is the traditional Ethiopian dish. Wat means stew. Wat can be prepared with chicken (doro) or beef (sik sik). It can also be vegetarian or even contain fish. It is a rich red stew stained by paprika that is fiery hot. Chicken wat also contains hard boiled eggs which impart the powerful wat color and flavors.
Traditional bread, called injera, is used in place of utensils. Injera is a thin but spongy flatbread as large as a tabletop. It is made from locally grown teff — the smallest grain in existence. Ground teff is mixed with water and allowed to ferment, then cooked as you would pancake batter over flat clay griddles.
Legumes form an integral part of the vegetarian meal. Common legumes include lentils and chick peas. The cooked legumes can be eaten as salads, seasoned with chilies and ginger. Or dried legumes can be ground into flour and used as the base of vegetarian fritters.
Ethiopian drinks are made from local ingredients. Tej is an ancient honey-based wine that often initiates a meal — almost as an aperitif. Talla is a beer made from local grain that often accompanies a snack of nuts or crackers. And, of course, coffee finishes off a traditional meal, sweetened with honey.