ethiopian cooking – part one

For ages now, we’ve wanted to try making Ethiopian cuisine at home. We love the food, and one of us (that would be Craig) loves to cook. Plus we want to make sure our family incorporates as much Ethiopian culture as we reasonably can, and we all know that food is a tremendous part of any culture. Even though we’ve had this desire, though, we’ve had a hard time getting to the point where we could actually start cooking.

Our first hold-up was the spices. You can’t just walk into your local supermarket and find berbere, for instance. We had a plan to visit the Little Ethiopia neighborhood in DC (which boasts the largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia itself) and pick up some spices there, but for one reason or another, our plan kept falling through. Finally, I decided to order the spices online. Through the magic of the internet, the spices arrived at our door just a few days later. The three spices I figured we wouldn’t be able to easily find were berbere, fenugreek powder, and ajwain seeds (also known as bishop’s weed, or so Google tells me).

The next step in our plan was to make the spiced, clarified butter – niter kibbeh – that is the fat in most Ethiopian dishes. The first recipe we came across called for twelve pounds (!) of butter, but we decided to scale that back and start with just one meager little pound.

This was a pretty simple process, except apparently the photographer kept getting in the chef’s way and slowing him down. First you melt the butter over low heat, and then you add onion, garlic, ginger, and a bunch of spices.

Making sure to keep the heat down very low, you let it simmer for about an hour. It ends up looking like this.

All you have to do is strain the solids out, and that’s all there is to it!

We poured the butter into a silicon ice cube tray for freezing. That way, we can take out little portions at a time. (This may be ridiculous, because the recipes all call for a fair amount of butter!)

The last thing we had to do before we could really cook was make a plan to acquire injera, the pancake-like sourdough bread that is the staple of most Ethiopian meals. We’re not as ambitious as Jennifer, who just whipped up her own batch (and succeeded on the first try, no less). Instead, we’re happy to just buy some from our local Ethiopian restaurant. Since we were going to be there on Saturday for an Ethiopian Christmas (which is January 7th) gathering with our local adoption group, we decided we would buy some then and cook today.

That’s the cookbook we’re using, by the way, although Craig found a different recipe online for the butter. Way back when we first started thinking about this, we heard that this cookbook has the most authentic recipes.

So, as I post this to the blog, Craig is working away on our first homemade Ethiopian meal. I’ve already gotten in the way a couple of times, so I’ll just sit back and relax, perhaps with a glass of wine. Life is rough when your husband likes to cook, I tell you. So, so rough!

[To be continued, of course…]

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18 Responses to ethiopian cooking – part one

  1. Meg B says:

    Ok, I have to get my a** in gear. I love to cook but am totally intimidated by Eth. cooking for some reason. Now that both you and Jennifer have posted such wonderful endeavors there are no. more. excuses. Your pictures are wonderful! Is your hubby cooking from the cookbook in the post? I ask b/c I want to purchase a cookbook but am looking for recommendations first… do let us know how it all turns out. Looks like you guys are off to a great start! Bon Appetit!

  2. I was waiting for a post about making Ethiopian food!! It’s such a fascinating culture and its food is certainly not as mainstream as a lot of Asian cultures. I’m sure Craig is doing an awesome job and I can’t wait to read Part 2.

  3. colleen says:

    kudos to you guys! i would have quit as soon as i found out i had to make my own butter! can’t wait to hear how it all turns out. i’m sure it will be yummy! ( and you lucky girl having a hubby that likes to cook! ) 🙂

  4. kris says:

    I think it’s funny you were slowing down the chef with your picture taking:) I’m glad you stepped in there though to capture this. I love learning about different cultures cuisines and this is definitely interesting. I’m looking forward to reading about the finished meal!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I cannot WAIT to hear how your first meal turned out!!! And I’m incredibly impressed that you made your own clarified butter. Is it like ghee, but with different spices? And ajwain sounds familiar…. is it also used in Indian cooking?
    Can’t wait for the full report!

  6. Samson says:

    This is great, Kelly! I will be following your course. Though I am an Ethiopian, I might improve in cooking the Ethiopian way. May Danish Amharic student already has started writing in Amharic better than me…. Thanks, anyways, for your posting!

  7. Liz says:

    You and Jennifer are both inspiring me to try my hand at cooking Ethiopian again! We eat injera on a regular basis – I can buy it locally – but Elfe was completely not interested in the first few dishes I tried to make. I think I need the cookbook you have and the one Jennifer recommended too.

    Definitely want to hear more about how this all turned out!

  8. zsmama says:

    I’m seriously impressed by the butter!

  9. Kelly says:

    Oh, I am so glad you are posting about this! Now that Jon and I have fallen off the “food p*rn” blog post wagon, you guys can take over! I’m so excited to see how this turned out. I almost lost my coffee when I read you needed 12 pounds of butter! Holy crap – I can see why you cut that down a bit 🙂 I am so embarrassed, btw, that I’ve never eaten Ethiopian food! Maybe when you guys are out here we can find a good restaurant and go together!

  10. Sandra says:

    I am a big fan of butter, so this sounds fabulous to me. You should’ve used the entire amount!

  11. Jaclyn says:

    You guys are amazing. I have only begun to peruse Korean recipes and muster up the courage to try cooking a few authentic dishes. Bravo to you and the chef!

  12. Jaclyn says:

    and how brave to make your own butter, so impressed!

  13. Emily B. says:

    Very impressive!! I also enjoy having a husband that likes to cook! 🙂 A definite bonus! I need to start trying to make some dishes as well. Can’t wait to see more photos of your (Craig’s) creations!

  14. Holli says:

    Funny – just this Saturday I whipped up an Ethiopian meal for Joe and I. We had shiro wat, mesir wat, and menche tabish (made with veggie protein crumbles, rather than ground beef). All were delicious.

    Good luck with your culinary adventures. Cooking Ethiopian was always a mystery to me, until we had Joe’s Amharic teacher come over and demonstrate. I still can’t write out the recipes, but I know exactly what we did … and can replicate. Let’s put it this way — no measurements were exact 😉


  15. I am really impressed!! It’s definitely a challenge to pull together an authentic meal when many of the ingredients are not easy to obtain. Good for you for ordering the spices through the internet. I cannot believe how much butter they use!! I bet the dishes must be delicious. I have never tried Ethiopian cooking, but am going to have to make a point of it. I can’t wait to hear about the meal!

  16. sue says:

    i love that you kept getting in the way to document the process! and holy cow, that’s a lot of butter! i can’t wait to see the finished product!

  17. Holy butter! They are serious about their butter aren’t they? Yikes. So glad you are embracing the foods that your child will have eaten and incorporating into your lives. Sadly, like Kelly, I don’t think I have had Ethiopian either.

  18. Christine says:

    My favorite part is about how Craig complained you were getting in the way… cause I can totally see that whole exchange going down. 🙂 I say, it’s very very very important to visually document the process. 🙂

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